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Physician Assistants

Archived Backgrounder

Physician Assistants

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

Physician Assistants (or PAs) are an important part of HealthForceOntario, the government's Health Human Resources Strategy introduced in 2006 to provide Ontario with the right number and mix of health care providers.  PAs are already demonstrating success in reducing wait times and improving access to patient care through demonstration projects throughout Ontario.

Working as part of the health care team, PAs are health care providers who assist a supervising doctor in a variety of health care settings. At all times, the supervising doctor is responsible for the direction of the PA's activities and holds overall responsibility for patient care.

Currently more than 65 physician assistants are practising in healthcare settings such as:

  • hospitals (in internal medicine, emergency rooms, and surgery)
  • community health centres
  • family health teams
  • long-term care homes
  • diabetes care settings.

What PAs do

Working under the supervision of a doctor, PAs assist with taking medical histories, conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests and advise on preventive health care. Depending on the focus of the doctor's practice, PAs can participate in any number of supportive tasks: assisting during surgery, working in an emergency room, casting and stitching up patients and doing well baby check-ups and vaccinations.

Every health care professional brings unique qualities and experiences to the work they do, working with a care team. The PA role is intended to further support the health care needs of Ontarians by integrating additional health human resources to enhance and complement the skills of the existing care team members.  Collaborative team-based health care is a key part of Ontario's health human resource strategy.

Patient safety

PAs are specially trained health professionals with the knowledge, skills and judgement to be part of a health care team.  PAs work directly with a supervising doctor who assigns a range of clinical work to the PA. The supervising doctor is responsible for ensuring the quality of care that the PA provides to patients, assuring appropriate care and patient safety.  PAs have worked safely and effectively with the Canadian Forces and in the United States for decades. 

Education

PA education is a university program sponsored by two of Ontario's medical schools - McMaster University and the University of Toronto.  The program involves intensive clinical rotations that focus on understanding disease, assessment, and developing treatment plans and clinical skills.  Clinical rotations include emergency medicine, paediatrics, internal medicine, orthopedics, sports medicine, general surgery, urology, anaesthesia, trauma team, and family practice.  Ontario's PA education programs are 24 months in length.  Students entering the programs must have at least two years undergraduate education to be eligible.   

The first year of the PA education program focuses on studying clinical sciences underpinning health care delivery.  In the second year, students enter clinical placements.  Graduates hold either a Bachelor of Health Sciences (Physician Assistant) degree or Bachelor of Sciences (Physician Assistant) depending on the school they attend.

Provincial Support

Ontario is supporting these graduates with an employers' grant program to encourage employment and integrate the profession into health care teams.  Grants are intended to offset the cost of employing a new PA graduate, full-time, for a period of two years.

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