RUMBLE! RUMBLE! RUMBLE! The Title Fight Between PAs (Physician Assistants) and Physicians

Physician assistants are fighting for a name change. They no longer want to be seen as assistants simply because they provide care as part of a team, says Leslie Clayton, a Minnesota physician assistant of 23 years. They would like to be called ‘physician associates’.

A national professional society, American Academy of PAs (AAPA), has already started the process to replace ‘assistant’ with ‘associate’. They did this in hopes that state legislatures and regulatory bodies would legally change the name. Their campaign began in 2018 and will reach nearly $22 million, according to a consulting firm hired by the association.

There has been some pushback from physicians and they’re not willing to go along with this. They said that patients may assume that ‘physician associates’ are junior doctors, like a junior attorney. Some even said that ‘associate’ denotes a lesser individual, such as an associate professor versus a full professor. Many physicians offer concerns about patient safety if P.A.s drift too far from their oversight. The head of the American Medical Association (AMA), Susan R. Bailey, also believes that the change will confuse the patients. The American Osteopathic Association, also accused PAs and other non-physician clinicians of trying ‘to obfuscate their credentials through title misappropriation’.

Jennifer Orozco, president of the P.A. association and an administrator at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, stated that there’s no ulterior motive in altering their name. She feels that changing the title is really just to address that misperception that we only assist.

But P.A.s aren’t alone in losing patience with their titles. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists renamed itself the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology which was the third name since it was founded in 1931.

PAs were created to solve a very specific problem, i.e. that of a physician shortage. This was 60 years ago yet we continue to have a shortage of physicians, especially those front-line primary care physicians, and the gap is expected to grow wider. But who else falls under the umbrella of a physician associate? Other physicians! The surgeon is an associate of the internist, the specialist an associate of the generalist. Doctors associate with other doctors.

Maybe a name change wouldn’t hurt. What do you all think? Does it really matter? Does it matter to the patients?


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