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Physician Assistants

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January Messenger 2021, Physician Assistants | Posted January 19, 2021

Quick facts about the newest member of Alberta’s regulated healthcare team

On April 1, 2021, Physician Assistants (PAs) will come under CPSA regulation. We’ve supported this move for years and welcome PAs to Alberta’s regulated healthcare team.

PAs are healthcare professionals who have the knowledge, training and skills to provide a broad range of medical services within healthcare teams under the supervision of a physician. First and foremost, the role of PAs is to help and support physicians in caring for a patient population. We understand there may be questions regarding PAs and what this means for physicians. We have answered several of our frequently asked questions below:

How many PAs are practising in Alberta?

We estimate there are 38 practicing physician assistants in Alberta. Once CPSA formally acquires their regulation, all PAs practising in our province will need to formally register with CPSA and begin paying an annual fee, just like physicians.

Are PAs regulated in other Canadian provinces?

According to the Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA), as of 2016, about 500 PAs work in Canada, largely in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick. Our counterparts in Manitoba and New Brunswick already regulate PAs in their respective provinces.

What is the history of PAs?

While only some provinces have them, PAs have a deeply rooted history in Canada through their work with the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) since the early 1900s. In fact, the term “physician assistant” was coined and popularized by the CAF in 1984.

What services do PAs provide?

PAs provide medical services under physician supervision. The services they offer depend on the individual PA-physician relationship. Some PAs see and assess patients, take patient histories, perform physical exams, educate patients, perform procedures, assist in surgery and more.

How does the role of physician assistant differ from other healthcare professionals?

This chart helps explain how PAs fit among others who provide similar levels of care:

Physician Assistant (PA) Clinical Assistant Nurse Practitioner (NP)
  • Not a physician or independent practitioner.
  • Must work under supervision of a physician and are trained to work under physicians in clinical settings.
  • Does not hold a medical degree, but has other post-secondary training.
  • Most commonly found in hospital settings as part of a healthcare team.
  • A physician who is not eligible to practise independently.
  • Typically an International Medical Graduate.
  • Doesn’t have equivalent clinical training to practice independently.
  • Hold a medical degree and at least one year of Post Graduate Training.
  • Generally hired for supervised practice in hospital settings.
  • A nurse who has pursued post-graduate training.
  • NPs, along with registered nurses (RNs), do not require supervision of a physician.
  • NPs/RNs have their own skillsets, scopes of work, standards of practice, etc.

More information about physician assistants is available on our website.

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