American Medical Association Meeting

American Medical Association Meeting


Healio Interview


Disclosures: Gables is CEO of the AAPA.
June 30, 2021
3 min read

Q&A: AAPA seeks 'physician associate' title change despite opposition from AMA


Healio Interview


Disclosures: Gables is CEO of the AAPA.
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In a 198 to 68 vote, members of the American Academy of Physician Assistants’ House of Delegates passed a resolution to change the title of physician assistants to “physician associates.”

The title change will officially go into effect after the necessary legislative and regulatory changes are made, according to the organization. Until then, the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) recommends that professionals in the field refrain from using the new title around patients and in work settings.

During its own House of Delegates meeting, the AMA adopted a policy reinforcing its strong opposition to the title change.

“The AMA believes changing the title of ‘physician assistants’ will only serve to further confuse patients about who is providing their care, especially since AAPA sought a different title change in recent years, preferring to only use the term ‘PA’,” former AMA President Susan R. Bailey, MD, said in a press release.

Bailey argued that the title change to physician associates is “clearly an attempt to advance their pursuit toward independent practice.”

“We believe this latest effort is incompatible with state laws and are prepared to work with interested state and specialty medical societies to address any efforts to implement this title change in state or federal policy,” she said.

Healio Primary Care recently spoke with AAPA CEO Lisa M. Gables, CPA, to learn more about the reasons behind the title change, how it will be implemented and more.

Healio Primary Care: What led to the title change? How does it better reflect the profession?

Gables: At the May 2018 AAPA House of Delegates meeting, a resolution passed requesting that the AAPA Board of Directors “contract with an appropriate independent consulting/research firm(s) to investigate state/federal, financial, political, branding aspects, and alternatives to the creation of a new professional title for physician assistants that accurately reflects AAPA professional practice policies.”

The robust investigation conducted by the firm included research into how the profession is perceived, the experience different stakeholders — including patients, PAs, employers, physicians, nurse practitioners and many others — have with PAs, and how well perceptions match the actual role of PAs in health care delivery. The research confirmed that the title “physician assistant” does not drive clarity around the true value of the profession or the value PAs bring to health care teams and that there is a need to evolve the profession’s title. In fact, according to the research, 71% of patients surveyed agreed that the title “physician associate” matches the job description of a PA. Over 61% of physicians surveyed agreed that “physician associate” matches the job description.

Removing the word “assistant” from the title will eliminate a common misconception that PAs simply “assist” physicians, when in fact they diagnose, treat and care for patients. The new title will help patients to better understand the training and expertise of PAs and their essential role in health care delivery.

Healio Primary Care: How will it be implemented? What does the process entail?

Gables: Implementation of the title change is complex and complicated and requires a significant commitment from the profession and its associated entities in terms of financial obligations, resource allocations, and legislative and regulatory efforts. More research and conversations need to occur before a timeline can be finalized. As this process unfolds, AAPA will continue to post updates online.

Healio Primary Care: Do most PAs support the name change?

Gables: The majority of the feedback AAPA has received from PAs has been positive. AAPA will continue to work with a variety of stakeholders — other national PA organizations and PA programs as well as state and federal governments, regulators, employers and others — to implement the title change.

Healio Primary Care: Why should PAs currently refrain from referring to themselves as “physician associates” to patients and in work settings? About how long will they need to do this?

Gables: As with all policy implementation, it will take time and resources to wholly and thoughtfully implement. In that interceding time, AAPA’s legal counsel Foley & Lardner LLP recommends that PAs refrain from representing themselves as “physician associates,” as prematurely using the term “physician associate” in a medical setting could be interpreted as the PA stepping beyond their current license. Additional information on this recommendation is available here.