Spotlight on Physician Assistants — Or Is It Physician’s Assistants?

Sometimes incorrectly referred to as physician’s assistant, a physician assistant, or PA, is a medical provider who is licensed to diagnose and treat illness and disease, and to prescribe medication for patients. Physician assistants work in physician offices, hospitals and clinics in collaboration with a licensed physician. We sat down with Danielle Di Silvestro, director of member & community engagement at the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA), to shed some light on the correct use of the term. (EHC): Thanks for your time today, Danielle! Let’s start with a general question: What is your role at PAEA?
Danielle Di Silvestro (DDS): My title is Director, Member & Community Engagement. What that means is that I oversee a team responsible for the areas of Membership, Volunteer Membership, Governance & Ethics, Awards and CASPA.

EHC: Tell us more about your role with CASPA.
DDS: I’ve been the primary manager of the Centralized Application Service (CAS™) for PAs for the last five years. I manage everything from operations to strategy. Really, it’s about building relationships with prospective applicants, current applicants, parents, advisors and participating programs.

EHC: We presume in that role then, you hear a lot of different references to “physician’s assistants”?
DDS: More often than we’d like to hear or see it used. It’s an easy assumption to make, so seeing the apostrophe added in email or mentioned in conversation is common. But we aim to educate so we set up this great website that helps people remember — it’s really just more for fun:

EHC: Why not “physician’s assistant”?
DDS: Well, adding an apostrophe changes the meaning. Physician assistants aren’t owned by anyone, so there is no need for the apostrophe. The professional practitioner is a physician assistant, not the assistant of a physician. There was never an apostrophe but somehow it snuck its way in there.

EHC: What negative impact can using “physician’s assistant” have?
DDS: While it may seem like a small mistake, it can have a rather big impact in some situations. First off, if it’s used on any online forum, it’ll be corrected by a large audience — those of us in the PA world can be protective of the profession. On a serious note, while it likely wouldn’t disqualify you from being selected as a PA candidate, it very well could raise questions on how well you, as an applicant, are paying attention. It goes unnoticed if you use physician assistant correctly, but it certainly gets noticed if you don’t. It should go without saying that using the correct name of the profession to which you are hoping to practice in is important.

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