What Type of Doctor Is a PAC?

A PA must work under the supervision of a physician.
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So you want a career in medicine, and you’ve run across the initials PAC. Well, it’s still a career in the medical field, and it’s similar to being a doctor, but a PAC is a different breed of cat. PAC stands for Physician Assistant, Certified. Although they're highly educated medical professionals who perform primary and specialty medical care, physician assistants aren’t doctors -- even when they’re certified.


    A physician assistant spends considerably less time in school than a physician – about four years in college and two in PA school, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, compared to a minimum of 11 years of medical training. Although program requirements vary, most PAs have some experience in a healthcare field -- such as nursing, respiratory therapy or a similar discipline -- and a bachelor’s degree in a science or health-related field. Your PA education will include some topics doctors also study, such as pathology, human anatomy and physiology, and clinical training similar to a physician’s residency.

What You'll Do

    Physician assistants must be licensed in all states and are required to work under a supervising physician. Each state regulates PA practice, so your duties could vary from one state to the next, and the physician also decides what work she will delegate to you. PA training includes patient examination, the diagnosis of illness and injury and the treatment or management of medical problems. During the course of your day, you might review a patient’s medical history, perform physical exams and order diagnostic or lab tests.

Specialization and Supervision

    PAs, like physicians, often specialize. If your supervising physician is a family practitioner, you might see patients of any age, perform well-child check-ups or provide gynecological care to adolescent and adult women. Internal medicine PAs might concentrate on a subspecialty such as cardiology or kidney disease. Orthopedic PAs could set fractures, assist the surgeon in surgery by suturing incisions or provide postoperative care. If you work in a rural area, your supervising physician might be miles away; you would consult via telephone or electronic communication as necessary.


    Any PA who has graduated from a program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant is eligible to take the certification exam -- the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). Once you graduate, you have six opportunities and six years to pass the certification exam. If you fail after six attempts, you will have to retake an approved PA course again to be eligible for certification. The PANCE exam takes about five hours and includes multiple-choice questions in five blocks of 60; you have one hour for each block. You will need to submit an application and the exam costs $475, as of 2013. Once you become certified, you can sign your name with “PA, C.”

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