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Why I Signed the PA Name Change Statement April 17, 2010
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David Mittman, PA-C, DFAAPA About the Author
David Mittman, PA-C, DFAAPA

Clinician 1Provided by Clinician 1

Fifty PA leaders who have done much for the profession in their past years did something this week which collectively may turn out to be even more impressive. They united around something they felt was important and would enable the profession better prepare for the future. They signed a statement asking the PA profession to change its name. Well, not exactly change it, but go back to the name physician associate, the name we were born with. I feel honored to be among these leaders. This change is something that needs to be done for so many reasons and if you have not read the statement please read it here http://clinician1.com/posts/article/pa_leaders_issue_statement_for_name_change/.

The position statement gives a great review of why “assistant” no longer fits in the PA name. Please notice that the PA leaders who signed are not from any one state or region, are both young and older, are urban and rural, many have won national awards and all have blazed trails. Together they felt that at this time of change in our healthcare system, the PA profession has been given an opportunity to refine how people think of us and how we are looked at starting at the most basic level, our name.

I know most PAs agree with the statement. I know it in my soul. It is troubling to me and many others that the profession has never really been polled. Arguments have been brought forth that went from “if you try to change the name you will open up the laws and lose hard won privileges” (not true at all) to “if you don’t like the name, you must really want to be a doctor so go to medical school”. Over the last year or so I personally have had 2 friends who were leaders in the PA profession pass away. I know they both wanted this change very much. They would have loved to sign and be counted. But it was not the right time or place. It is now.

Hopefully our current state and national PA leaders will decide to back a name change. Maybe they will also realize times have changed. Maybe they will decide to poll the entire profession and respect its wishes. Maybe grassroots PAs will let their voice be heard. Maybe a state will act. Maybe the House of Delegates will. Let’s see.

Regardless, the time has come to remove on this thorn in our professions side. Assistant no longer explains the PA. Our name is confusing to consumers and with doctorates becoming the norm for many other professions that are on our level (PT, pharmacists, OTs, Audiology, psychology, NPs and others) others can soon argue that “assistants” should not write orders for “doctors”. Makes sense if you don’t know any better. At least associate takes us out of that mess. We can also define it any way we want to. It is not a common term which I think is why it was originally picked so many years ago at Duke. Even if we decide to create and fund a great PR campaign, it is impossible to brand a generic name such as physician’s assistant. It can represent anyone who helps a doctor. Associate does not. It really works so much better. It is time for us to look towards the future. If not, we will always be explaining that ONLY our type of “assistant” can diagnose, treat, prescribe, do what a physician does.......

We will always be a square peg trying to fit into a name that is a round hole.

See you soon. Keep reading.



Dave has been a PA, and later NP, leader for thirty years. He strongly believes that NPs and PAs must work together to insure a better future for both professions. Most recently Dave has been busy launching another dream; Clinician 1, the first internet community for PAs and NPs. In October 2008, Dave was honored by the New Jersey State society of PAs with its “Lifetime Achievement Award”.



The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.

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Charlie Levesque (Mesa, Az) on 24 Apr 2010 at 8:32 pm

After Graduating from UAB in 1985 we were called Surgeon Assistants (SA's) and gave in to being called PA's over the years. Now many "surgical" assistants have taken our old name of "SA". I was for "Surgeon Associate" since '85 and now I'm all for Physician Associate. It's not an ego thing at all. I'm pushing 60 and the ego has been cut down over the years ( although we all need a little ego to be in this field) but it sure defines the profession better. Interesting to see where this goes!

Marja van Ouwerkerk, PA-C (Flemington, NJ) on 21 Apr 2010 at 4:56 pm

As a PA for nearly 13 years I agree this is not a new issue, we've been discussing a name change for as long as I've been in practice. I do think that the name Physician Assistant is confusing for our patients and even after all this time in the same practice i have patients who don't understand why I am a Physician Assistant when I provide them with care similar to my supervising physicians. The term assistant has a connotation of subservience that "associate" does not have. Let's work to get the name change and to get the public and elected official to have a better understanding of our training and the care we provide. I am hopeful that during my tenure as Secretary of the NJSSPA Board of Directors I can be part of a statewide initiative to poll all NJ PAs about this name change and get it implemented on a nationwide basis.

Banuchi (Boca Raton, FL) on 18 Apr 2010 at 7:14 pm

The Facebook group can be found at http://www.PhysicianAssociate.Com

This should make it easier to find.

jWoon (Philadelphia) on 15 Apr 2010 at 7:26 am

Sign me up in support of "Associate".

Marguerite Ballard, PA-C (Oregon) on 13 Apr 2010 at 1:48 pm

When I graduated in 1980, my degree was as a Physician Associate. It's about time we go back to our original name which reflects what we do more accurately. I agree that the AAPA should poll the membership base, and then work to change the name if that's what the majority of the membership wants. Logos and name changes aren't that difficult, big corporations do it all the time, and it seems that state legislatures could easily make the changes as "housekeeping" since we would not be changing any practice patterns. I say we should go for it, get us back to our original name!

Rita Sachs (Brooklyn, NY) on 13 Apr 2010 at 11:50 am

I firmly support the name change. I feel that the AAPA has not been responsive to their constituency and has ignored the opinion of the majority of PA's that favor a name change. As a proud PA for 17 years, I truly hope our profession will finally have a name that is appropriate.

Peter B. Peifer (Ohio) on 13 Apr 2010 at 8:46 am

I agree 100% with the name change to "Physician Associate". I have long battled the misconception that occurs as the result of being an "Assistant". Please let me know what I can do to help facilitate this movement.

Dave Mittman, PA (Livingston, NJ) on 12 Apr 2010 at 11:01 am

We have a Facebook group here

as well as we are also looking for more \"PA leaders\" interested in signing onto the same statement we had originally done. If you are interested email me at MittmanPA@gmail.com
Much thanks,

Isabell Bacot (Colorado) on 10 Apr 2010 at 5:22 pm

I fully support the name change. It has nothing to do with how we care for our patients, but rather with our position in the medical community. I work in inpatient medicine and defined roles are very important for everyone to function effectively. Our MD's prefer to call us physicians extenders, because that is the role we function in and it causes less confusion with new employees or residents that are not clear as to what a PA is. Additionally I am in the process of relocating and it is frustrating to dig through medical assistant adds to find PA jobs.

Debra Bayham (Phoenix, AZ) on 09 Apr 2010 at 9:42 am

I totally support the name change to "Physician Associate". Less complicated also because we can keep the title 'PA' that is familiar and respected.


Gary Schulte (Tucson Arizona) on 08 Apr 2010 at 10:24 am

I favor a name change, but prefer "MEDICAL PRACTITIONER"

Preston D. Miller (Prescott, AZ) on 08 Apr 2010 at 7:17 am

I totaly agree, been advocating this since I graduated from PA school in 1984 both nationally and at the local state level. A past President of ASAPA.

Bob Blumm (Amityville, NY) on 07 Apr 2010 at 6:02 pm

I am excited that so many of you are responding positively and are willing to sign on to lists that will be prepared. A small committee will be discusiing how to best facilitate this but keep sending your encouraging remarks to Clinician1 and Advanced Preactice Jobs send the statement to all the PAs in your address book. I would like to see this as a main topic of discussion at the 2011 HOD. I have a certficate that says "Associte" as do many others. My partner of 38 years has introduced me as Mr. Blumm, my Associate , throughout our careers. When the new laws and reimbursement criteria hits the table we should have already hit the table with the name that best describes what we do. I am proud to be a PA and maintaining the initials and changing the name will be loved by patients, PAs, Nurses and Administrators.
Bob Blumm

Shannon Ballard MMS PA (Missouri) on 07 Apr 2010 at 9:25 am

I would like more information on how I could support the movement for a name change.

Mike "Mickey" Spillane (West Bloomfield NY) on 07 Apr 2010 at 8:20 am

If you are going to change the name it should be something catchy like Physicianist. We are and have always been required to work under the supervison of a Physician and there liciense. If one helps or assist there supervising MD with patients then they are an Assistant. I have never felt I am an equal to an MD. I did not go to Medical School, I did not go to an Internship or a residency ( Although I did do a year of Surgerical Residency). Physican Assistants were created to Assist MD's with the care of there patients. We should not feel we are ever equal to an MD ( regardless of how much letters you have after your name)

Tony Caffarelli PA-C (Fairfiled CA.) on 07 Apr 2010 at 7:56 am

It's come up again and again it's LONG OVER DUE. As a PA-C for over 35 years there is away a hint of lesser as an assistant then an associate with the public and even with other health professionals, hell even WalMart has "assocates". It's been the prolitical side of this debate and not with the PA's themselves. Good Luck with the movement.

Lawrence P. Di Risio, RPA-C, BS (Rochester NY) on 07 Apr 2010 at 6:58 am

Althouigh Dave Johnson makes a valid point, getting a name change does help clarify what we really are. You can go to Bryant and Stratton and become a "medical assistant". Unless someone reseached the names they may think there is no difference. I agree that once my patient's know me they don't care about the title but changing the title would define our roles more appropriately.

Lee Morissette (Blue Hill, Maine) on 07 Apr 2010 at 5:48 am

We should have never changed PA from it's origin, Physician Associate. Agree that as stated their are too many "Assistant's" in the medical profession, that are a support role of health care providers. I feel the same way as many that Associate better represents our relationship with physicians. I know the topic comes up many times in blogs, but we need this to be addressed "again" at a national level.

Lee Morissette

susansb1 (detroit, michigan) on 07 Apr 2010 at 4:32 am

I'll always remember a Doctor who introduced me as his "Physician Associate" to his patients because he said I did so much more than "assist" him. He honored our profession by doing so. Now is the time for the recognition we deserve.

Paul Spencer PA-C (Bangor, ME) on 06 Apr 2010 at 9:52 pm

Our profession has matured and grown since the first PA's graduated 40+ years ago. It is time for us to be called what we truely are....associates. In order for us to grow as a profession and get the respect we have earned this initiative should be moved forward. We are Physician Associates.

Nellie Gallegos (Silver City, NM) on 06 Apr 2010 at 8:18 pm

It seems that we are in the same situation: A.) Having to define our title and duties to our patients. B.) Most of us agree that Associate defines our title more accurately. C.) Most PA would be very happy to see a name change. And, as Dave commended, doctorates are a "norm" in professions that are in the same level as PAs.

As a fluent Spanish speaker, Hispanics refer to a PA as Physician Associate.

Nellie Gallegos, PA-C, MSPAS, MPH

Richard Grey (New York) on 06 Apr 2010 at 7:34 pm

As a PA for over 31 years I can state unequivocally that the "Associate" name change to "Assistant" was a mistake from the start but let us not forget some of the reasons. Back in the day, PA's, especially at the NYSSPA "leadership" level would quake at the prospect of upsetting the Medical Societies. After all, the Medical Societies were afraid that either we would take over their jobs, deplete their incomes or be confused for physicians. Well, we haven't taken their jobs, depleted their incomes or called ourselves physicians. Then in recent years came the lame excuses, as Dave noted in his article, of how difificult it would be to change for legislative reasons . But my favorite reason was how expensive it would be to change all the stationary.

The reality is that we have fallen behind other providers and colleagues in professional standing. A name does make a difference. Let's get a little backbone. The name revision is long overdue. Let's go back to the future and be Physician Associates.

I would frankly love to finally re-wear my original Physician Associate name tag.

David Johnson MPAS, PA-C (Maine) on 06 Apr 2010 at 7:21 pm

When you convince me that the use of words is better than my patients knowing me as David, Physcian Assistant is more important than my patients knowing me as David, Physician Associate I'll buy in. This is nothing more than an ego thing. My patients don't give a damned about what PA stands for, they care about the care I provide. I'd rather spend my political time fighting to get PAs to the level of not having to have their dictations cosigned by MDs nationwide. That would at least get us one step closer to what NPs have. I'd suggest you divert your energies to that event vs trying to change an acronym that means nothing to our patients or our supervising MDs.

Daji (CT) on 06 Apr 2010 at 6:27 pm

And get rid of the "C" for certified. The title "PA" should be sufficient, just like "MD". Most PA's now are certified.

Jeanne Wiggins, RN, MSN, PMHNP-BC, PMHCNS-BC (Fulton, Missouri) on 06 Apr 2010 at 4:58 pm

I am 100% behind the name change. I can't speak for all nurse practitioners or CNS's, but I feel as though it's a big step in the right direction for all of us. Keep up the wonderful work. If it weren't for PA's, my job would be twice as hard! I work in a "not so desirable" physician placement area. We survive by supporting eachother! If it weren't for all midlevel providers in my area of the country, local and regional community healthcare would suffer immensely. I applaud your efforts and hope others feel the same. I do not believe in the "divide and confuse" messages sent by certain organizations. We stand together or alone!

Rex Evans (DE) on 06 Apr 2010 at 3:53 pm

I agree its time for the change. Trevecca Nazarene University stopped using Physician Associate just before I graduated.

Michael Silveira (Wilmington, DE) on 06 Apr 2010 at 3:50 pm

Excellent!! finally the initiative has been taken. Many of the patient I treat confuse the assistant designation with medical assistant and nurse assistant. They focus on the assistant part of the title and place me in similar roles, at least initially. It's frustrating. I back the change 100%

Steve Bellinger, MS, PA-C (Ilwaco, WA) on 06 Apr 2010 at 3:37 pm

"I know most PAs agree with the statement. I know it in my soul." I know this may be heretical, but In an age of evidence based medicne I think we need more then this to go on. Why doesn't the AAPA with their annual survey ask the question?

C. Reynolds, MPA, PA-C (Atlanta) on 06 Apr 2010 at 3:00 pm

I agree, 100%. I have always wanted to be a PA, I love the career I have chosen, but I always thought that our title is confusing to our patients. Some patients, that are unaware of our profession/education, have been confused or even angry as to why I would be asking about the medical history because I am only an "assistant". I don't know how many times I have been confused as a medical assistant or even a secretary. It's not that I mind explaining our training or what we are able to do within our scope of practice, but I could be so more efficient if I didn't have to explain this in order to gain a patients trust. I believe "associate" helps to better define our profession, not only with our patients, but with health care reform. I don't believe the politicians/interest groups give us the aid/recognition we should because we thought to be medical assistants!

Even when interviewing for jobs, I had a recruiter tell me the average salary she found via google for PAs was <$40000. Even those websites group our salary statistics with medical assistants.

Is there a possibility of this name change really happening?

Ryan Bierle PA-S (Midland, TX) on 06 Apr 2010 at 2:05 pm

This has been a common thread on PA discussion boards. I find it unfortunate that I have less difficulty explaining that I am a paramedic, than a PA. The reversion to the original title has less to do with a desire for independent practice, than the desire to be identified with a moniker that reflects reality.

Jon Boren (Santa Fe, New Mexico) on 06 Apr 2010 at 1:02 pm

One other point I might make that my sister (also a PA-C) noted to me many years ago:

We are not "physician's assistants" - implying possessive form. We are physician assistants.

DANIEL D MATHEWS MS,R-PA (NY,NY) on 06 Apr 2010 at 1:00 pm

I.interest groups that favor enhanced nursing education are hailing a $200 million appropriation buried in the federal healthcare reform law that creates a demonstration program to educate more advanced-practice nurses to provide primary and preventive care and chronic care management.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act signed by President Barack Obama last week directs the HHS to establish the Graduate Nurse Education Demonstration, which will name up to five hospitals nationally to receive federal funding to train greater numbers of advanced practice nurses. The subcategories are clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, certified-registered nurse anesthetists, and certified-nurse midwives.


Jon Boren (Santa Fe, New Mexico) on 06 Apr 2010 at 12:58 pm

I didn't know this was in the offing. I am 100% behind the name change - there are too many "assistants" in the medical world and I was recently very disillusioned to learn that my best man at my recent wedding who has known me for over 30 years somehow thought I was a "medical assistant" and that my degree could be earned in one year - AND that nurses were much more highly "ranked" in the medical world. I think physician associate more accurately confers our general function and our relationship with (most, hopefully) physicians. I am a fourth generation healthcare provider with father, grandfather, and great grandfather as MD's - I don't pretend that I am a physician nor do I represent that I am a physician to patients. I am a PA and proud of my profession and its mission statement. Sound bites unfortunately help create first impressions and most patients would rather see an "associate" than an "assistant".

Is there a vote on this? Is there any liklihood that this name change might become real?

E.D. Huechtker, PhD, MPA PA (Univ of Alabama at Birmingham) on 06 Apr 2010 at 11:34 am

I agree Dave. I wrote a similar article in the early 1990's and received a lot of support for a name change even then. Ed

Coe Mcgrath (Georgia) on 06 Apr 2010 at 11:21 am

It is about time, that our name reflects our commitments

Thank you.

Coe McGrath
GAPA Treasurer

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