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About physician assistants

Physician assistants are health care professionals who provide a range of health services to patients, delivering preventive and continuous care to manage patients’ health. Their work includes conducting patient interviews, performing physical assessments and taking medical histories; performing or ordering diagnostic tests and interpreting results; formulating and implementing treatment plans and monitoring patients’ progress; inoculating and vaccinating patients; performing and assisting in surgery; providing health maintenance education; and participating in research activities.

Physician assistants usually work in private practices, hospitals and clinics.

Data availability

CIHI’s Health Workforce Database (HWDB) collects aggregate-level, standardized data on the regulatory environment, supply, and demographic and education characteristics of physician assistants in Canada.

Reports and analyses

Regulatory environment

In Canada, physician assistants are regulated in Alberta, Manitoba and New Brunswick.i  

Practice criteria

The requirements to practise as a physician assistant (PA) are similar across the country but can vary slightly from one jurisdiction to another.

Common requirements

  • Hold a bachelor of health sciences from a Canadian Medical Association (CMA)—or Accredited Review Commission (ARC-PA)—accredited program
  • Pass the physician assistant Entry to Practice Certification Examination (applicable in most provinces)
  • Register with a provincial regulatory body as required

Scope of practice

The scope of practice for physician assistants is articulated in provincial regulatory legislation, which outlines the range of responsibilities that define the boundaries of professional practice.

Physician assistants are highly skilled health care professionals who are educated in the medical model and work under the supervision of a registered physician. The physician assistant has the skills and experience to deal with everyday health care needs and various specialty practice environments. Some of their main functions includeii

  • Conducting patient interviews, histories and examinations
  • Performing selected diagnostic and therapeutic interventions
  • Counselling on preventive health care

i. Canadian Association of Physician Assistants. Legislation. Accessed May 19, 2016.
ii. Canadian Association of Physician Assistants. Scope of Practice and National Competency Profile. 2009.