Family Physicians, Physician Assistants Join Forces

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Brooke Braun
American Academy of Physician Assistants
(703) 836-2272, Ext. 3502

WASHINGTON — Family physicians and physician assistants have joined forces in calling for national workforce, regulatory and payment policies that ensure Americans have access to high quality primary care in a team-oriented practice such as the patient-centered medical home.

The recommendations come in a joint policy statement, “Family Physicians and Physician Assistants: Team-Based Family Medicine,” released today by the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

The statement advocates state and national policies that recognize PAs as primary care clinicians in multidisciplinary, physician-directed teams. It also calls for educational innovations that encourage interprofessional training of medical students, family medicine residents, and PA students.

“Our nation needs a health care system that takes advantage of the clinical skills and expertise of physician assistants,” said Roland Goertz, MD, MBA, president of the AAFP. “Their education trains them to work collaboratively in providing a wide range of primary care services. The expertise they bring to the health care team can improve coordination, patient satisfaction and access to care.”

“The PA profession fundamentally believes that patients are best served by clinicians who combine their skills and experience to deliver coordinated, team-based care,” said AAPA president, Patrick Killeen, MS, PA-C. “I can think of no better way to strengthen the physician-PA team than starting when they are students and educating them in integrated programs.”

Meeting the nation’s need for high-quality health care depends on innovations that provide interprofessional education for medical and physician assistant students and that increase their clinical experiences in primary care, according to the AAFP-AAPA statement.

“Workforce reports have consistently warned that we’re facing a growing shortage of both family physicians and primary care physician assistants,” said Goertz. “We must turn that trend around. The best way to do that is by changing the way we teach both professions and the way we pay for their clinical expertise. This joint statement offers recommendations that can address both these challenges.”

“The best patient care begins with the best medical education. To ensure that both professions attract the brightest, most committed students and provide them with the finest programs, we must both expand rotation sites, and attract instructors and preceptors who motivate as well as educate,” said Killeen. “And that takes funding at a higher level than is currently available.”

The AAFP-AAPA statement’s policy positions are:

  1. AAFP and AAPA believe that family physicians and PAs working together in a team-oriented practice, such as the patient-centered medical home, is a proven model for delivering high-quality, cost-effective patient care. National and state legal, regulatory and payment policies should recognize that PAs function as primary care providers in the patient-centered medical home as part of a multidisciplinary, physician-directed clinical team.
  2. AAFP and AAPA encourage interprofessional education of medical students, family medicine residents, and PA students throughout their educational programs.
  3. AAPA and AAFP encourage education programs of both professions to expand family medicine rotation sites for PA students, medical students, and residents.
  4. AAPA and AAFP should continue to be represented on the accrediting and certifying bodies of the PA profession (ARC-PA and NCCPA, respectively).
  5. AAFP and AAPA believe that national workforce policies should ensure adequate supplies of family physicians and PAs in family medicine to improve access to quality care and to avert anticipated shortages of primary care clinicians.
  6. AAPA and AAFP promote flexibility in federal and state regulation so that each medical practice determines within a defined spectrum appropriate clinical roles within the medical team, physician-to-PA ratios, and supervision processes, enabling each clinician to work to the fullest extent of his or her education and expertise.

“The future of health care delivery will require interprofessional teams of health care professionals working together to provide patient-centered care,” the statement says. “AAFP and AAPA are committed to building on the common ground that family physicians and PAs share in order to ensure an adequate, well-educated family medicine workforce to meet the health care needs of the U.S. population.”

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Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 136,700 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the largest medical society devoted solely to primary care. Family physicians conduct approximately one in five office visits -- that’s 192 million visits annually or 48 percent more than the next most visited medical specialty. Today, family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship focused on integrated care.  To learn more about the specialty of family medicine, the AAFP's positions on issues and clinical care, and for downloadable multi-media highlighting family medicine, visit For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, please visit the AAFP’s award-winning consumer website,