A pediatric physician assistant treats young patients under the supervision and guidance of a pediatrician. A pediatrician is a physician who specializes in children's healthcare, generally treating children from infancy through age 18. Pediatric physician assistants are licensed healthcare practitioners and perform many of the same duties as physicians. They perform physical exams, diagnose illnesses, order tests and prescribe medications. The limitations of what a pediatric physician assistant can do depends on local licensing rules, personal experience and training and the wishes of the supervising physician.
Pediatric physician assistants might be called upon to assist physicians during surgical procedures, provide pre- and post-operative care, suture wounds, set broken bones and perform other duties traditionally performed by physicians. Pediatric physician assistants work in private practices, children's hospitals and clinics. They might specialize in different pediatric areas, including adolescent medicine, neonatal care, pediatric emergency care and others.
In busy inner city clinics or rural locations, a pediatric physician assistant might be the main healthcare provider, with the physician there only periodically. By law in most places, a physician assistant must always work under the physician's supervision, even if the physician is not physically present. Working hours for pediatric physician assistants generally vary, depending on the practice and schedule of the supervising doctor. In busy areas, they can be on call and can often work long hours. Pediatric physician assistants working in emergency rooms often work nights and weekends; those in private practices might have a more traditional 9-to-5 schedule.
The physician assistant profession continues to grow. The profession began in the United States in the 1960s as a way to provide quality medical care in areas where it was lacking. Highly trained medical corpsmen coming home from the military were the initial recruits into the profession.
The training program for physician assistants typically takes about two years. Programs are offered through colleges and universities, medical schools, academic health centers and elsewhere. Many programs offer the option of a master's degree, and some offer bachelor's and associate degree options.
People seeking to specialize in pediatrics take the same classes as other prospective physician assistants with additional training in pediatrics. Admission requirements for physician assistant training programs vary, but prior healthcare experience usually is required, and sometimes a college degree is necessary. Upon completion of a program, the physician assistant must pass a certifying examination to be licensed.
Another name for a pediatric physician assistant is pediatric physician associate. A career that often has closely related duties to a pediatric physician assistant is that of a pediatric nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners are nurses with advanced training who also carry out some duties traditionally performed by physicians.