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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a physician assistant?

Why is this new role being introduced?

How is Ontario's PA initiative being carried out?

What demonstration projects are currently taking place in Ontario?

What happens when the demonstration project wraps up?

What developments have been made in establishing PA education programs in Ontario?

What is a physician assistant?
Physician assistants support physicians in a range of health care settings and work under the direction of a licensed physician to provide patient/client care. In Canada, PAs have been employed by the Canadian Forces for many years to deliver health care services to members of the military and their families. PAs have been working in Manitoba since 2002, where they are known as clinical assistants. PAs have also practised in the United States since the 1960s. The PA role is currently being integrated into the health care systems of many other countries around the world.

The specific duties of the PA vary depending on the individual competencies of the PA, the supervising physician’s area of practice, and the types of duties that the supervising physician chooses to assign. Examples include:

  • Conduct patient interviews and take medical histories
  • Perform physical examinations
  • Perform certain controlled acts delegated to them by a physician
  • Provide counselling on preventive health care

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Why is this new role being introduced?
Evidence shows that PAs help to improve access to health services and overall quality of care. The introduction of PAs is designed to help reduce wait times and ensure that care is provided by the right provider at the right time. Expanded interprofessional health care teams will be better able to serve patients.

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How is Ontario's PA initiative being carried out?
Ontario’s Physician Assistant initiative is introducing PAs to a number of different health care settings through a series of demonstration projects across the province.

The initiative also includes the establishment of Ontario-based postsecondary PA education programs.

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What PA demonstration projects are currently taking place in Ontario?
There is currently 2-year PA demonstration projects taking place in hospitals, community health centres, and in settings where PAs are employed by a physician or group of physicians.

  • PAs have been introduced to more than 20 hospitals and are working as part of interprofessional teams in areas that include general internal medicine, emergency, orthopedics/orthopedic surgery, general surgery, complex continuing care and rehabilitation. This part of the project is being led by the Ontario Hospital Association.
  • PAs have been introduced to five primary care Community Health Centres and are working as part of interprofessional teams in areas that include chronic disease management programs, addictions and mental health, and pediatric and women's health care. This part of the project is being led by the Association of Ontario Health Centres.
  • PAs are being introduced to diabetes care and long-term care patient management settings where they are employed directly by a physician or group of physicians. This part of the project is being led by the Ontario Medical Association.
  • A total of 17 PAs are being introduced into Family Health Teams (FHTs) in an expansion of the primary care demonstration project. FHTs are comprised of a range of health care professionals who work collaboratively to provide family health care services, as well as chronic disease management, disease prevention, and health promotion.
  • PAs are being introduced into 19 Emergency Departments across Ontario through an expansion called the emergency department demonstration project. A mix of urban and rural emergency departments across the province are participating in the project to further introduce PAs into the Ontario medical system.

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What happens when the demonstration project wraps up?
A comprehensive evaluation of the PA role will be undertaken. A report and advice will be provided to help inform decisions about the ongoing role of PAs in Ontario.

It is expected that the introduction of the PA role will have a positive impact on care delivery, as it has in other jurisdictions, and that the initiative will serve to establish the physician assistant as a key member of the health care team in Ontario.

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What developments have been made in establishing PA education programs in Ontario?
McMaster University and University of Toronto have launched Ontario’s first civilian physician assistant education programs. Graduates of these 2-year programs will have the skills and competencies necessary to meet Canadian standards to practise as PAs in Ontario.

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