The physician assistant profession began only 35 years ago, but the growth in those few decades has been nothing less than explosive. By the end of 2002, nearly 47,000 PAs will be practicing medicine in collaboration with physicians in every area of the country and in every medical and surgical specialty. And, with almost 5,000 new graduates entering this PA workforce each year, the growth will continue at a dramatic rate for the foreseeable future.

Most segments of the healthcare environment have recognized the positive impact of this relatively new health profession. However, many CME providers, who have traditionally focused their programming exclusively on physicians, have failed to realize the potential of these professionals as customers. There is a misconception that CME activities must be specially developed for PAs or, at least, modified for them.

Common Ground

PAs share educational similarities with physicians. PAs are educated in the medical model and approach medical problems in the same manner as physicians. In fact, much of PA education is done by physicians. Thus, it is certainly logical that CME intended for physicians will be understandable and of value to physician assistants as well. In fact, PAs commonly attend meetings sponsored by national physician specialty organizations. To illustrate this further, although there are certainly activities approved exclusively for PAs by their national professional organization, the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), PAs may earn credit toward their CME requirement if the activity has been approved for American Medical Association Category 1 credit by an Accreditation Council for CME-accredited provider or if the activity has been approved for American Academy of Family Physicians prescribed credit or American Osteopathic Association Category A credit.

Physician assistants, like their physician colleagues, have rigorous requirements to earn CME credits to maintain certification and licensure. That requirement is 100 hours of credit every two years, with a further requirement that 60 of those credits be in Category I (similar in almost every way to the widely recognized AMA Category 1 in the physician model). In addition to earning CME credits, PAs must pass a generalist recertification examination every six years.

PAs Are Specialists, Too

Another misconception is that all PAs are in primary care. While the majority of PAs do indeed practice in primary care specialties, approximately 20 percent work in surgical specialties and subspecialties, and another 20 percent in other medical subspecialties. In addition, with many PAs practicing in rural areas, they are a particularly receptive audience for enduring materials and Web-based CME activities.

What does this mean for you as a CME provider? It suggests that your marketing should include PAs as potential attendees or participants in your CME activities, even those developed largely for physician specialists. At a minimum, that means incorporating PAs into your direct mail and other marketing campaigns. It may also mean applying to the AAPA for CME approval on an activity-by-activity basis to show clearly that you had intended PAs to be part of your attendee mix. It could even mean including PAs as part of your planning committee and/or as faculty. Remember, there are 47,000 potential CME customers out there who may want to participate in your activities.

Greg P. Thomas, PA-C, is vice president, professional education and industry relations, American Academy of Physician Assistants, Alexandria, Va. Reach him at

This is the second in a series of columns written by CME professionals, focusing on their particular area of expertise. If you would like to contribute a column, please contact Medical Meetings editor Tamar Hosansky at (978) 466-6358, or send e-mail to