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PA Glossary

Abbreviations, Acronyms and Titles

The abbreviations, acronyms and titles associated with the physician assistant profession and used in the literature over the past 50 years can be overwhelming and perplexing. As a historic website, we will use the terms and titles cited in the literature of the period.

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Glossary & Definitions

In the early years an ‘s was used in the title for PAs – physician’s assistant or physician’s associate. For some, the ‘s conveyed the dependence of the PA on the physician while to others it understated the level of autonomy achieved by PAs in the practice of medicine.

When a number of less rigorous training programs began using the generic term physician assistant for their students and graduates, many of the 2-year PA programs, modeled after the PA Program at Duke University, changed their titles to “Associate.”

Over time PAs have been referred to as new health care practitioners, clinical or health associates, physician extenders, mid-level practitioners, and non-physician health care providers.

In the 1980’s, the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) recommended that graduates of AMA accredited programs refer to themselves as physician assistants and that legislation enacted by states use this terminology to reduce confusion.

In 2021, the AAPA House of Delegates voted to change the profession’s title again to Physician Associates and is in the process of making the title official in all US states and territories. 

The terms Physician Assistant/Associate or PA continue to be the titles used throughout the profession.

Established in 1968, the American Academy of Physician Associates (AAPA) is recognized as the national voice for PAs in medical and surgical specialties. Originally the organization was incorporated as the American Association of Physician’s Assistants, and then changed its name to the American Academy of Physician’s Associates in June 1971 and again in February 1972 to the American Academy of Physician’s Assistants. The apostrophe was eventually dropped leaving the organization in 1981 making it the American Academy of Physician Assistants. In 2021, the AAPA House of Delegate voted to officially change the profession’s title to “Physician Associates”, making the AAPA the American Academy of Physician Associates. The AAPA has a federated structure of 56 constituent chapters representing the interest of PAs in 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Uniformed Services. The AAPA House of Delegates (HOD) meets annually to develop policy and procedures and adopt resolutions for the organization.
Constituent organizations (COs) are independent organizations affiliated with AAPA. COs are comprised of state and federal chapters, specialty organizations, special interest groups, and caucuses. They provide their members with locally based CME, networking opportunities, social gatherings, timely information, advocacy and job resources.  For more information about COs click here.
APPs are medical providers (Physician Assistants or Nurse Practitioners) who are trained and educated similarly to physicians. They work in all areas of the hospital and clinic, and patients can be treated by an APP in the emergency room, operating room or during routine visits.
The Assembly of Representatives (AOR) is the Student Academy’s legislative and policy-making body that meets once a year during the AAPA’s Annual PA Conference. Each registered student society of the Student Academy is eligible to send a representative to the AOR. The AOR establishes Student Academy policy and elects the Student Board of Directors (SBOD). During the year, the SAR (Student Academy Representative) is the primary information link between students, the Student Academy and the AAPA. 
The Association of Physician Assistant Programs (APAP) was founded in 1972 by a group of concerned program faculty who saw a need to address the important issues of accreditation, certification and continuing education of physician assistants. The Association changed its name to the Physician Assistant Education Association in January 2006 to reflect its expanded array of services to member programs (see PAEA). See more on the founding of APAP here.
The Association of Postgraduate Physician Assistant Programs (APPAP) was established by eight founding members in 1988 to assist in the development and organization of postgraduate curricula and provide advice to institutions interested in establishing advanced educational programs for PAs in various medical and surgical disciplines. The organization’s roots can be traced to 1981 when J.Jeffrey Heinrich established a mail box in New Haven, CT which he maintained as a means of sharing information about current postgraduate educational opportunities. The APPAP became incorporated in 1996 in West Virginia. APPAP member programs offer fellowships, residencies, and master’s degree opportunities for graduates of accredited PA programs to advance their education.
The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) approves and revises Accreditation Standards for Physician Assistant Education, reviews applications for accreditation, appoints site visitors, awards accreditation, imposes sanctions and advises programs and institutions on accreditation issues. The governing body of the ARC-PA consists of representatives from seven participating health professional organizations. Since first adopted by the American Medical Association (AMA) in 1971, the Standards have been revised periodically. Originally called the Joint Review Committee (JRC) for Educational Programs for the Assistant to the Primary Care Physician, the ARC-PA made its recommendations to the Committee on Allied Health Education and Accreditation (CAHEA), a national allied health-accrediting agency administered by the AMA. In 1994, the AMA helped the CAHEA to become an independent agency, known as the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP). After six years of membership, the ARC-PA decided to withdraw from the CAAHEP to become a freestanding accrediting organization. This occurred on January 1, 2001.
The American Registry of Physician’s Associates (ARPA) was incorporated in 1970 to encourage the training and to promote the activities of Physician’s Associates. Those registered by the ARPA were entitled to refer to themselves as an RPA (Registered Physician’s Associate) and were given an ARPA pin to wear on their clinical jackets. The ARPA was assimilated into the Association of Physician Assistant Programs (APAP) in 1972, and the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) assumed its registration functions in 1975. The ARPA no longer exists as an organization. To watch a video about the founding of the ARPA, click here.
DFAAPA stands for Distinguished Fellow, American Academy of Physician Assistants.  The designation was established by AAPA in 2007 in order to recognize the exceptional contributions of PAs to the profession through professional achievement, leadership, professional interaction, learning and community service.
The Education and Research Foundation was established by the AAPA in 1980 to support the educational and research needs of the profession. Its name was later changed to the Physician Assistant Foundation (PAF). See PAF for more information.
The House of Delegates (HOD) establishes the policies that are implemented by Board of Directors (BOD) of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA). The HOD meets annually prior to the Annual Physician Assistant Conference. The House of Delegates consists of representatives from the chartered chapters, the officially recognized specialty organizations, the Caucus Congress, and the Student Academy of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (SAAAPA).
The Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (JAAPA) is the peer-reviewed clinical journal of the AAPA. Its mission is to support the ongoing education and advancement of PAs by publishing current information and research on clinical, health policy, and professional issues.  It is currently published by Wolters Kluwer on behalf of the AAPA.  Overtime, the official journal of the AAPA has had different publishers and titles including Physician’s Associates, PA Journal, Physician Assistant and Health Practitioner.
The Journal of Physician Assistant Education (JPAE) is the quarterly peer-reviewed journal of the Physician Assistant Education Association.  The journal is dedicated to advancing physician assistant (PA) education by publishing ethically produced, scholarly manuscripts germane to PA educators and by providing a forum for the sharing of ideas and innovations that will enhance the education of PA students.  It is currently published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on behalf of the PAEA.  The journal was preceded by Perspective on Physician Assistant Education, the official journal of the Association of Physician Assistant Programs (APAP, now PAEA) first published in 1998.
After being formally structured and organized in 1974, the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) was incorporated and opened offices in Atlanta, Georgia in 1975. NCCPA is the only credentialing organization for physician assistants in the United States, and is dedicated to assuring the public that certified physician assistants meet established standards of knowledge and clinical skills upon entry into practice and throughout their careers. Its Board of Directors includes appointees from 14 participating organizations, as well as three members-at-large. After passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE), physician assistants are issued an NCCPA certificate, entitling them to the use of the Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C) designation until the expiration date printed on the certificate (approximately two years). To remain certified, PAs must log 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and complete the Physician Assistant National Recertification Exam (PANRE) every ten years.
Created by the NCCPA in December 2005, the nccPA Health Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit supporting organization to the NCCPA.  The generous support of NCCPA and donors enables the Foundation to empower PAs and patients to improve health. The organization strives to improve the public’s health and access to affordable care advancing the role of certified PAs to improve health.  
Optimal Team Practice was officially adopted by the AAPA House of Delegates in 2017. OTP urges states to adopt practice legislation that eliminates the legal requirement for PAs to have a relationship with a physician in order for the PA to practice to the full extent of their education and training; create a separate majority-PA board to regulate PAs or add PAs and physicians who work with PAs to medical or healing arts boards; and authorize PAs to be eligible for direct payment by all public and private insurers.
Established in 1980 as the Education and Research Foundation, and later changing its name, the Physician Assistant Foundation (PA Foundation) is the philanthropic arm of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA).
The Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C) is a title that can be used by PAs who have obtained and maintained national certification requirements established by the NCCPA. It is a mark of professional accomplishment, indicating the achievement and maintenance of established levels of knowledge and clinical skills. The PA-C credential is widely recognized within the medical professions and is required in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the American territories for initial licensure or registration as a physician assistant. The PA-C Emeritus designation was established in 2016 to honor PAs who have demonstrated longstanding commitment to the professionalism and standards required of certified PAs but who are no longer clinically practicing and do not have the need to be certified any longer. See NCCPA for more details.
The PA-C Emeritus designation was established in 2016 by the NCCPA to honor PAs who have demonstrated longstanding commitment to the professionalism and standards required of certified PAs but who are no longer clinically practicing and do not have the need to be certified any longer.
PA-S is a designation used by physician assistant students and appears on their name tags to distinguish them from other health professionals. Often a number is used to distinguish students in their first (didactic) or second (clinical) year of study, e.g., PA-S1 or PA-S2.
The Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) officially adopted its new name in January 2006, after more than 30 years of existence as the Association of Physician Assistant Programs (APAP). PAEA is the only national organization in the United States representing physician assistant (PA) educational programs. Its mission is to pursue excellence, foster faculty development, advance the body of knowledge that defines quality education and patient-centered care, and promote diversity in all aspects of physician assistant education. Currently, over 200 PA programs are members of the PAEA.
Founded in 2002, the Physician Assistant History (PAHx) Society is dedicated to preserving the history and legacy of the physician assistant profession by identifying and collecting relevant historical materials that can be used for research, education and literary purposes.  The PAHx Society is a 501(c) 3 charitable organization and supporting organization of the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).  The PAHx Society’s mission is to tell the story of the development of the PA profession and illustrate how PAs continue to make a difference in our society.  Having future generations of PAs understand and learn from their professional history is a central goal.  See video on founding of PAHx Society here.
To attain their initial certification and the PA-C designation, graduates of ARC-PA accredited programs must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). Administered almost year-round by the NCCPA, PANCE is a computer-based, multiple-choice test comprised of 300 questions that assess general medical and surgical knowledge. See NCCPA for more information.
To maintain NCCPA certification, PA certificate holders must pass the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Examination (PANRE) before their certificate expires at the end of the sixth year (or tenth year) of their certification maintenance cycle. The examination is comprised of 240 multiple-choice questions designed to assess general medical and surgical knowledge. While 60% of the generalist exam covers the same content for all examinees, each person can select the remaining 40% content from one of three fields: adult medicine, surgery or primary care. See NCCPA for more Information.
Prior to 2010, NCCPA offered, in addition to the PANRE, another way for PA-C designees to be recertified. This process was known as Pathway II. Both PANRE and Pathway II required completion of a 300 question multiple-choice examination designed to assess general medical and surgical knowledge, but there were several differences – the PANRE was computer-based while the Pathway II examination was an open-book examination that could be taken at home with use of reference materials. To be eligible for Pathway II, PA-C designees were also required to meet an additional requirement – the accumulation of 100 points through completion of activities within nine categories of education and experiential Activities. Pathway II was administered for the last time in 2010.
A Student Academy Representative (SAR) is sent from each student society to the Student Academy’s Assembly of Representatives (AOR). See Student Academy and AOR.
The Student Academy was formerly known by the acronym SAAAPA (Student Academy of the AAPA).  The Student Academy has its own structure within the AAPA and includes representation from each PA Program’s student society. Students have always been encouraged to play an active role in the AAPA since its founding in 1968. They were among the first to organize and share information with their peers. Each registered student society is represented in the Assembly of Representatives (AOR), the Student Academy’s legislative and policy-making body. These representatives are known as Student Academy Representatives (SARs). The AOR also has representation in the AAPA House of Delegates (HOD).