Is the correct title for a PA Physician Assistant, or Physician‘s Assistant?  Well, if you’re not sure, I can’t blame you.  The confusion over the correct title for PAs is even worse than the confusion over what PAs do.  So let me set the record straight here and now:

PAs are Physician Assistants (no apostrophe-s in the title).*

It may seem like a trivial matter, but if you want to become a physician assistant, you need to know how to say it properly.  Yes, we hear people messing it up all the time – even doctors, and occasionally even some PAs!  If you join this young field, prepare yourself for the reality: you’ll hear people getting your title wrong a lot.  If that makes you think twice about becoming a PA, then you probably shouldn’t become one.

But, if you aren’t so high strung and can take things in stride (a good quality in any health care provider) then you’ll learn to let it go.  Or maybe you’ll even politely correct someone else when you hear them say it wrong: “Just FYI, Bob, it’s physician assistant – there’s no ‘s’ between the words.”  [Polite smile goes here.]

So it’s Physician Assistant.  So what?

It matters.

Case in point: when I was 16, I got my first job.  It was at a barbecue restaurant in Burlingame, CA.  I had never waited tables and was hoping to score the “big bucks” of hourly wages and tips.  Go ahead and laugh.  I was so young!  Anyway, the boss told me after my interview, “Good for you, kid.  You wrote on  your application that you are applying to be a server, not a waiter.  I don’t hire applicants who put “waiter.”  He had worked in the restaurant business for decades, and whenever he heard anyone call themselves a waiter, he cringed.  It was a matter of pride.  “You don’t spend you whole day waiting,” he told me, “You spend your day serving.”

Knowing the proper title of the career you’re pursuing shows that you’re serious about it.  Using the wrong title makes you look ill-prepared, or worse, just plain stupid.

What’s wrong with the term Physician‘s Assistant?  I can only give my opinion.  Beside the fact that it’s just plain incorrect, I think it has a lot to do with PAs not wanting to feel owned by someone else.  That apostrophe-S implies ownership, as in “Sarah’s dog,”  or “Dr. Lee’s [very own] assistant.”  Believe me, with the work that PAs do, nothing could be further from reality.

Why Does the Physician‘s Assistant Misnomer Persist?

  1. Public ignorance of the PA role and function – we’re the new clinicians on the block, and word’s still getting out.
  2. The poor choice of names for the profession in the first place.  We’ll be tackling this in a future post, but for now, I think the title was chosen so that doctors would feel less threatened by PAs, and would allow their introduction into medicine.  I can almost hear it now: “Don’t be bothered by these guys who do work very similar to  yours – they’re your assistants, and how cool is that?”
  3. Money.

Although the public is becoming more savvy about PAs, the apostrophe-S title is all over the internet, and the reason, not surprisingly, is money.  There’s far less Google competition for web pages using the wrong job title than the right one.  It’s similar to typosquatting,”  the shady practice of making webpages with URLs (web addresses) with common typos in them.  And since pages like gmial.com often have google ads on them, Google makes money from it too.  Ever accidentally type in Goohle.com?  Don’t bother.

So if you can’t get your webpage about Physician Assistants to the top of the google rankings, you just might get your page about — man, I hate to even type this — physician‘s assistants to the top.  Believe me, there’s money at the top of goohle.  Eh…I meant google.

My advice: if you want to become a PA, don’t get your information from sources that use the term physician‘s assistant – either they don’t know what they’re talking about (ignorance), or they’re after your money.  Finally, say it the correct way: Physician Assistant.

* If you doubt me on this, go to www.aapa.org and notice that there are no references to the title Physician’s Assistant.