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AAPA Name Change Officially Announced: PA Stands for Physician Associate

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Key Takeaways

  • At the AAPA 2021 Annual Meeting, the House of Delegates voted to change the physician assistant title to Physician Associate.
  • This comes after a two-year investigation that assessed the advantages/disadvantages to changing the PA name.
  • Many PAs hope this title change will bring about more awareness to the profession as well as eliminate any confusion as to what PAs do.

At the AAPA 2021 Annual Meeting (held virtually from May 23-26. 2021), the House of Delegates formally announced the official name change of the physician assistant profession. The resolution, presented following the House of Delegates vote, states that the official new title of the profession will be “Physician Associate.”1

The name change comes after years of pushback from currently practicing PAs who felt that the name “assistant” belittled their authority in practice settings. This change is a monumental occasion for PAs as they can now provide care with a title that matches their capabilities for assessing and treating patients. 

At AAPA 2019, the House of Delegates announced the official Title Change Investigation, an exploratory analysis led by WPP/Landor—an international marketing and communications firm—in conjunction with AAPA.2 The TCI aimed to answer 2 specific questions:

  1. Is there a need to evolve the PA brand based on an objective, well-informed, data and analysis-driven view of where it stands today?
  2. And if so, how do we redefine how the PA profession is positioned, how its value is conveyed, and how it is titled to meet the requirements of tomorrow’s healthcare landscape?

The original plan was to announce the new title at AAPA 2020; however, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, plans were pushed back until the 2021 conference event. The House of Delegates deliberated on this title change for several hours before presenting the final vote, 198 yes, 68 no. 

The AAPA Board of Directors will now begin the process of implementing the House of Delegates’ decision. As the Board moves forward with implementation, each constituent organization will conduct its own deliberations about a title change to physician associate. 

The organization has stated, though, that it is not appropriate for PAs to refer to themselves as “physician associates” until all legislative and regulatory changes are made to incorporate the new title. 

Many PAs have taken to social media platforms to express their appreciation and gratitude to the organization for this groundbreaking vote. User Courtney PA-C (@empoweredpas) wrote, “Today the @aapa House of Delegates voted for the title change from ‘Physician Assistant’ to ‘Physician Associate’. This is a big deal. Our title of ‘assistant’ has always been confusing and it was made clear that title change was necessary for the future of the profession.”

Another user, @jayemonet, tweeted, “Today, we officially voted to change PAs name to ‘Physician Associate’. ‘Assistant’ confuses a lot of people and patients, especially when I see my own patients, can prescribe the same medications as MDs, and in some states, own my own practice.” She continued, “[I’m] hoping this name [change] allows for more awareness, especially in urban and inner-city areas. Black kids who have an interest in medicine shouldn’t only know about nursing and doctors.” 


  1. AAPA House of Delegates votes to change profession title to physician associate. American Academy of Physician Assistants.Published May 24, 2021. Accessed May 25, 2021.
  2. PA Title Change Investigation. American Academy of Physician Assistants. Published 2021. Accessed May 25, 2021.

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