Physician Assistant Issues – Professionalism Concerns

Physician assistants are held to high standards of professional and ethical conduct because of their roles in providing patient care. To uphold the standards of the profession, physician assistant programs expect their students to act professionally and ethically as well. As a physician assistant student, you are responsible for following all of your school's expectations concerning ethical behavior, both in the classroom and in clinical settings.

Not adhering to professional standards can land you in trouble and may lead to disciplinary action. Concerns about your professionalism as a physician assistant student can lead to your academic probation, notes about unprofessionalism on your transcript, or even dismissal from your program.

If your faculty or institution raises concerns about your professionalism during your PA studies, you should seek guidance concerning your options. The last thing you want is to halt your education, wasting the time, effort, and funding you put into your PA studies. To keep such a negative consequence from happening, consider contacting a student discipline attorney who can help you defend yourself regarding professionalism concerns.

Professional Standards for Physician Assistants

The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) is the national professional society for PAs.

The AAPA, along with other professional associations for PAs, such as the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), sets professional and ethical standards that all practicing PAs should follow. The AAPA's Guidelines for Ethical Conduct for the PA Profession (see below.)

cover five major areas of professional conduct.

  1. PA-patient interaction: The PA-patient relationship is based on mutual respect, and the principal value of the PA profession is to respect the health, safety, welfare, and dignity of all human beings. PAs should respect their patients' culture, values, beliefs, and expectations, and not discriminate against classes or categories of patients when delivering health care.

  2. Individual professionalism: PAs should prioritize service to patients over material gain and avoid general conflicts of interest. They should also not misrepresent their skills or specialties, refrain from engaging in sexual relationships with their patients and avoid gender disclination or sexual harassment.
  3. PAs and other professionals: PAs should work collegially with other health care professionals to provide effective, well-managed patient care. They also have a responsibility to identify and assist their impaired colleagues, keep up ongoing communication with their patients' supervising physicians, and should not participate in or try to conceal illegal conduct.
  4. PAs and the health care system: When faced with decisions concerning workplace conditions (strikes, slowdowns, etc.), PAs should always weigh their actions against potential harm to patients. They must also share their knowledge with patients, other health professionals, students, and the public.
  5. PAs and society: PAs should respect the law and work to change laws that will enhance the health and well-being of their communities. They should also use health care resources appropriately and responsibly and not participate in executions.

Most physician assistant education programs expect students to know and understand the AAPA Guidelines fully. Schools also add their own standards for PA students, which apply to the classroom and clinical rotations. The University of Nevada, Reno, for example, has a dress code for PA students in addition to the AAPA conduct guidelines.

Other schools, such as Kansas State University, set out rules for expected behavior in clinical settings and how clinical supervisors and preceptors should evaluate PA students. At Kansas State, students that score less than 70% on professional evaluations by faculty must meet with the school's Progression/Promotion/Professionalism committee to develop a behavior remediation plan, and are placed on academic probation.

Professionalism Assessments

Because professional and ethical conduct is fundamental to the PA profession, almost all PA programs have a method for assessing their PA students. Many schools provide a rubric or evaluation table that assists faculty and supervisors in filling out evaluations. During classroom work, professors are usually responsible for evaluating PA students' professionalism.

Typically, the professional code of conduct for a PA program encompasses academic integrity as well and will prohibit forms of academic misconduct such as:

  • Cheating
  • Plagiarism
  • Falsification
  • Fabrication
  • Classroom disruption
  • Violations of computer or technology policies

PA students must also complete clinical rotations as part of their studies. While in the clinical setting, preceptors are responsible for evaluating PA students on professional behavior. Preceptors can be licensed and certified PAs, MDs, DOs, NPs, or Nurse Midwives who help PA students assimilate to clinic or hospital settings and provide feedback on their performance.

Assessments of professionalism are an integral part of the PA student's evaluation, and low scores on an assessment can result directly in academic probation. Some PA programs have zero tolerance for unprofessional conduct and will dismiss students from the program.

Disciplinary Actions for Violations of Professional Standards

PA Students who violate professional and academic codes of conduct will typically have to meet with administrators of their program to discuss their academic progression. Program administrators may give a student with a violation an opportunity to correct their behavior or make up for it in some way (through remediation, for example). When students face multiple professionalism violations, fail to improve their behavior, or commit a particularly egregious act of professional misconduct, it can lead to severe consequences.

Disciplinary action for PA students with professionalism violations may include:

  • Being placed in poor academic standing
  • Academic probation
  • Professional remediation
  • Permanent note on unprofessional conduct in student's academic file
  • Dismissal from the program

Licensing boards, potential employers, and institutions granting credentials and privileges will inquire about and will likely see an academic file from a PA program. A notation of unprofessional conduct on a PA student's record could negatively impact their ability to secure employment or obtain licensure and credentialing.

Physician Assistant Student Discipline Defense Attorney

Students accused of unprofessional conduct in their PA program have a lot at stake. Serious professionalism issues can prevent you from getting a PA license or from finishing your education. If you're facing disciplinary action over professionalism concerns, a student defense attorney-advisor can help.

Attorney Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm have helped hundreds of graduate students across the country defend against accusations of misconduct by their institutions. If you want to protect your future as a PA, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact our offices today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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