Transformative Education
for Health Professionals

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Physician Assistants in Canada

Ian Jones, MPAS, PA-C, CCPA (Editor Nadia Cobb MS, PA-C)


Canada’s 475 Certified Physician Assistants reported working in 23 separated medical or surgical sub-specialties.  It is estimated that 38% are in Primary Care roles, 13% in Internal Medicine specialties, 18% are involved in surgical practice, with 19% in Emergency Medicine. Just fewer than 50% of Canada’s PAs report serving communities of less than 250,000, with 34.5% in populations under 50,000. (CAPA 2014 National Survey)

A recent study released October 2014 showed a growing support amongst Canadians for physician assistants. The study showed 8 out of 10 Canadians supported PA role in healthcare, with 9 out of 10 senior Canadians supportive of expanding the profession.  

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Four Canadian provinces have formal Government statutes that allow Physician Assistants (PAs) to practice in the Public Health System. PAs working in these provinces are granted formal permission to practice by way of their respective Medical Act, which stipulates that a physician can delegate to qualified individuals regulated and prescribed acts traditionally entrusted and performed by Physicians.

Canada defines Physician Assistants as ‘academically prepared medical professionals who practice generalist medicine in a collaborative model with physicians as semi-autonomous providers’. PA’s medical education leads to a career focus on clinical practice and knowledge of a medical specialty gained through experience, therefore improving the efficiency of physician delivered healthcare.   Of the four jurisdictions, Manitoba and New Brunswick regulate practice and license for PAs through their Provincial Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons (Medical Boards) were Alberta and Ontario uses their delegated authority provisions.

The Physician Assistant Certification Council of Canada (PACCC) administers and oversees certification for PAs in Canada and provides quality assurance for the entry to practice examination. The Certified Canadian Physician Assistant (CCPA) designation is recognized as the national standard.    

Accreditation of Canada’s four PA education programs is provided through the Canadian Medical Association’s Conjoint Accreditation Services. The three civilian university programs are located in Ontario McMaster University (2008), and the Consortium for PA Education (2010) and at the University of Manitoba  (2008 (in Manitoba). The Canadian Forces PA program (1984 revised in 2002) is restricted to serving members and grants a degree in collaboration with the University of Nebraska Medical Center. All programs are 24 to 25 months in duration and deliver curricula that support the Canadian PA association’s scope of practice and national competency profile for PAs.

A report from the 2014 CAPA conference states "PAs can help provide better, faster care to our patients and especially our seniors," said Chris Rhule President of CAPA. "At a time when governments are struggling to save money, and find innovative ways to better care for our aging population, we need to be moving quickly to ensure we're taking full advantage of these valuable members of the health care team." 


Photo: Canadian Certified Physician Assistant Stephanie Schneider in Churchill Manitoba with local First Responder (Name Unknown).  Churchill is a community of 800 on the shores of the Hudson Bay in northern and remote Manitoba.



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