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JAAPA. 2019 Mar;32(3):43-48. doi: 10.1097/01.JAA.0000553385.82884.f1.

Specialty certification and clinical flexibility.

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Eric D. Peterson is senior director of education and quality at the American Academy of PAs in Alexandria, Va. Sobia Shariff Hussaini is an assistant professor and director of academic practice partnerships in the PA program at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. Melissa Murfin is chair and program director of the PA program at Elon (N.C.) University. Benjamin J. Smith is director of didactic education in the PA program at Florida State University in Tallahassee and practices rheumatology at McIntosh Clinic in Thomasville, Ga. Maura Polansky is chair and associate professor of the PA program at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Amy M. Klingler practices at the Salmon River Clinic in Stanley, Idaho. Phyllis R. Peterson is president of the Association of PAs in Psychiatry. Jane Mast practices dermatology at Brevard Medical Dermatology in Merritt Island, Fla., and is president of the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants. Karen A. Wright is director of the PA program at George Washington University and the university's assistant dean for student life and academic support for health sciences. The authors have disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.


The ability for PAs to easily move from one specialty to another without additional formal training is a unique feature of the profession that is valued by PAs and their employers. Specialty certification has been viewed as a threat to this flexibility, yet 73% of PAs are in specialty practice. How can the desire to preserve flexibility be balanced against the desire of specialized PAs to distinguish themselves in their chosen specialty? This article reviews the issue of specialty certification in the context of contemporary PA practice and concludes that although specialty certification remains a threat to the flexibility of the PA model, it may be appropriate in some situations. In particular, specialty certification may be appropriate as a means for promotion within healthcare systems so long as it is not used as a requirement for entry into specialty practice, credentialing, or third-party reimbursement. A portfolio model may give stakeholders an alternative way to assess the experience and competencies of PAs in specialty practice areas.

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