A battle emerges over recertification of physician assistants

There’s a battle going on between the national group that represents physician assistants (PAs) and the group that currently certifies them.

The American Academy of PAs (AAPA) is continuing its opposition to a new recertification exam proposed by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and is exploring the establishment of its own new certification organization, the group announced.

The AAPA said in the announcement that the NCCPA's announcement about its new recertification testing proposal and the AAPA’s response to that proposal contained factual errors. The AAPA said its board of directors’ recent decision to investigate the creation of an alternative body to certify PAs was made after “careful deliberation” and “extensive communications” with the leadership of the NCCPA. “The decision to explore the establishment of a new certification organization was not made lightly and reflects the priority of PAs to put patient care ahead of burdensome and unnecessary recertification testing,” the AAPA said in its announcement.

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For its part, the NCCPA said it hoped for “collegial and constructive discussion” with the AAPA about how to improve the PA recertification exam process given the fact that more than 70 percent of PAs now practice outside of primary care. The NCCPA proposal includes a proctored, closed-book exam in a specialty, as well as take-home exams every 10 years to be recertified, the AAPA said. The AAPA, which once supported the recertification exam, is now attacking proposed changes to the process and wants to eliminate the exam entirely, the NCCPA said. The NCCPA said no decisions have yet been made about potential changes to the recertification process.

The two groups accuse each other of failing to communicate. They are also battling over whether the evidence shows that recertification testing improves patient outcomes. NCCPA says the evidence is there, which the AAPA disputes. The two groups also differ about whether PAs themselves support the change.

There has been rapid growth in the number of PAs working in the U.S., with the number increasing over 35 percent in the last five years.

- read the AAPA announcement
- find the NCCPA announcement

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