If you have landed on this page and are not sure what the hell I am talking about, go to “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” Part Un. Read that blog then return here and you should be all up to speed. Also, don’t forget to take the “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” poll after this.

So, this is the second portion of “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” I never imagined this blog would become so large. I got started on this with one simple word scribbled down in a notepad, “DR”. I wrote it down on a day when I had seen a good number of new patients and had to correct most of them when they said “thanks doctor”. It reminded me of when I was a very green Physician Assistant and it felt like I was correcting people all the time about my title. I started questioning exactly what was I doing? Am I just pretending to be a doctor or am I serving some unique function in the health care system? This phrase “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” kept popping into my head. Literally making me laugh out loud. Of course I have matured in my role as a health care provider and no longer question what I do or who I am as a clinician, but that phrase has been stuck in my head since then. I want those who are looking into becoming a Physician Assistant (I call them wannabes) and those new Physician Assistants (pups) to really understand what they are getting into. Who knows maybe one of them, or one of you have said to yourself “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.”

A fact of being a Physician Assistant; no matter what you do someone is going to call you doctor. It happens. I have some ways that I think you can avoid uttering the phrase “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” The main goal, from my perspective, is to educate your patients as to your role and title to limit the number of times this happens.

Number 1: You have very little direct control over this, but on a grand scale the AAPA and your state level association need to be pro-active in educating the public about what Physician Assistants do. You can influence this some by supporting them. (yes, that means you give up some of your hard earned money so they can keep working to keep you working.)

Number 2: Your clinic needs to put you in the public spotlight a little. The clinic should be holding health fairs that you can be at; taking BPs, calculating BMIs, and doing blood sugar checks. This will allow you to educate patients not only on yourself, but on some key health issues affecting Americans today. It is also really good PR for your clinic.

Number 3: Wear a name tag or have your name embroidered on your lab coat and scrubs. Yes, I know I said patients can’t read. (trust me it seems like they can’t at times.) If you ever get dragged to the boards over not introducing yourself as a Physician Assistant, you can always say that you wear a name tag.

Number 4: Make sure your clinic has some kind of signage that indicates a Physician Assistant practices in the building. Most clinics have the Physician Assistant listed under the Doctors name. We have a digital picture frame set up that will display a power point presentation. We can easily display the names and titles of all the providers. It also serves as a way for us to advertise upcoming events or promotions.

Number 5: All of your non-provider personnel should be aware and educated about Physician Assistants. They need to know the limitations your office has on what the Physician Assistant can and cannot do. They need to be trained in ways to correct patients about how to address Physician Assistants, without confusing or pissing off the patient.

Number 6: As a Physician Assistant, you need to be prepared for this. You need to practice what you will say when a patient calls you doctor. Think about how you want patients to address you. I choose first or last name (not too picky about it.) You do what fits your personality. Never ignore the fact that the patient called you doctor, always acknowledge it and inform them of your title and role.

Number 7: Use what you already have available. The AAPA has some great media information that is available for you to put into your clinic to help your patients understand what a Physician Assistant does. These are available at the AAPA website.

Number 8: Always, always, always introduce yourself properly. Include your name and title. If you get the vibe that the patient does not comprehend it, stop right then and deal with it. If you let it go and the patient thinks you’re a doctor, but later finds out you’re not they can really get pissed.

Number 9: I can’t say this enough about being a productive and happy Physician Assistant; have a good supervising doc. Without a doubt this is one of the best ways to avoid this problem. The supervising doc will set the tone for the rest of the office to follow. They will overlook those times that a patient calls you doctor.

Implementing some of the steps above can help reduce or even eliminate that “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” feeling. Lift your head up and be proud of what you do. You are not pretending to be anything; you are Physician Assistant, a highly trained health care provider. Now get out there and tell patients how good Vicks 44 cough syrup is!


  1. trishx3 says:

    #1 and #2 kind of goes back to the whole point of not everyone knowing what a PA actually is. Since people are not well informed on what PAs are in the health care system, you need to let them know every chance you can!

    #3 Like you said name tags and embroideries don’t always help, but at the same time it’s just like initaling or signing everything that you order or do in an office.. it backs your butt up.

    #4 and #5 The powerpoint is a very good way to let the patients know who everyone is and their title. They may not pay too much attention to it, but once again it’s there to inform you. The personnel working need to know how to explain the PAs jobs and limitations!! I can not tell you how many times in a day I’m asked what a PA is, can they get medicines, can they be seen, ect. If you know how to inform the patients properly not only will you be giving them knowledgable information you will be helping your practice keep business coming.

    #6 I’ve seen the way several different PAs have introduced themselves and explained that they are not the Dr. but as long as you answer truthfully and don’t be all sad and assaulted it’ll be just fine. There are the occasional rude patients who are not satisfied with the service they got and they all have the same saying after the visit, “I wish I would have known the REAL Dr. wasn’t here.” but not everyone is going to be completely 100% happy with what you did for them, or are upset because they need bloodwork for RXs it’s apart of the business you shouldn’t let it tear you down.

    #8 I correct patients myself over the phone or in person as much as I can, but I have seen a couple of times where the patient did not realize the PA they were seeing wasn’t a Dr. and it was a very ugly scene!

    Excuse my comment, just thought I would mention my point of view too.

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