Consumer Information

Physicians, Physician Assistants, Specialist Assistants and Their Services


What is a physician? physician assistant? specialist assistant?

A physician is a licensed health care professional who diagnoses, treats, operates, or prescribes for any human disease, pain, injury, deformity, or physical condition.

A physician assistant ("PA") is a licensed health care professional who provides medical care under the supervision of a physician. PAs provide a wide range of care within the area of practice of the supervising physician.

A specialist assistant provides medical care under the supervision of a physician in one of the four following specialty areas: orthopedics, acupuncture, radiology, or urology.

What credentials does a New York licensed physician and a physician assistant have?

A New York licensed physician has completed a program of medical education and received the doctor of medicine (M.D.), doctor of osteopathy (D.O.), or equivalent degree. While New York State requires a minimum of two years of postsecondary education prior to medical school, most applicants admitted to medical school have a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Medical programs include studies in basic and medical sciences.

New York licensed physicians have also completed a minimum of one year of postgraduate training in an approved residency program; graduates of unaccredited/unregistered medical schools must complete three years of residency training and pass a proficiency exam. In addition, licensed physicians pass a State-approved licensing examination.

Licensed New York physician assistants have graduated from a two-to-four year State-approved PA program; these programs often require two years of college-level course work prior to admission, although some programs allow entry directly from high school. In addition, PAs have passed a comprehensive licensing examination.

Is certification in a specialty area required for licensure in medicine?

No. Medical licensure is based on completion of medical school, appropriate residency training, and passing of the licensing examination.

New York licensed medical doctors are authorized by their State license to treat a wide variety of conditions, but many physicians choose to specialize in a particular area of medicine. New York State does not certify physicians in specialty areas; specialty designations used by physicians are determined by specialty certification boards of organizations of licensed professionals.

Specialty areas include internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, family practice, and many subspecialties.

How do I locate a physician?

Physicians work in private offices, hospitals, clinics, and other settings. Check with people you know who have had a successful experience with a physician. You may also check under "Physicians" in the yellow pages of the phone book. Professional organizations, such as state or county medical societies, may be able to direct you to their members in your area as well.

The State Board for Medicine cannot refer you to a physician.

Will my health insurance cover the services my doctor provides?

Review your insurance plan's benefits with your insurance provider. Your physician's office staff may be able to guide you as well.

What if I have a complaint about a physician assistant?

The Department of Health's Office of Professional Medical Conduct External Link Icon handles complaints about these licensed professionals. If you have a complaint about one of these professional's conduct, call 1-800-663-6114.

Verifying a New York License

New York licensed professionals must display a current New York registration certificate; this certificate lists the professional's name, address, and dates of the registration period. Physicians must reregister every two years to practice in New York, while physician assistants and specialist assistants must reregister every three years. Some professionals also display their original New York license, diploma, licenses from other states, and membership certificates. You may verify an individual's license and registration on this site.

Last Updated: April 7, 2014