It is expected that physician assistants (PAs) utilize their degree to provide direct patient care in clinical medicine, but there are many other career options for PAs to consider, including those in clinical research. PAs working in clinical research are most frequently assigned the role of sub-investigator. The sub-investigator functions under the supervision of the principal investigator (PI), who is ultimately responsible for all duties related to the clinical trial at their clinical site. This dynamic is similar to the relationship between PA and supervising physician in a clinical practice setting. Sub-investigators and PIs share the same responsibilities related to the clinical aspects of the trial, including evaluating and consenting patients, performing interim visits, ensuring patient safety, and providing concise and timely documentation. Beyond these clinical tasks, the PI has additional administrative expectations, including reviewing all documentation and assuring that all protocols are being followed. The role of the PI is typically reserved for physicians, though no regulations mandate this. Experienced research PAs should consider challenging these norms and seek out opportunities to progress into the PI role as an avenue for career development. This article examines the prerequisites required to hold the role of principal investigator and encourages PAs to consider and advocate for this nontraditional career path.
Arnone C. Can PAs Be PIs: Options for Advancing Your Career through Clinical Research. University of Lynchburg DMSc Doctoral Project Assignment Repository. 2023; 5(2).
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