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About Us: Purpose and Mission

Not sure who the NCCPA is and what we do? What does the NCCPA credential mean? Check out the following video on NCCPA! It goes through the nuts and bolts of how and why NCCPA was established and the purpose of the credential. After watching the video, read more on the history of NCCPA below.


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NCCPA's Purpose, Vision and Mission

NCCPA is the only certifying organization for physician assistants in the United States. Established as a not-for-profit organization in 1975, NCCPA is dedicated to assuring the public that certified physician assistants meet established standards of clinical knowledge and cognitive skills upon entry into practice and throughout their careers. All U.S. states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories have decided to rely on NCCPA certification as one of the criteria for licensure or regulation of physician assistants. More than 100,000 physician assistants have been certified by NCCPA since 1975, and more than 95,000 are certified today.

Our Vision Statement

Transform the delivery of quality healthcare by certifying qualified PAs through programs that improve patient care while exemplifying a commitment to excellence unparalleled among certifying organizations.

Our Mission Statement

To serve the public through exemplary programs that evaluate critical PA competencies and that require the pursuit of life-long learning and improvement.

A Brief History

In the 1960s, during the wake of a large number of military corpsmen re-entering the civilian population, Eugene Stead, then chairman of the Department of Medicine at Duke University, recognized the need for a midlevel health practitioner, whose function would be of a generalist, primary care nature. He intended this midlevel health practitioner to complement the services and skills of physicians, often times in more remote areas and areas of high need. Collaboration was taking place among organized physician groups, educators, the United States government, and medical regulatory bodies in establishing a foundation for the components of the needed physician assistant profession.

In 1965, four ex-Navy corpsmen were enrolled in the first physician assistant program - a two-year, intensive, generalist-model program at Duke University. Following this lead, training programs began to proliferate in the United States - many supported by grants from federal and private foundations.

With the increase in the number of PA training programs came a need to develop a program evaluation mechanism. In 1971, the American Medical Association (AMA) Committee on Allied Health Education and Accreditation (CAHEA) developed training program guidelines and implemented a program accreditation mechanism, in an effort to maintain consistency throughout PA programs. Simultaneously, the recognition of a need for an agency to represent the professional interests evolved, and the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) was established. Soon after, the Association of Physician Assistant Programs (now the Physician Assistant Education Association or PAEA) was formed to provide a forum for the exchange of information among educators.

In 1972, the National Board of Medical Examiners (NBME) and the AMA convened representatives from fourteen organizations, including the AAPA and PAEA, to discuss the need for establishing an independent certifying authority for the physician assistant profession. Three years later, the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) was formed to fulfill that role.

NCCPA is the only nationally recognized certifying body for physician assistants in the United States. Established as a not-for-profit organization in 1975, NCCPA is dedicated to assuring the public that certified physician assistants meet professional standards of knowledge and clinical skills. All U.S. states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories have decided to rely on NCCPA certification criteria for initial licensure or regulation of physician assistants. More than 100,000 physician assistants have been certified by NCCPA.

To attain certification, PAs must graduate from an accredited PA program and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). PANCE is a multiple-choice test that comprises 300 questions that assess broad medical and surgical knowledge.

After passing PANCE, PAs become NCCPA-certified, which entitles them to use the Physician Assistant-Certified® (PA-C®) designation until the expiration of their first cycle (approximately two years). To maintain NCCPA certification and retain the right to use the PA-C designation, they must fulfill continuing medical education (CME) requirements every two years and pass a recertification exam every six to ten years.

As the PA profession has evolved, so has NCCPA and the certification process. In 2002, NCCPA initiated an effort - ultimately joined by AAPA, PAEA, and the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) - to establish a profession-wide definition of PA competencies throughout a PA's career. That effort led to the publication of Competencies for the Physician Assistant Profession in 2005. Subsequently various NCCPA committees and staff have evaluated NCCPA's certification and certification maintenance processes to determine how those processes may be modified to assess, incorporate, or foster a broader range of the identified PA competencies. In 2011, the Board approved the addition of new directed CME requirements related to self-assessment and performance improvement activities and an extension of the recertification cycle from six to 10 years; PAs began transitioning to the new process in 2014. 

In 2009, the NCCPA Board of Directors brought to conclusion in some ways nearly 30 years of discussion when they provided the final approval for NCCPA to launch a Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) program to recognize PAs’ experience and knowledge in certain specialty areas. Today CAQs are offered in cardiovascular/thoracic surgery, emergency medicine, hospital medicine, nephrology, orthopaedic surgery, pediatrics and psychiatry. To earn a CAQ, PAs must be NCCPA certified and have a valid state license (or comparable authorization to practice); meet specialty specific requirements related to CME, experience, and procedures and patient-case management; and pass a specialty exam. The first specialty CAQ exams were administered in September 2011.

NCCPA has earned accreditation from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). The NCCA is the accrediting arm of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE). Established in 1977 as a nonprofit organization, ICE is a leader in setting quality standards for certifying organizations. In 2007, NCCPA received the Georgia Oglethorpe Award for performance excellence and was the first non-profit organization in the state to receive this distinguished recognition. The Georgia Oglethorpe Board of Examiners said of NCCPA, "Commitment to customer satisfaction is pervasive and systematic through the organizational processes. In this manner, the organization can meet and exceed its goal of being responsive, innovative and effective in addressing the interest of the public and other stakeholders."

Imbued with a strong sense of responsibility to assure that PAs meet professional standards of knowledge and skills, NCCPA will continue to strive to meet the needs of its stakeholders efficiently, effectively and honorably.