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The Important Roles of a Physician Assistant

Physician assistants have been in the news a lot lately. One recent article in the U.S. News and World Report outlined the “10 reasons to See a Physician Assistant.” The article praised the PA profession and explains what PAs have to offer patients.

“Physician Assistant is with a capital A! Don’t be thrown by the “assistant” in their title. Physician Assistants undergo intensive medical training and provide many of the same services as doctors.”

U.S. News goes on to include a “partial list” of what PAs can do (obtain patient medical histories, conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illness, order and interpret tests, develop treatment plans, counsel on preventative health care, assist in surgery, and write prescriptions) before highlighting key attributes of the profession.

Double the Expertise
Because physician assistants are required to work with a supervising physician, clients can benefit from “double the expertise.” “If I’m ever seeing a patient and I’m not clear what to do, or it’s a complicated case, I always have my physician who I consult. We really work as a team,” says Debra Herrmann, an assistant professor of physician assistant studies at the School of Medicine and Health Sciences at George Washington University.

Offer Medical Know-How
Though becoming a certified physician assistants requires less years of training, PAs follow a similar path as doctors in their medical training. As undergraduates students have similar pre-med requirements as doctors and will complete similar academic courses during PA training. Herrmann points out that many PA students have prior health care experience in places such as paramedics or the military.

Provide Specialized Care
Flexibility is a key attribute of the physician assistant. “You name me a medical specialty, and I’ll tell you a PA who’s in it,” says John McGinnity, president of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA). PAs are trained as generalists then continually update their education to provide quality care in light of medical advancements.  

Increase Health Care Access
At nearly 100,000 today, the number of PAs nationwide is ever increasing. “We can’t train enough PAs for the job market,” adds McGinnity, who is also director of the PA program at Wayne State University in Detroit. “The demand is high; the job market is good – because it’s cost-effective care.”

Time to Talk
Saira Malik, a neurosurgical PA at MedStar Washington Hospital Center who performs neurological consultations, says patients “[notice] that PAs sit and talk with you…and ask you a lot of questions.” Herrmann adds that one reason people are attracted to the PA profession is “you usually have the luxury of spending more time with the patient.”

Endless Enthusiasm
With deep enthusiasm to contribute to the health and wellness of their communities, most PAs resonate with Morris as she reflects on her range of roles as a PA during the past 35 years, “I’m an integral part of the community. It’s just perfect for me. It’s where I belong.”

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Image: Aile Sagligi Merkezi

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