A physician assistant or PA (not to be confused with a nurse practitioner) is a licensed healthcare professional who is able to assess, diagnose and treat patients for a range of medical illness and/or injuries while under the supervision of a physician or surgeon.
These healthcare professionals often work with a range of medical professionals such as technicians, registered nurses, physicians and surgeons, and may be found operating in a variety of healthcare centers including clinics, physician offices, hospitals and urgent care centers.
Physician assistants focus on the prevention and treatment of diseases, illnesses and injuries by performing physical exams, taking blood/urine samples, interviewing patients, diagnosing and treating injuries and illnesses and prescribing medication among other medical tasks.
They also help educate the patient about their medical condition and provide feedback and advice on how to best prevent, treat and improve both their overall health and their specific ailment.
Physician assistants are responsible for performing a wide variety of medical tasks and patient treatment programs.
While physician assistants are supervised by a physician or surgeon they are able to perform many top level tasks by themselves and patients may be treated by a PA without ever seeing a physician or surgeon.
In fact physician assistants can do everything from assessing a patients condition to treating the patient, and even prescribe medications.
Here is a short list of some of the common tasks physician assistants perform:
- Interviewing and counseling patients on their medical condition
- Performing examinations
- Diagnosing and treating patient illnesses / injuries
- Recording patient vital signs
- Taking patient test samples
- Prescribing medications and treatment plans
- Researching recording, collecting and gathering patient healthcare data
Mobility and diversity in their work is a key factor for physician assistants, making them an indispensable asset in the healthcare field.
The ability to spend hands on time with patients and help educate them about how to improve their own care allows PA’s to develop strong, long term friendships with those they care for and provide a more personalized experience for their patients.
While physician assistants can handle most (if not all) of a patients direct medical care there has been quite a challenging debate on PA’s opening their own businesses or working as primary healthcare providers, and more central mid-level opportunities for these types of care depend largely on the state and healthcare policies and guidelines that are set in place.
However as healthcare continues to go through reforms and more mid level positions are needed to fill the increasing gap in the healthcare system both nurse practitioners and physician assistants are being given additional training and education that may eventually allow them to open their own business and help more patients in need of medical care.
Understanding patient care
Being a great physician assistant is more than providing adequate care to patients in need of medical treatment.
A great physician assistant is one who is able to listen to their patients needs and easily explain complex terminology and treatments.
They must be extremely patient and caring towards patients who have a difficult time managing their own health or understanding the process they are going through, especially when dealing with young children, elderly patients or those dealing with mental disorders.
PA’s who really enjoy and love their work will be exponentially happier and their personal enjoyment/satisfaction will reflect in the work they do.
Becoming a physician assistant for financial, social, academic or other outside reasons that don’t focus on or contribute to providing care and love to the patients they serve can make work more difficult and less pleasurable in the long run.
Being a PA is an extremely rewarding career, however it is one that has it’s own challenges, responsibilities and expectations, therefore it is important for PA’s to make sure their personal interests are in line with their profession if they want to get the most sanctification out of their work.
Those who are interested in becoming a physician assistant must first have a Diploma, G.E.D. or equivalent before they can advance into a college setting.
Individuals who are working towards a physician assistant degree may earn an undergraduate (bachelors degree) from an accredited college in a variety of fields, however a degree in health science is often recommended as it will help prepare students for a PA program.
Either while earning a bachelors degree or after obtaining one students should gain experience working in a healthcare setting as many PA programs may require students to have several years (3 or more) of experience in addition to an undergraduate degree before join a PA program.
In any of these cases however students must obtain a bachelors degree before being able to participate in a physician assistant program.
For example if you choose to become a medical assistant you’ll still need to acquire a bachelors degree in addition to your work experience in order to be eligible for the PA program.
Once eligible for the program students will spend an additional two years learning about the physician field and taking courses on topics such as anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology clinical medicine and medical law and ethics among other related topics.
Aside from classroom training students must also gain valuable clinical experience.
While the amount of clinical time needed to pass the program may vary by school many schools suggest a minimum of 2,000 of clinical training as part of their curriculum.
Lastly, students who finish the PA program must also pass a physician assistant national certifying exam in order to become certified and begin working as a physician assistant.
In order to continue working as a physician assistant PA’s must renew and maintain their certification as long as they work.
PA’s that are interested in furthering their career may choose to continue their education and work towards additional certifications in specialized fields such as nutrition, ambulatory care or specialized technician positions.
The importance of PA’s in healthcare
Physician assistants are an extremely important part of the healthcare system.
They allow physicians, surgeons and other medical professionals to focus on tasks that are important to their job responsibilities by freeing up time with patients and in some cases allowing multiple physician assistants to manage many of the important aspects of a physician office or healthcare center.
Because of the physician assistants education background, training and knowledge they are able to perform many tasks without the direct supervision of a physician and can manage many of the end to end aspects of patient care to provide each patient with the time and attention they need to receive proper care.
Without physician assistants many of the other healthcare professionals may find themselves overwhelmed and understaffed, which can lead to increased errors, higher stress levels, long patient wait times and less overall satisfaction for both the patients and the healthcare professionals who care for them.