By Diane Forrest, RN
You wake up this morning, not feeling quite yourself. You could have a bug, a virus, an allergic reaction. You need medical attention but your doctor is booked up. It’s not an emergency, so a trip to the hospital isn't necessary, so where do you go? Many cities have places called after hour’s clinics or non-critical care clinics. Many of these are staffed by Physician Assistants.
What exactly is a Physician Assistant? They are professionally trained health care practitioners who work under a physician’s supervision. They are concerned with preventing, maintaining, and treating human illness and injury by providing a broad range of health care services that are traditionally performed by a physician. Physician assistants conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, and write prescriptions, except for controlled substances.
PAs may be the principal care providers in rural or inner-city clinics where a physician is present for only 1 or 2 days each week. In such cases, the PA confers with the supervising physician and other medical professionals as needed and as required by law. PAs also may make house calls or go to hospitals and nursing care facilities to check on patients, after which they report back to the physician.
The role of the PA is relatively new. The program was initiated in the early 60's at Duke University based on the training of medical corpsmen in WWII. Their fast track to medical training provided the model for the curriculum at Duke. This field of study does not take as long as a physian. A PA can complete the course in 2 or 3 years following a degree in some sort of medical field, and they do not have to complete a residency program.
This is one of the fastest growing fields and is expected to continue to rise. In 2008 there were 74,800 in the United States. More than 53 percent of jobs for PAs were in the offices of physicians. About 24 percent were in general medical and surgical hospitals, public or private. The rest were mostly in outpatient care centers, including health maintenance organizations; the Federal Government; and public or private colleges, universities, and professional schools. Very few were self-employed.
PA's are a very important part of the health care community. They provide a valuable service and are being recognized this week, during Physicians Assistants Week. If you are being treated by a PA, please let them know that you appreciate them, and if you see them this week, make sure you give them a pat on the back.
For more information about physician assistants go to this site: http://www.aapa.org/