The Role of the Physician Assistant: Why You Should See a PA
October 6-12 is PA Week
In 1965, then-chair of the Department of Medicine at the Duke University School of Medicine Eugene A. Stead, Jr., M.D. saw a need for a new type of medical provider, especially in rural areas. He wanted to fill an existing gap between physicians and nurses, and there was already a shortage of nurses at the time. Dr. Stead was also hoping to expand the prior medical education and experience of ex-military corpsmen.
The physician assistant (PA) career was developed at Duke University with the first program launching in October 1965 as a two-year curriculum. Four corpsmen made up the first graduating PA class from Duke in 1967. These newly-appointed healthcare providers were trained to be skilled in the spectrum of the healthcare profession in their new career, which still remains a hallmark of the PA field today.
Each October 6-12, we celebrate PA Week nationwide – the licensed medical providers who are truly extenders of our physicians. There are more than 100,000 PAs nationwide and over 100 at OrthoCarolina. Recognizing the physician assistant field gives us a chance to mark the history of what has grown to be an important profession in the medical field, to note the work our PAs do and also to share how seeing a PA can benefit you as a patient.
Here are some reasons why choosing to see a physician assistant for your healthcare needs is a smart choice:
PAs are Highly Educated
After completing their bachelor’s degree PAs go into highly-competitive PA programs for two to three years. They are educated in every subspecialty and follow a similar rotation to that of medical students. PAs follow a multidisciplinary education, meaning they are skilled in multiple fields of expertise. For a physician assistant that means learning everything from orthopedics to neurology to cardiology and beyond, and being fluent in the vast world of healthcare. When you see a PA at OrthoCarolina, they have an education in every type of medical care, even outside orthopedics.
PAs must take a general medicine board exam to become certified to practice, and must retake the boards every six to 10 years.
PAs Extend the Work of Physicians
The physician assistant role was developed by medical doctors, so it’s only natural that the career has challenging, high-level work on par with that of physicians. The PA profession mimics the model of physician education and extends the services of doctors and surgeons. PAs work hand in hand with their doctors; at OrthoCarolina many are paired in teams with a physician and work together in patient care. PAs fill a range of roles, know the protocols of their doctors and operate alongside surgeons.
PAs Allow Patients Easier Access to Care
Most patients want to get an appointment as quickly as possible, and it is typically faster and easier to see physician assistants. Because our PAs work so closely with our doctors, they perform clinical evaluations based on what their surgeon would do and fundamentally act as extenders of their physician partners. PAs generally have the luxury of more time in the office to spend during patient appointments. They diagnose and treat, assist in surgery, develop treatment plans, write prescriptions, counsel on healthcare, and help you understand your clinical tests and results.
Our PAs are a critical, indispensable part of our work, and through outreach many of them are also an integral part of the community. To read more about the role of the PA, visit the American Academy of Physician Assistants website.
Robert “Bob” Raspa PA-C is the Director of Physician Assistant Services and Value-Based Care for OrthoCarolina and oversees the OrthoCarolina PA program.