Last month I was invited to attend the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) conference in San Francisco. I didn’t even know what a PA was, let alone what they do. However, what I learned that day has changed my approach to my family’s health care.
What is a PA?
PA stands for physician assistant and these can diagnose, prescribe, treat, perform surgery, and offer continual care to patients. The main difference is that they have a supervising physician to collaborate with and receive a more generalized education. Many PAs have been gaining experience in the medical world for years before they become PAs, starting out as EMTs, nurses, or in other health professions. Every two years, PAs are required to get 100 hours of training in their specialties or in general practice (which they call “continuing medical education”) and then renew their license every 10 years.
Since PAs are educated as generalists, who can work in every specialty, they’re among the happiest and most content workers in medicine. You should have seen how positive the atmosphere was at the conference. It was obvious that these PAs take pride in what they do and that they truly care about the patients they see.
Benefits of Physician Assistants
The reason physician assistants should matter to families is the extra level of care they can provide. Doctors can be tough to make an appointment with since they may be at the hospital regularly or are off on certain days. It’s much easier to see a physician assistant and they can take care of you just as well. If there’s anything that might be beyond their scope of knowledge, they can simply consult the doctor. Also, because of their generalized training, PAs can help see the big picture by finding connections between any ailments you might have. They assist with coordination of your care.
PAs are an integral part of the health care team and part of the solution to fill health care needs. They are trustworthy, knowledgable, and qualified members of the team. They are good listeners and patient advocates.
– Cynthia Lord, long-time PA.
Physician assistants can aide in being a sort of “middle man” between you and your doctor as well. Get some test results you don’t understand? Did the doctor’s delivery of a diagnosis and treatment plan leave you less than content? Feel free to call or see the physician assistant to help explain the details in a way you can understand.
PAs in California and the U.S.
The PA profession is growing at a rapid speed. Currently, there are more than 100,000 certified PAs in the country. California has the second largest number of PAs in the U.S., just after New York, at about 10,000 strong. The rigorous training is available at programs all over California, including in the San Francisco Bay Area, Central California, and in the Los Angeles area with several additional programs scheduled to open in coming years. According to Jeremy Adler, president of the California Academy of PAs, 75% of PAs who receive their education in California graduate with multiple job offers.
Helping to Fill Your Health Care Needs
You can find PAs in every specialty — neurology, interventional radiology, cardiovascular surgery, you name it. When calling the office, feel free to request to specifically meet with the in-office PAs. Just note that in some states you are required to visit the physician at the practice first. In case you’re wondering, yes, there are some similarities between PAs and nurse practitioners (NPs). However, NPs are trained in the nursing model, and PAs are trained in the medical model, similar to physicians.
With the recent changes in health care policies and the shortage of physicians, PAs play a major role in getting your family the care they need. You and you family won’t have to wait for months for an appointment and can trust that your entire well-being is looked after. I know who I’m asking for on our next visit!
To learn more about PAs, visit AAPA.org.
Post brought to you by AAPA, the national organization that advocates for all PAs and provides tools to improve PA practice and patient care. All opinions are my own.