Physician Assistants: A valuable part of the healthcare team

October 6-12 marks Physician Assistants Week, an observance designed to highlight the contributions of a very important member of the healthcare team.

Physician assistants (PAs) are health professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. They conduct physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret test results, provide preventive care counseling, assist in surgery and write prescriptions.

PAs emerged in the 1960s when physicians and educators recognized a shortage and uneven distribution of primary care physicians throughout the United States. The first PAs were a group of hand-picked Navy corpsmen who were selected because of the considerable medical training they had received during their military service. Dr. Eugene Stead of the Duke University Medical Center created a curriculum for the students based on the fast-track training of physicians during World War II.

Today’s PA program takes a little more than two years to complete and is made up of an equal portion of classroom studies and clinical rotations. Upon graduation, PAs sit for a national certification exam. To maintain their national certification, they must log 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and take a certification exam every six years.

Jaime Caro, PA-C, RCS, is one of 84 PAs currently working throughout the Scott & White Healthcare System. He sees the role of the PA becoming even more important now that the healthcare reform bill has passed.

“More people than ever before will have access to medical care,” Caro said. “PAs have the skills to address this new demand for care, especially in primary and family care practices.”

The American Academy of Family Physicians projects the U.S. will face a shortfall of 40,000 family physicians by 2020. This shortage will be met, in large part, by PAs, who will play an integral part in transforming patient care in America.

Today, almost 75,000 PAs provide care to more than 250 million patients annually in virtually every field of medicine and surgery, closely working with physicians and other members of the healthcare team. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of PAs to increase by 39 percent within the next decade, making it one of the fastest growing occupations.

“The PAs at Scott & White take great pride in our contributions to the care of our patients,” Caro said. “We truly enjoy our work, and look forward to continuing to be able to provide the highest quality care as part of the mission of Scott & White.”

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Physician Assistants: A valuable part of the healthcare team