March 26, 2017
According to Yale School of Medicine, a physician assistant or associate (PA) is a state-licensed or federally-credentialed healthcare professional that practices medicine with physician supervision. Yale goes on to say that in clinical practice, PAs perform an extensive range of services in nearly every medical and surgical specialty and healthcare setting.
The profession has grown dramatically in the U.S. In fact, CNNMoney ranked it as the number one fastest-growing field, with a 49.7% job growth over a period of 10 years. Yet PAs are not well known outside the U.S. When speaking to friends and business associates in other countries, I find that most are not familiar with the profession. Even with such impressive growth, it is almost non-existent beyond U.S. and Canadian borders.
On Friday, our daughter, Heather, graduated from South University (Tampa, Florida) as a PA after a very intense program. We are very proud that she made it into the program and graduated. Only 24 out of 1,000+ applicants were accepted into the program. As part of the graduation ceremony, each of the graduates received a long white coat, a tradition that signifies completion of a PA program. While working as a student, they wore waist-length white coats, so receiving the longer version is very special.
All 24 students successfully completed the program and graduated on Friday, but all of them have one more very important step: to take the national exam. Those who pass it become a certified PA and can practice medicine. Those who do not can try again in three months.
While working at a medical clinic, doctor’s office, or hospital, a PA typically becomes increasingly autonomous. They see patients, prescribe medicine, and perform medical procedures such as suturing open wounds and surgically removing tissue. PAs do a large percentage of what a doctor does, but without the legal liability and sometimes odd and challenging hours. For many PAs, it can be more of an “8-5” job, although many work in urgent care, ER, or surgery where hours can be long and irregular.
We are incredibly proud of Heather, not only for completing the PA program, but also for going into a profession that truly helps others. Graduation ceremony keynote speaker Elliott Cazes, MD, said the most important instrument a medical professional can use is not a stethoscope or ophthalmoscope, but rather his or her ears. It is vitally important to carefully listen to a patient to fully understand their situation. Given what I’ve learned about the PA profession and Heather’s outlook on practicing medicine, she and her 23 fellow PAs will follow his advice and contribute a great deal to the field of medicine and the U.S. healthcare system.