According to the U.S. News and World Report, physician assistant is one of the best careers of 2009. You may have already encounter a physician assistant during a visit with your regular physician, but if you don’t already know what a physician assistant is, here is a brief description:
Physicians assistants are very much like doctors, as physician assistants do eighty percent of what doctors do, such as conduct exams, diagnose conditions, prescribe medications, and assist in surgery. And, while physician assistants are required to practice under the supervision of a physician, they still have a surprising amount of autonomy to practice medicine.
Physicians assistants work as members of the health care team, take medical histories, examine and treat patients, can order and analyze laboratory tests and x-rays, and even make diagnoses for their patients. Physician assistants also treat minor injuries, by suturing, splinting, and casting. Physicians assistants also record progress notes, instruct patients, and order or carry out necessary therapy. Physician assistants are also able to make house calls or go to hospitals or clinics to check up on patients. Many physician assistants are required to be on call during off hours.
In order to become a certified physicians assistant, a four-year undergraduate degree and two to three years of post-bachelor’s is required. All jurisdictions require physician assistants to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, which is open only to graduates of accredited PA programs.
Furthermore, physician assistants must complete one-hundred hours of continuing education every two years to retain their certification. Physician assistants must also pass a recertification exam every six years.
There is also the opportunity for physicians assistants to specialize in a particular field, such as surgery, neurology, neonatal care, etc. Specialization of course requires additional education.
And, while physician assistants don’t bring home the same salary as regular physicians, P.A.’s still average $70,000 – $100,00+ a year. Not too shabby.
Many practicing physician assistants say that the benefits of this job are substantial. Many, if not most, physicians assistants say they enjoy the fact that they have a better relationship with their patients because they are able to spend more time with them, instead of being rushed through appointments. Physician assistants also have the advantage of having a supervisor above them. This is advantageous because they are able to consult their supervisor for whatever reason and the supervisor is ultimately responsible for patients, not the physician assistant.
However, being a physician assistant does have its disadvantages. For example, they may find it difficult to obtain the trust of a patient who does not know their qualifications or obtain the respect of nurses and doctors, who may not see them in a position of authority.
Mary Shelldon, a physician assistant from Florida says, “I’ve been a PA for about two years now. I absolutely love what I do and all the benefits that come with being a practitioner. However, if I had to do it again, I would definitely have gone to med school to be an MD. As I gain more experience as a PA, I become much more comfortable treating patients and I hardly ever need to consult my supervising physician anymore regarding patent’s treatment plans. Even though I feel eventually I’ll be comparably skilled to my supervising physician, I’ll never have the same level of authority. If I am in practice for 10 years and have a great grasp on my particular field, a brand new M.D. may come out of med school or internship and automatically will have more authority than me though they may know much less. Patients are generally accepting of PAs, and it doesn’t usually cause a problem, but occasionally they say they’d like to make sure the physician agrees with my diagnosis and treatment plan – frustrating.”