As licensed clinicians who practice medicine in every specialty and setting, physician assistants (PAs) are dedicated to expanding access to care and transforming health and wellness through patient-centered, team-based medical practice. They play an incredibly important role in health care settings, and that’s why October 6-12 is now designated as National Physician Assistant Week. This special week is the perfect time to learn a little bit more about these important providers.
The Role of PAs
PAs are defined by their commitment to putting patients first and using their medical expertise, comprehensive diagnostic skills, and compassion to improve the health of patients and entire communities. They practice in every work setting, from hospitals and urgent care centers to outpatient offices and clinics, often serving as a patient’s primary care provider.
“The beauty of the profession is how versatile it is,” says Matt Steidl, interim director of the University of Lipscomb’s School of Physician Assistant Studies and assistant professor. “With extensive medical training, PAs are versatile and collaborative. They practice in every state and in every medical setting and specialty, improving health care access and quality. They have been referred to as the pluripotent stem cells of health professions because of their versatility and adaptability.”
They practice medicine in all medical and surgical specialties, including family medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine, pediatrics, gerontology, and more.
How PAs Differ from Nurse Practitioners
Although a PAs’ responsibilities may overlap those of a nurse practitioner, there are definite differences between the two jobs. Nurse practitioners typically specialize in serving a particular patient “population,” while PAs tend to focus on a specific area of medicine, such as emergency, internal, or surgery specialties.
While both careers allow you to work autonomously, PAs are required to have an agreement to work with/under a physician. In contrast, in some states, nurse practitioners have the ability to practice independently, allowing them more freedom and flexibility.
Lastly, nurse practitioners and physician assistants both undergo extensive training and education, both in medicine and in important soft skills. Primarily, nurse practitioners adhere to a nursing, patient-focused model, whereas PAs follow a disease-centered (medical) model of practice.
Why PAs are so Crucial to Health and Preventive Care
PAs lower costs, as they are less expensive to employ than a physician. However, by increasing the number of competent clinicians available to the population, PAs also allow more people to be physically seen by someone in a timely fashion. This leads to greater disease prevention and better health outcomes for patients.
PAs across all specialties are practicing medicine on the front lines of preventive care every day, serving as “prevention ambassadors” and helping millions of patients prevent illness and disease. PAs often make time to listen to patients’ concerns, answer questions, and help manage and prevent chronic illnesses.
Focusing on the Patient
PAs know the importance of making sure patients feel heard and respected. That’s why PAs advocate for patients: emphasizing patient-centered care while working collaboratively within the health care team, prioritizing patients’ individual needs, and ensuring they receive focused attention and thoughtful communication at every interaction.
Attentive, experienced, skillful, and compassionate, PAs, in many ways, are the backbone of the nation’s health care system. At UM Charles Regional Medical Center, we are happy to join other hospitals and health care providers throughout the country to celebrate these critical team members this and every week of the year.