As the effects of the new health care reform legislation begins to take hold, one thing is certain: With 32 million people entering the health care system, already-crowded waiting rooms in doctors’ offices soon will overflow. And as the impact of a physician shortage is increasingly felt in hospitals and clinics across the country, we ask: Who will provide all of this newly promised care?
Thankfully, physician assistants are ready to answer this call. PAs are the only health care workers licensed to practice medicine with the flexibility to provide care in a variety of specialty and primary care areas.
Their training in the medical model gives them the skills not only to conduct physical examinations, but also to diagnose and treat illnesses; order and interpret tests; counsel on preventive health care; assist in surgery; and write prescriptions with physician supervision.
IT IS NOT UNUSUAL for some patients to forget that the medical professional treating them is a PA and not a physician because PAs provide the same essential, high-quality care as doctors. Many patients prefer to see physician assistants because they are typically able to spend more one-on-one time with them.
The contributions of physician assistants to the medical field are priceless. They foster a team-based coordinated approach to health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs. In some rural and underserved communities they are the only health care providers for hundreds of miles. They are an integral part of ensuring people have access to the best health care.
Interestingly, PA education programs graduate more than 6,000 providers each year – five times more than family medicine programs – and are able to quickly build a qualified work force. In fact, this year America will reach a milestone of 100,000 certified practicing PAs serving all 50 states.
HERE IN AUGUSTA we are fortunate to have an outstanding PA program at Georgia Regents University, ranked 25th in the nation out of more than 170 programs. Having received accreditation for this in 1973, makes it one of the oldest programs available.
The sweeping changes in health care delivery promised by the administration will require many more medical professionals to deliver the primary care services we all need. With academically prepared and clinically skilled physician assistants being able to perform almost all of the duties of a regular physician, PAs stand ready to deliver patient care and to do so effectively and more affordably.
We remain committed to empower patients to become effective advocates for themselves and in our contributions to a stronger health care system. Through a team-based coordinated approach we deliver an integrated system that effectively extends the reach of medicine and the promise of health care to those most in need. With PAs on the team, we can provide world-class care to all.
(The writers are physician assistant students at Georgia Regents University.)