What Is a Physician Assistant (PA)?

I remember the first time I set up an appointment to see a dermatologist in Buffalo, NY. I called in and pushed a few buttons and ended up with the person who schedules appointments. She asked the pertinent questions and then proceeded to tell me that I would be seeing the PA, Jackie.

You'll be meeting with our physician assistant...

Many thoughts rushed to my mind. I wondered if this practice was so big that it needed a Public Address Announcer (PA!!!), but why would I meet a Public Address Announcer named Jackie? There was that awkward moment as I tried to figure out what a PA was and then, I finally answered that I would rather meet someone with a medical background, such as a doctor or even a nurse. The scheduler then said I would meet Jackie and offered me a few options for time and date.

Jackie is a great physician assistant

Again I thought to myself, “Who is Jackie?” Is Jackie a doctor, with a degree from an accredited university? I began to think that PA meant something regarding physician and that I would be ok. Turns out, of course, that Jackie was a physician assistant and that I would be in very good hands. Jackie was and is very good at her job. She works under a dermatologist and consults with him on my prevention and treatment.

What is the deal with all of the medical acronyms?

There are now so many medical professionals in any given practice that I realized I needed to do some research to figure all this out. There are doctors (MDs), who are surgeons, specialists, and general practice (GPs). There are nurses who are registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs). And there are physician assistants (not physician’s assistants). Each medical professional has unique training and qualifications.

The definition of a physician assistant

At my dermatology appointments, I seem to either meet with the MDs or PAs. I know what a doctor is. My grandpa was a specialist and at times, a GP. But this whole concept of a PA was not quite so clear and new to me. Hopefully, this will make things clearer.

In a nutshell, PAs are well-trained medical professionals who diagnose illnesses, develop and manage treatment plans, including prescribing medication. In many cases, PAs serve as the patient’s primary health care provider. As part of their training, they are required to have thousands of hours of direct patient interaction. Education programs are three years and require more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations.1

What can physician assistants do?

Physician assistants perform procedures and assist physicians in surgery. They do clinical research and make hospital rounds. They collaborate with physicians and are required, in most states, to sit under the supervision of an MD.1 In other words, they are well-rounded professionals with exposure to a variety of medical specialties and fields.

A physician assistant saved my life

I feel comfortable seeing PAs In fact, I owe my life to Jackie. A few years after I first met her, I had been having lung issues that my GP and a pulmonary specialist could not figure out. Jackie ordered a CT Scan WITH contrast and the tests revealed blood clots in my lungs. After a year of blood thinners and regular monitoring, I was ok. The Public Address Announcer had saved me.

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