I had my first experience with a Physician Assistant (PA) last week. I've heard of PAs but assumed they only worked in hospitals. This PA was working in a specialty (OHIP covered) clinic where I had an appointment. As many of you have experienced, after waiting months to get an appointment with a specialist, you find you’re only booked for 15 minutes. Not the case when a PA is involved.
The PA spent the better part of 30 minutes discussing my case. She carefully listened to what I had to say without rushing me or dismissing my input. The PA then made recommendations to the specialist, which were discussed in detail and then agreed upon and I was on my way. All in all - a very positive experience.
What is a Physician Assistant?
Never heard of a PA? After several decades working in the Canadian military, PAs have been introduced into several provincial health care systems. PAs are highly skilled health care professionals. They practice medicine under the supervision of a licensed physician. They support physicians in a range of health care settings and are “physician extenders” - not independent practitioners. That means, they are not presently licensed, are not a regulated health profession in Ontario and do not fall under the Regulated Health Professions Act of 1991.
What are they permitted to do?
- Conduct patient interviews, histories and physical examinations
- Diagnose and treat some illnesses
- Counsel on preventative health care
- Assist in surgery
- Order and interpret tests
- Write prescriptions
What are the benefits of having a PA?
PAs are helping to:
- Decrease wait times in emergency rooms and doctors offices
- Improve patient access
- Provide better attention to patients and follow up care
- Extend physician services
What kind of training do they have?
PAs graduate with a Bachelor's or Master’s degree from a university level program affiliated with a medical school. Most schools require approximately 2 years of undergraduate studies before entering the program. The program itself takes 24 full months and is offered at 4 institutions in Canada.
Will PAs be part of healthcare in the future?
That depends on who you ask. Healthy Debate, an online forum, provides a balanced look at the acceptance of PAs in Canada. Physicians are generally supportive of the role as were BC patients in a recent survey. They showed a high willingness to be treated by PAs. Nurses on the other hand may not be so quick to accept them. The College & Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta express concerns with the regulation, scope and supervision of PAs.
I vote yes to PAs.
I know it was only one experience, but for me it was a very positive one and significantly reduced my wait time for a specialist. From referral to appointment and diagnosis was less than 1 month – almost unheard of!
What about you? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Leave your comments below.