Why are PAs so important for American healthcare?

September 9, 2016

unusual medical careers

Taking care of patients is often a team effort. Gone are the days where a doctor was the only one involved in a patient’s care. Today medical care often involves a team of professionals including nurses, technicians, and therapists.

One vital member of the healthcare team is a physician assistant.

The role of a PA

Physician assistants emerged in the 1960s as a response to a shortage of doctors. In some specialties, such as family practice, there continues to be a shortage, especially in certain communities. Physician assistants continue to fill a need.

But that’s only part of why physician assistants are important to the healthcare system. During the last 60 years, the role of a PA has expanded. Currently, physician assistants work in most areas of medicine that doctors work. For example, PA’s work in cardiology, oncology, and pediatrics. They also work in emergency medicine, general surgery, and gynecology.

Even in medical specialties where there is plenty of doctors, PAs are an important part of a practice. Physician assistants don’t take away from doctors. Instead, they decrease some of the routine work for doctors and ease their load. That means doctors can make the most of their office hours and see more patients.

More practitioners at a practice may also allow patients to see their healthcare provider without long wait times. The bottom line is having physician assistants at a medical practice means more people have access to medical care.

The flexibility a PA offers is also important for healthcare. For instance, because of the general training they have, physician assistants may be qualified to work in different areas of medicine without additional years of school, which is unlike a doctor.

Becoming a PA

To become a doctor, it requires seven plus years of schooling. Once a doctor completes a residency in a particular specialty, it would take more training to move into something else. For example, if a doctor wants to move from family practice to emergency medicine, they would have to complete another residency to become board certified. A PA can move into different specialties easier, which means they can fill community needs.

Physician assistants also provide quality care that is cost effective. Although they don’t have the same length of training as a doctor, they can do many of the same things. PA’s can examine patients, order diagnostics tests, perform certain procedures and order treatment. They can also educate patients and be involved in preventative medicine. But they do it at less of a cost that medical doctors, which benefits patients and the entire healthcare system.

It’s important to understand that the quality of care is not compromised because a patient is seeing a PA instead of a doctor. Patients who see a physician assistant are usually just as satisfied with care as those who see a doctor. According to the American Association of Physician Assistants, research has indicated that physician assistants provide high-quality care with outcomes similar to doctors.


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.