What is a Physician Assistant?
A Physician Assistant (PA) is a healthcare professional that serves as an extension of the Physician to provide accessible, quality healthcare. They are an integral part of the health care team and practice medicine under the direction and supervision of a licensed physician. PAs are nationally certified and state-licensed.
At Village Dermatology, we are fortunate to have 2 amazing PAs available for our patient’s dermatology care. Both Amanda Lanier, PA-C, and Kelly Fordham, PA-C, are licensed Physician Assistants with years of dermatology experience. However, before we discuss our PA’s, let’s review some of the most common questions we hear about physician assistants.
Why were physician assistants introduced into healthcare? What do they do? And what kind of training do they receive before they’re allowed to see patients? Read on to find out.
Physician Assistants: A Brief History
In the mid-1960s, there was a shortage of primary care physicians in the United States. A doctor at the Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, Eugene A. Stead Jr., MD, recognized the need for additional trained workers to improve and expand healthcare. He enrolled four Navy Hospital Corpsmen who had already received considerable medical training during their military service. These four individuals constituted the first physician assistants’ class.
Stead based the curriculum of the first PA program on his knowledge of fast-track physician training during World War II. The first batch of PA students graduated from Duke University in 1967. The program was a great success and received federal backing as early as the 1970s, given the continuing physician shortage. Over the ensuing decades, the physician assistant profession has grown into a more formal one with accreditation standards, examinations, and requirements for continuing medical education. Presently, there is a high demand for PAs in the United States. The profession grew 300% from 2011 to 2014 and is estimated to grow by more than 30% between 2018 and 2028.
What do physician assistants do?
PAs work interdependently with Physicians to provide diagnostic and therapeutic patient care in virtually all medical specialties and settings. They take patient histories, perform physical examinations, order laboratory and other diagnostic studies, prescribe medications, and develop patient treatment plans. Their job descriptions are diverse and include clinical practice, patient education, team leadership, medical educations, health administration, and research. For many patients, a PA is their principal healthcare provider. This is very true for our patients at Village Dermatology, as they have experienced the quality care that our PA’s offer them and prefer the availability of appointment slots offered by our PA team.
A 2014 poll commissioned by the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) found that the overwhelming majority of patients (more than 90%) think of PAs as trusted healthcare providers who provide excellent service. Also, physician assistants add value to healthcare teams, improve the quality of healthcare, and improve health outcomes for patients. Some of the key advantages of physician assistants, as perceived by patients, include:
• PAs explain things about health and treatment in ways that patients can understand.
• It is easier to get appointments at a medical practice that employs PAs.
• Most patients have great relationships with their PA.
• PAs focus on all of the patient’s healthcare needs.
• PAs provide high-quality medical care at every appointment.
• Seeing a PA is associated with increased patient satisfaction.
• PAs educate patients about how to stay healthy or prevent illness.
How are physician assistants trained?
PAs are trained at the master’s degree level. There are currently over 260 PA programs in the country. Admission is highly competitive, requiring a bachelor’s degree, completion of prerequisite courses. On average, incoming PA students bring with them more than 3,000 hours of direct patient contact experience, having worked previously in a medical profession. PA programs are approximately 27 months (three academic years). The PA school curriculum is modeled on the medical school curriculum that involves both didactic and clinical education training. In the didactic phase, students take courses in basic medical sciences, behavioral sciences, and behavioral ethics. In the clinical phase, students complete more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations in medical and surgical disciplines, including family care, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, general surgery, emergency medicine, psychiatry, and other fields such as dermatology. Upon graduation from an accredited PA program, they must pass a national certification exam and maintain their certification by completing 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) every two years and a recertification exam every 10 years.
Where do physician assistants work?
Physician assistants can work in practically every healthcare setting, including medical offices, hospitals, nursing homes, community health centers, and many more. As PAs expand in their roles, so do the sub-specialties within this group of practitioners. They are no longer limited to internal medicine or family practice. One can find PAs in CV surgery, radiation oncology, plastic surgery, dermatology, among other areas
How are PAs part of my dermatology care at Village Dermatology?
At Village Dermatology, we have two physician assistants, Amanda Lanier PA-C and Kelly Fordham PA-C. Our PAs are highly trained and can function as your main dermatology provider no matter the reason that you come in. For example, they can see you for your skin cancer screening, and if you require biopsies or other treatment, they can perform these procedures. They can also diagnose and treat many different medical conditions, including acne, rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, and many others. At Village Dermatology, they are also able to perform numerous cosmetic procedures, including chemical peels, lasers, and microneedling, just to name a few.