Physician Assistants: Who they are, What they do

Shelby Wasil, PA 3rd Year

In the 1960s, there was a severe shortage of healthcare professionals in the United States. In order to meet the health demands of the American population, Duke University in North Carolina put together a program to educate  a new kind of healthcare professional. Students were educated like those enrolled in medical school, but at an accelerated pace. The idea took so well that schools all over the nation began to start programs of their own, with Duquesne’s beginning in 1993. The result? A brand new member to the healthcare field: the physician assistant .

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Because physician assistants are becoming more prevalent, more people are curious about what they really do. As a physician assistant major, I’m being trained to examine all kinds of patients. I will be able to work in nearly every medical environment, from assisting in surgeries to writing prescriptions at a general practice . We work alongside our physicians in order to provide patients with a more personal healthcare experience  that a busy doctor may not be able to offer on their own. Here at Duquesne, we are learning the crucial anatomy and physiology that is central to assessing the health of the patient, but also we are  learning about the need for effective communication  between co-workers and patients.

Although a physician assistant works primarily with a physician,
a PA must communicate with the entirety of the healthcare team in a workplace. Therefore, nurses and physician assistants work very closely together and communication  and collaboration between the two is absolutely crucial. A PA may rely upon a nurse for updates on a patient while the PA cannot be present to check on them. A nurse may assess a patient for a physician assistant to examine and draw conclusions  about later. This symbiotic relationship  ultimately provides a patient with a more personal and all-encompassing experience at an appointment. Both professionals have to  be able to discuss a patient’s symptoms, concerns, and options with one another. Effective  communication requires mutual respect for one another’s professions, as well as the shared goal that is the patient’s recovery . It is obvious to me that a physician assistant cannot function to their full potential without excellent communication with nurses in their workplace.

Photo by Shelby Wasil

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