The Role of Physician Assistants
in Modern Healthcare

See also: Personal Development

When most people think of the healthcare profession, two primary roles come to mind: doctors and nurses. However, there is a broad spectrum of other options for those with a passion for helping people and an analytical mind.

One of these roles is the physician assistant, who provides direct medical care to patients under the supervision of a doctor. This occupation is one of the fastest-growing in all occupations, and in the US is expected to grow by 27% from 2022 to 2032. The medical industry is expected to need 12,000 new physician assistants per year to reduce the healthcare shortage brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

What Is a Physician Assistant?

A physician assistant (PA) is a medical professional who can provide many of the same services as a physician, though in a more limited capacity. PAs obtain medical histories, examine patients, order and interpret diagnostics, prescribe medication, and perform some medical procedures, such as suturing wounds or setting broken bones.

Becoming a PA requires higher education, specifically a graduate degree in Physician Assistant Studies from an accredited university. The PA then must perform clinical rotations, the same as a doctor or nurse.

What’s Involved in Being a PA?

Beyond understanding medicine and being able to correctly assess a patient’s condition, a physician assistant must leverage a variety of both hard and soft skills to successfully care for their clients.

  • Critical Thinking

    Medicine is difficult because there may be multiple conditions that match symptoms, but their treatment will be very different. Taking a patient history, identifying the most likely cause, and then ordering the appropriate tests, takes up a significant part of a PA’s duties. A physician assistant must then interpret the test results and assess what would be the best course of treatment. This also includes knowing what the typical disease progression is and choosing the most cost-effective yet non-invasive treatment possible based on the condition.

    Patients may also share irrelevant information that must be filtered out, or they may mention something in passing that ends up being an answer to a problem, such as saying that they went on a hiking trip several months ago; this could clue the PA into the possibility that their issue is something like Lyme disease, which they can then pursue as a likely diagnosis.

  • Good Communication

    Medicine requires collaboration with other professionals, including nurses, doctors, and patients. Being able to clearly and effectively get across ideas is a must for a PA, which also involves changing their method of communication for the given audience.

    For example, it is fine to use technical language with a doctor, but when speaking to a patient, a PA must translate the complicated concepts involved with a given disease to be more easily understood.

    A PA must be clear in both written and verbal communication, as they will need to describe treatment plans to patients, doctors, and nurses. They will also write after-visit reports, respond to messages from patients, and summarize treatment plans to be included in a patient’s file.

  • Customer Service

    PAs, like NPs and other physicians, must have fantastic customer service; after all, patients are also customers, and they must be provided the same level of care and professionalism. A physician assistant must remain patient and not interrupt patients when they are speaking, even if they have already identified the cause and don’t need any more information.

    Being attentive to a patient’s needs and doing their best not to be late for appointments can make a big difference in a patient’s satisfaction with the experience and, thus, their likelihood to continue treatment.

  • Empathy

    All medical professionals need to have empathy, or they may struggle to be a great physician that can make patients feel safe. Listening attentively, expressing concern for a patient’s feelings, and considering how certain treatments may impact a patient’s life, can all help to build a positive relationship with a patient.

    Being empathetic can sometimes be difficult, especially if a patient is being non-cooperative or even argumentative. However, it is important for PAs to always remember that they are seeing patients at their worst, a time when they are in pain and afraid of what might be happening to them. Keeping this in mind can help them work through uncomfortable feelings and remain compassionate toward a patient.

  • Leadership

    While physician assistants will work under the supervision of a doctor, they must also show leadership skills, especially in emergency situations. Being able to take charge and remain calm under stress is a sign of a good leader, and it will serve a PA well when they find themselves dealing with challenging cases. Additionally, many PAs take on a mentorship role for interns and medical students, which requires leading by example and answering questions.

    Overall, PAs need to be confident in their skills, yet also willing to admit to their mistakes and gracefully take feedback from their peers. This will help them gain authority in the hospital system, ensuring that others trust them to solve difficult issues.

How to Find a Physician Assistant Role

After you have learned about the role and completed your education, it is time to enter the workforce. Physician assistant roles are plentiful thanks to the rapidly growing need; a simple “physician assistants near me” search will yield hundreds of results.

Just as with other professions, though, it is crucial that hopeful PAs vet any jobs carefully to ensure that there will be a good work-life balance, great benefits, and a supportive community of fellow service-oriented physicians. Contacting others in your network who may have worked in the same healthcare system can save you a great deal of heartache, as they will be able to give you their unbiased opinions of the work environment.

PAs have become an essential element of the modern medical system, serving as intermediaries between patients and doctors. As such, they are highly in demand, and the hopeful PA can find many amazing opportunities on specialty job boards made to forge strong relationships between great physicians and healthcare systems.

About the Author

Mr. Mark San Juan is a highly accomplished business author with a passion for sharing knowledge and insights in the world of commerce. With a background in business administration and extensive experience in the corporate sector, Mark has developed a deep understanding of various industries and possesses a keen eye for emerging trends.