As of late, you have slighted my profession (and my ego) a few too many times. You have taken the PA profession and lowered it to “scut” work. You have minimized our role in healthcare, and suddenly, my master’s degree only allows me to take vital signs, room patients and bring coffee to my supervising physician.
I know that fact-checking is tedious, and the term “physician assistant” may be confusing. But when you spew inaccurate descriptions of PAs, my large and boisterous ego is not the only thing that gets bruised. The entire PA profession takes a hit. Our credibility as healthcare providers is questioned by the people who matter most: our patients.
To help make the PA role a bit clearer, I have decided to make a list of what we do on a daily basis in terms that non-medical people will understand. This is certainly the tip of the iceberg, but at least you, the Media, will get a better grasp of our skills and expertise.
1. PAs can evaluate patients, perform physical exams, order tests, interpret test results, order consults, coordinate specialist care and follow-up, and order medications or other treatments. Pretty impressive, right?
2. If you break your leg, a PA can examine your leg and tell if it is in danger of falling off. We can evaluate if you just need a simple X-ray and a splint applied, or if you have damaged blood vessels and you need emergent surgery.
3. Heart attacks are a common, life-threatening problem. If a vessel around your heart is clogged, and you need surgery to fix it, there are PAs who are trained to assist the surgeon. They know how to open up an area in your arm or your leg and retrieve a vein that will be used to make sure your heart continues to get enough blood and oxygen.
4. If you accidentally get a foreign body stuck somewhere—anywhere—we can order the right test to see where it is. If it is accessible, we can remove it. And we do it without embarrassing you too much!
5. All of us need preventive care and screening tests. PAs are trained to help you with that! We are educated in the most up-to-date guidelines and can order tests and interpret them.
6. If you have a chronic illness that needs frequent monitoring, medication adjustments or blood tests, PAs are trained to help. We can often be found working in primary care offices.
7. Are you under 18? We see kids! PAs are trained to evaluate and treat childhood illness, and also perform well visits. We know if a child is meeting their developmental milestones and know what steps to take if they are not.
8. Aches and pains are common problems that many of us face. PAs are trained to know the underlying causes of these symptoms. Whether it be infection, inflammation or injury, a PA can help diagnose and treat it. In some specialties, a PA will use a needle to inject medication into the joint space that will allow a patient to have less pain, and thus, a higher quality of life.
9. Cosmetic surgery? Check! PAs can be found in the OR assisting the surgeon. They also perform in-office procedures to help you look your best.
10. PAs are found all over the country across all medical and surgical specialties. We see patients of all ages, with all different types of illnesses. We are trained to perform procedures and assist in surgery. We know how to navigate the healthcare system and can help coordinate specialists and follow-up. That ain’t no “scut” work!
This is obviously not an exhaustive list of our skills and abilities, and I hope you can see that we are educated, versatile providers. I work with other skilled professionals as a part of a team. We all have our place and are important to keep patients safe and healthy. Do I ever go get coffee for a doctor I’m working with? Absolutely! That is because she is my friend and colleague. The doctor would do the same for me.
So, Media, let’s make a pact: PAs will continue to provide high-quality care to our patients. In return, please portray us accurately as professionals and skilled healthcare providers. If we can agree on that, I’ll bring you a cup of coffee!
Rachael Jarman, PA-C, works in the ER of a busy Minneapolis hospital and as a pre-PA admissions coach, and occasionally, as a guest lecturer for PA programs in Minnesota. She is a graduate of Philadelphia University’s PA program.