It was Oct. 8, 2013, and a beautiful fall day in New York City. About 200 PAs, mostly students, and I were celebrating National PA Week in Rockefeller Plaza outside the “Today” show’s studio. For me, this day brought back some fond memories.
The students were mainly from New York City and Connecticut. The names emblazoned on their white jackets read Touro College, Stony Brook University and University of Bridgeport.
As I talked to them, I could see excitement in their eyes. They listened as I spoke of how the profession has changed since I graduated from PA school in New York City in 1979. After graduation, I went back to my hometown of Philadelphia. The profession was new then. Newspapers did not list many PA jobs, and the Internet didn’t exist. It was a totally different time.
I shared a few of the milestones since I became a PA: We now have prescriptive privileges in all 50 states, we’ve been recognized by Medicare as healthcare providers, there’s a PA in Congress (Rep. Karen Bass) and we have a 10-year recertification cycle. But unlike our physician colleagues, we do not have a “grandfathering-in” date that exempts PAs from participating in the recertification process if they were originally certified before a certain date (most medical professions use 1990).
The students listened, and yet had other things on their minds. They talked about tests, and a few were interested in job availability.
All of a sudden, David Jackson, first vice speaker of the AAPA House of Delegates, came up and said hello. We shook hands, and it hit me: David and I are from a totally different era of PAs than the students, and the students have no clue what we have gone through over the previous 30-plus years.
I related to one of them the difficult times in the ‘70s and ‘80s before the Internet and how the failure of President Bill Clinton’s healthcare bill in the early ‘90s provided a forum to promote the physician assistant name. She listened intently, and yet it was difficult to communicate how tough it sometimes was.
I’m reminded of how things have changed for the better, both for me and for the profession.
For instance, when I left New York City in 1979, I took the train home. This year, I drove a 2011 car. I lived in an apartment then, and now I have a big five-bedroom house. Back then, few PA jobs were in the want ads, and today I get four email lists of jobs per day.
During PA school, I was a member of a study group that was vital to my success. I still see one of the members, Peter Murray, every year at IMPACT: AAPA’s Annual Physician Assistant Conference. We share our successes such as the 10-year recertification cycle and hope soon to celebrate a grandfathering-in date. (A little history: Our study group was featured in an out-of-print publication, “Health Practitioner/Physician Assistant,” in April 1979.)
Instead of telling people what a PA is, a woman from Washington state visiting the “Today” show said, “I love my PAs.” We held up signs for the camera that said, “America Needs PAs.” If I had said that in 1979, the response would have been, “We already have one PA… Pennsylvania.”
What a difference 34 years makes!
Happy PA Week!
Bernard Stuetz is president of the Society of PAs in Addiction Medicine and a past member of AAPA’s Professional Education Advisory Commission.