LIMA — With Baby Boomers aging, there is an increased need for health care but not as fast of an increase of available physicians. That’s where physician assistants come in.
“There’s an explosion of folks who need health care … We have a lot of physicians, but we need a lot of care,” said Patricia Hogue, chair of the University of Toledo Department of Physician Assistant Studies. “(You) see Physician Assistants filling a lot of those voids, especially in rural America.”
Physician assistants go to school for less time than physicians, but they are able to provide much of the same care. They are quickly becoming the primary medical provider for many people.
They go to graduate school for a master’s degree, taking some of the same classes as physicians going through several more years of medical school. Their education is a condensed, faster-paced version of medical school.
It costs less, and they’re out in the field, working and making about $90,000 a year, in just a little over two years.
Patients shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a physician and a physician assistant other than the name tag, said Richard Hopkins, a physician assistant and chair of the physician assistant program at the University of Findlay.
“With most patients, there’s a growing acceptance to see PAs,” Hopkins said. “It’s the same care.”
Physician assistants work in tandem with physicians, often splitting patients so more get seen in a shorter amount of time.
Physician assistants can’t start or work in their own practice or perform surgery, but they can work within a physician’s practice, treating patients on their own, writing prescriptions and diagnosing illnesses.
Some practices find great value in physician assistants. Research shows that there is value in their work — for patients and practices.
Physician assistants incur a remarkably low rate of malpractice, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, physician assistants provide high patient satisfaction levels, ranging between 86 and 96 percent, and decrease waiting time, according to a study by the Kaiser Foundation Research Institute.
The Orthopaedic Institute of Ohio in Lima has had physician assistants since it opened in 1998. Today it employs 14.
Kathy Ackerman, practice administrator, said physician assistants at OIO work side by side with physicians.
“PAs are very knowledgeable,” she said. “They’re very smart; they’re very skilled. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”
Physician assistants also help increase patient satisfaction at OIO, Ackerman said, mostly because they often get to spend more time with patients than doctors can.
Ackerman said patients have become more accepting of being treated by PAs. More medical practices are beginning to use them.
Physician assistants educational programs are also becoming more popular, as is the profession.
The University of Toledo offers a physician assistants program and medical school. Hogue said she’s seen the profession become more popular in her time at the university.
Many students are deciding to become physician assistants instead of physicians based on the shorter length of schooling, the lack of a residency requirement and the high cost of medical school, Hogue said.
Julie Rego is in her first year of the physician assistants program at Toledo. She said she chose the profession because it’s flexible, and she can “bounce around” to different specialties without more schooling.
“It’s really awesome and flexible as PA that you can do whatever you want to do,” she said. “It allowed me to channel everything I wanted to do in life into one career.”
Rego said she appreciated the combination of job independence and the team atmosphere.
“I liked (that) I could be autonomous but also have someone I could fall back on as a support system,” she said.
Acceptance of the profession and the educational programs is increasing.
“People are realizing they’re able to do things physicians can do; they are just as intelligent, they are just as capable,” Rego said.