Monday, February 6, 2012

Name Game: What is a PA?

JAAPA is sponsoring a question of the month as part of their 25th anniversary celebration.

The JAAPA question for February:

"What is a PA? Write a description or a definition for the world at large."
The JAAPA editorial board will choose the best entry, and the writer will receive a one hundred dollar gift card.

The Question

This question brings up many interesting issues.

One of the first to come to mind is they asked for a definition of a PA, not a physician assistant or a physician associate.  So which one are we?  And which one do we intend or want to be in the future?  I suppose we could call this the old "what's in a name game."

A physician assistant or a physician associate?  Yale's PA program is the Yale Physician Associate Program.
An early definition of the PA profession is offered here from Yale's page on the "History of the Profession."
"The physician assistant, who was initially viewed as a physician substitute, was trained to provide medical care to rural and other medically underserved populations with physician supervision."
I really like this site on the History of the PA Profession, the Physician Assistant History Society.  Interestingly the PAHx site, describes the history of the profession in stages much like one may describe the Ice Age, the Iron Age and so on.  They delineate 2011-present as the Maturation Period.  So the profession is perhaps emerging from its formative years and coming into its own  maturation.  This seems particularly appropriate as we approach this new era of healthcare reform that will bring so many new recipients of healthcare into our care in the next several years.

Here is how the AAPA site defines PA:

Physician assistants are healthcare professionals who are authorized by the state to practice medicine as part of a team with physicians.
PA Profession Image

I like this.  PAs are part of a team with physicicans.  This seems to offer a clear definition to the healthcare consumer that defines the PA as working together with their physician to care for the patient.  It is a subtle but important difference from saying that the PA works under the supervision of the physician.

I think "physician assistant" is where we have been and "physician associate" is where we are headed--our future.

An evolving definition
AAPA Conference Invite

How will the PA profession define themselves in this new era?  Part of this certainly remains to be seen as the profession will surely take on a more substantial and influential role as our nation's health providers and part will be determined by how we define ourselves and advocate for our profession.

Who are we?*

Then there is the interesting issue of "Wow, it's the 25th anniversary of JAAPA and we are still defining who we are!"

This shows how long it takes to make a notice on the collective landscape of the public perception of a profession.  And perhaps, more importantly, it reveals that our profession is still in its infancy and that we still have the ability to shape and mold our public identity for the betterment of the profession.

PAs representing themselves to the public

On my flight leaving Buffalo a couple of days ago, I overheard a conversation between a very upbeat gentleman (who by the way--politely put my bag in the overhead bin for me) explaining to the lady in the seat next to him what a PA is and what he does.  He was doing his part for the profession!
This tee shirt brings up a host of implications that would be a whole different post

Which brings up another observation. Are our doctors overworked?

I have rarely, if ever, met or witnessed a PA who did not feel positively about what they do and their profession.
Not sure that I can say the same for physicians.  Is this because MDs are feeling beaten down by regulations, managed care and the increasingly heavy duty of how to actualize their ideals with their everyday practice?  I do not pretend to know the answer to this question.  But ponder it.
Gasoline Alley addresses the PA solution.

So let's go out there and let the public know WHO WE ARE!  Each one, reach one, teach one.

Check out this site:
Physician Associate:  A change whose time has come.


Please note that though I am not a PA yet, for the purposes of this article I have used "the voice" of "our profession" for simplicity's sake and because I already count myself as an advocate for the profession that I am becoming a student of and will be a part of in a few years.

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