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Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023

Celebrating PAs During PA Week & Beyond

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Physician associates do much more than assist

Rebecca Clawson, DMSc, MAT, PA-C

Every year, physician assistants/associates (PAs) nationwide celebrate PA Week from Oct. 6 – Oct. 12. The profession’s founder, Dr. Eugene Stead, was born on Oct. 6, which led to the adoption of Oct. 6 for PA Day.

Over the years, PA Day morphed into an entire week of events and articles celebrating PAs and their chosen profession. PA stands for “physician assistant” or “physician associate,” depending on where you look. Our national organization has officially changed our name to “physician associate,” but it will take time to change the name in each state legally.

Why the name change? Well, it’s simple – “assistant” is not a realistic description of the work PAs do daily with their patients. If you have seen a PA for medical care before, you understand that this title misses the mark.

PAs can take patient histories, perform physical exams, order and interpret diagnostic tests, create treatment plans, prescribe medications and assist in surgery. Not exactly what you think of when you think “assistant,” right? Over the years, the name has confused hospital administrators, legislators and even some physicians about what PAs can do. Many hear “assistant” and think of medical assistants who take blood pressure, answer phone calls and room patients in a clinic.

While PAs are very thankful for and appreciative of the medical assistants they work with daily, the two professions are entirely different. PAs work on medical teams with physicians, nurse practitioners and other health care workers, and many PAs see their own panel of patients, consulting with their team members when needed.

The physiciana associate profession was founded in 1967. At that time, PAs received only a certificate of completion for their studies, and the first class was only four students! Now, PAs are educated at the master’s level and get training in the classroom and the clinic. The average PA school lasts 27 consecutive months, and students rack up around 2,000 hours of patient care time during those months. Louisiana has four PA schools, with one right here in our backyard at LSU Health Shreveport. The admissions process is highly competitive, with an acceptance rate of about 10%. Once a PA graduates and passes a national board certification exam, they must earn 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and recertify every 10 years; in other words, PAs are required to keep up with changes in medicine.

A recent Harris poll found that 93% of people believe that PAs add value to health care teams, 91% agree that PAs are part of the solution for health careworker shortages, and 89% state that PAs improve patients’ health outcomes. Additionally, in 2023, the PA profession was at the top of several lists featured in U.S. News and World Report:

• #2 on the Best Health Care Jobs List

• #4 on the Best 100 Jobs List

• #4 on the Best STEM Jobs List

Currently, there are over 1,570 board-certified and licensed PAs practicing in Louisiana. PAs in our state work in all primary care and specialty fields, most commonly in surgical fields and urgent care. On average, they see about 60 patients per week. That’s just under five million patient visits each year!

PAs love their work, and an impressive 67% of Louisiana PAs say they would choose the same career over gain. In the words of Eugene Stead, “We belong to a service profession. If we meet the demands and needs of our patients, we have fun.”

PAs enjoy their work (which is you!).

So, if you see a PA for your medical care or see a PA out in the community, please wish them a belated Happy PA Week and thank them for the work they do for our communities.

Rebecca Clawson, DMSc, MAT, PA-C, is a clinical assistant professor at LSU Health Shreveport School of Allied Health Professions.

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