Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

What is a Physician's Assistant?

Trained using the same teaching model as Medical Doctors, Physician Assistants, also referred to as “P.A.’s”, are able to examine patients, diagnosis their problems and prescribe treatments. They must have a doctor in the building two thirds of the time, available for counsel, if needed. However, Physician Assistants take care of most patients independently.

That is because they have had 24 months of rigorous training to get their master's degree, on top of receiving a bachelor’s degree and having numerous hours of previous clinical experience.

Steven Dodge is the head of the Physician's Assistant program at Missouri State University. He says that a lot of patient problems could be managed by someone with significantly less training than your primary physician. He says having a Physician's Assistant is more efficient for hospitals.

“12 P.A.’s for the same cost to train one physician and yet P.A.’s can see about 85% of the patient problems that a physician could. So, you can see that the math favors using mid-levels as an efficient and effective way to lower costs of health care,” said Dodge.

Students in the P.A program at Missouri State University spend their last year in school rotating around hospitals in the Ozarks area. For eight weeks at a time they practice in specialty areas; two rotations in family practice, one rotation in internal medicine, one in surgery, one in pediatrics, one in O.B.G.Y.N and finally an elective rotation.

Jill Steinhoff is one of 28 students who were chosen from the 500 applicants they had last year for the PA program. She says the program is helpful because you can practice right out of graduate school without having to complete a residency.

“A PA pretty much practices by themselves, which is really nice. There is a lot of autonomy and we are able to provide care to people without all the overhead and without all the business aspects of being a doctor, which is part of the reason I went into it,” said Steinhoff.

But Steinhoff says there are some misconceptions about the nature of her work.

"It’s really frustrating that no one knows what we are and I am constantly explaining it to people. As a woman, people automatically think you’re a nurse and then when you say 'Physician’s Assistant,' they hear assistant and they think you’re a medical assistant. And then they are like “okay well, that great that you wrote me a prescription but when am I going to see the doctor so I can get a real prescription”” said Steinhoff.

As her career moves forward, she hopes her profession will be better understood. Steinhoff says Physician's Assistants efficiently provide care to more patients

For KSMU News I’m, Shannon Bowers.