Paynesville Press - October 9, 2002

Community Perspective

What exactly is a PA?

By Dan Lillquist

When I was first asked to write a Community Perspective, I was unsure of what to write about, so I decided to give the community a perspective of my job.

Many of you who have seen me in the clinic have asked, "What exactly is a P.A.?"

I am a physician assistant (PA). I work for the Paynesville Area Health Care System, both here in Paynesville and in Watkins. PAs are health-care professionals licensed to practice medicine with physician supervision. PAs are found in all areas of medicine. Most work in family practice, like me, but many also work in specialized fields such as surgery, dermatology, and others.

A little history about PAs may be helpful. In the mid-1960s, physicians and educators recognized there was a shortage and uneven distribution of primary care physicians.

To expand the delivery of care, Dr. Eugene Stead of the Duke Medical School put together the first class of PAs in 1965. He selected navy corpsmen and army medics who received considerable training during their military service and during the war in Vietnam but could find no comparable civilian employment.

Dr. Stead based the curriculum of the PA program on his knowledge of the fast-track training of doctors during World War II.

PAs are educated in a medical model designed to complement physician training. PAs are taught, as are medical students, to diagnose and treat medical problems. The average curriculum for a PA program is 111 weeks, compared to an average of 155 weeks for medical school.

Education consists of classroom and laboratory instruction in the basic medical and behavioral sciences (such as anatomy, pharmacology, pathophysiology, clinical medicine, and physical diagnosis). This instruction is followed by clinical rotations in internal medicine, family medicine, surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine, and geriatrics.

PAs are also required to complete 100 hours of continuing education every two years following graduation.

As I mentioned above, PAs work with physician supervision. The scope of their practice corresponds to the supervising physician's practice. In general, a PA will see many of the same types of patients as the physician. The supervision that we receive can either be direct or via telephone consultation, allowing us to practice "solo" in other clinics.

As part of our responsibilities, we conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, assist in surgery, write prescriptions (in Minnesota and 46 other states).

I hope this gives you a better understanding of what a physician assistant is and how we fit into the medical community.

Dan Lillquist, PA, did part of his training and now works at PAHCS.

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