Check out the video below to meet our very own PA-C, Ashley Reuter!
Any time you get sick, you’ll probably meet an alphabet soup of credentialed healthcare providers. Before you even make it to the exam room, you’ve probably seen registration staff, triage nurses, and perhaps even a medical technician that took your temperature and weight. And all of this happens before you’re evaluated by a clinician, who may or may not be a doctor, but a physician assistant (PA).
You already probably recognize the title MD and RN, but healthcare is full of acronyms, and we know it can be confusing. The PA title could be unfamiliar, but the level of care you receive from one is actually the same.
So, what is a PA? Is an MD different (or better) than a PA? This article will help you understand key similarities and differences between a PA and MD.
Meet our Physician Assistant, Ashley!
What Is a Physician Assistant?
A PA is an advanced practice professional (APP) that provides the same quality of care as an MD. What’s different is the level of education between the two medical certifications. PAs condense much of the same medical school training that doctors receive in a shorter window of time.
Here are some facts about PA educational requirements that may surprise you:
- PAs first receive a four-year undergraduate degree
- PAs go on for at least two more years to receive a master’s degree
- They must also have some experience in a healthcare setting, such as working as an ambulance attendant or an ER tech to be accepted into PA school
- PAs then attend a rigorous three-year medical training program in medical and behavioral science and ethics
- PAs also go through a clinical residency where they spend more than 2,000 hours treating patients in their chosen field
- PAs must pass board certification and receive licensure to practice
So, if the biggest difference between a PA and MD is the amount of time they spend in school, what does that look like for doctors? Here are some facts about MD educational requirements:
- MDs must attend a four-year undergraduate program
- After four more years of medical school, they officially become MDs
- Then these new doctors attend residency that lasts another three to seven years
- At the end of residency, MDs may attend a fellowship for several more years in a practice specialty area
Both MDs and PAs undergo extensive training in anatomy, body functions, diseases, and treatment. The latter portion of both areas of study require hours of clinical hands-on training with patients. Both clinicians never stop learning and are regularly required to complete continuing medical education (CME) credits.
If these specialty areas are so similar you may be wondering why it’s even necessary to have a PA. After all, there are plenty of doctors out there, right?
Actually, that’s the problem.
Why Do We Need Physician Assistants?
PAs help us in a variety of ways, but for starters, we need PAs to help solve a supply and demand problem with our physicians. The latest data shows that the United States will face a shortage of physicians that could go as high as 124,000 by 2034.
Even before COVID-19, the shortage of doctors was already being felt by patients. Today there are 218 counties in the U.S. that don’t have a single physician providing care. Many physicians who have been practicing for decades will be retiring in the coming years. This will place more of a burden on our healthcare providers to give you the care you need. For you, as a patient, the wait time for an appointment is expected to increase. Some patients may have to travel even to receive the most basic level of care. You may experience less time with your doctor.
The bright light ahead lies in our ability to leverage PAs, who can provide 80% of the same types of services as an MD. There are more than 139,000 board certified PAs in the U.S. today, so the chances of you running into one are pretty high. PAs and MDs interact with patients, diagnose, and prescribe treatments. There are signs that the PAs role in the typical medical practice is increasing; the number of PAs grew by 6.52% from 2018 to 2019.
PAs are a greatly needed and respected resource for our nation’s healthcare system. They can stretch our safety net and help all of us get the help we need when we need it the most. So, is it okay to see a PA instead of your regular doctor?
Is It Okay to See a Physician Assistant Instead of an MD?
Absolutely. PAs are both highly skilled and highly trained medical professionals that work under the supervision of an MD and are fully prepared to provide you with the highest quality of care and caring.
Like a doctor, a PA performs diagnostic exams and treatments and works with you on preventative care to improve your health. PAs in all 50 States, Guam, and Washington, D.C. can even provide prescriptions.
An MD can work independently, while a PA must always work under the supervision of a doctor. PAs can’t perform surgeries, but they can assist an MD during the procedure. However, an MD and a PA both can:
- Develop patient treatment plans
- Diagnose disease
- Offer counseling on preventative healthcare
- Order medical tests and interpret the results
- Perform medical procedures
- Prescribe medications
The benefits of seeing a PA over an MD are that, instead of just having an MD provide care, you’ll see the PA and the MD will approve the treatment. That’s like receiving an automatic second opinion from a trusted medical advisor (for free). Additionally, you may feel less rushed with your PA, given the demand on an MDs time and bandwidth.
What Can a Physician Assistant Do for My Allergies?
The answer to this is simple: The same thing a doctor would do. Board-certified PAs at the Adult and Children Allergy Asthma Center are your allies in the treatment of your seasonal or other types of allergies. Our entire team is here to help dig into the symptoms and underlying conditions that are causing you discomfort.
The next time you come to our practice, we’d like to invite you to meet Ashley Reuter, our board-certified physician assistant. She works closely with Kevin Farnam, MD, our board-certified allergist, to diagnose and treat your condition. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.