With a current significant shortage of physicians, more doctors are relying on physicians assistants (PA) and nurse practitioners (NP) to help with their caseload. But this lack of a doctor’s presence may be worrisome to patients expecting to see a physician. Many patients are asking this question, and in this article, we will detail the core differences between doctors and physicians assistants, and help identify when it is appropriate to see a PA, and when it is necessary to see your doctor.
What is a Physician’s Assistant?
A PA is, simply put, an assistant to a physician. PAs and NPs are in office to take some of the case load off of the supervision doctor. The use of PAs is become increasingly common, as the presence of PAs in a practice tends to decrease wait times both in the waiting and examination room. PAs are highly trained and help doctors manage their time more efficiently.
What Kind of Training Does a PA Have?
A simple way to compare physicians and PAs is that doctors have doctoral degrees and PAs have masters degrees. Doctors go through a notoriously rigorous process in order to practice medicine; four years of pre-med/undergraduate and four years of medical school, followed by 3-7 years of internships and residencies.
A PA, by contrast, goes through four years of undergraduate work, followed by two years in a physician’s assistant program. Many of these programs require that applicants have medical experience. PAs must then maintain their certification through continuing education courses.
What Can a Physician’s Assistant Do?
PAs act under the direct supervision of a doctor to take on many of the day-to-day tasks of a physician. PAs can diagnose minor conditions, treat minor injuries, manage conditions such as diabetes and hypertension (provided the condition is stable), and, in many states, write prescriptions.
PA Care or Doctor Care?
There is a common concern that a PA is not as qualified as a doctor. However, research shows if your ailment is not life-threatening, PAs and NPs can provide the same level of care you would receive from your doctor. While PAs my not have doctorates, they are highly educated and trained.
How are PAs Different Than a Doctor?
PAs do differ from physicians in a few key ways. Doctors, for one, are more specialized in particular areas of medicine. For instance, an orthopaedist may prefer a PA with experience in the field. A doctor is also qualified to perform surgery, while a PA is not licensed for more than stitches. A PA may assist with surgery, but they are not certified to perform it themselves. A doctor is licensed to practice independently and may have their own practice, while a physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner must be under the supervision of a physician. Lastly, a doctor’s care is required for severe illnesses, long term care, and complicated diagnoses like cancer or neurosurgery.
Is It a Good Idea To See a PA?
In general, yes, it is perfectly fine to see a PA or NP. As long as your diagnosis is not complicated or dire, a PA can provide quality care at the same level as a doctor. For more information on what our doctors and PAs can do for you, contact us today.