What Does A Physician Assistant Do?

Physician assistants are medical professionals who are certified to practice certain medical tasks under the supervision and direction of doctors and surgeons. They can be found in a variety of healthcare settings like hospitals, doctor’s clinics, nursing homes, correctional institutions, health centers, schools and government agencies. Physician assistants must not be confused with medical assistants who are limited to providing doctors with routine clinical and administrative tasks.

Although they don’t possess the same extensive training as medical doctors have, physician assistants are able to perform similar tasks as physicians. For example, they can take a patient’s medical history, perform a physical checkup of a patient, order laboratory tests and imaging studies to ascertain his condition and assisting in surgical operations. They may also write prescription medication, do hospital rounds to check on patients and educate patients on preventive care practices that will enable them to live healthier lives and avoid disease.

The specific tasks of physician assistants depend on the laws of the state, the setting where they work, their specialization and their level of experience. If they work with pediatricians, they may examine children and immunize them. Physician assistants who specialize in surgery can assist surgeons in preparing the patient before the operation, suturing and caring for the patient after the surgical operation. Those who focus on emergency care may see patients brought to the emergency room with fractures. They work to put the patient in a cast so that the bone is set back in place and allowed to heal.

Physician assistants work with patients and their families. They answer questions about how to provide care for patients bearing certain conditions. For example, they advise parents of children with asthma to control asthma triggers by not exposing them to dust mites, pollen and other allergens and having respiratory ailments treated as promptly as possible. They may also tell them to ensure that their children take prescribed medication as instructed to keep their asthma under control.

Physician assistants also need to keep track of the condition of their patients. If they are seeing a patient regularly for a particular condition like diabetes or hypertension and notice that the patient has not exhibited progress with a particular treatment plan, they can then reevaluate and adjust treatment as necessary. This must also be done under the direction of the medical doctor supervising them.

In some rural areas, medical doctors may only be available for one or two days in a week in community clinics. For the rest of the week, physician assistants act as the primary healthcare providers and address the needs of patients in these locations. They would still need to meet and discuss the care given to each patient with the doctor and other healthcare workers as stipulated by law. In some cases, physician assistants may even do house calls and go to nursing homes to see patients. For these types of arrangements, physician assistants would still need to report to their supervising physician about each case once they are done with their rounds.

Because their training is not as extensive as that of doctors, there are cases when physician assistants have to refer patients to medical doctors for further evaluation of their conditions. When this is needed, they help with patient referrals and/or make the arrangements in transferring the patient to the hospital when necessary.

Physician assistants strive to keep their knowledge up-to-date especially in terms of the latest treatments and approaches to patient care. They may also join other healthcare professionals in outreach programs geared towards helping underserved groups understand how to manage disease and stay healthy.

Career Spotlight: Physician Assistant

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