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University of South Florida

Medical Acronym Quiz – What is a PA?

The physician assistant (PA) is an essential part of the USF Health team. PAs care for patients every day, working closely with physicians, nurses, and other care providers across USF Health specialties including, family medicine, orthopaedics, neurology, cardiology, dermatology, otolaryngology, general surgery, and psychiatry. “Not everyone knows exactly what PAs do. There is a misconception about the extent of their training. PAs are trained rigorously,” said Larry Collins, associate program director of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s Physician Assistant Program. “PAs are nationally certified and licensed by state to evaluate, diagnose and care for patients. PAs are able to order laboratory testing and write prescriptions, as well as make treatment decisions, including surgery.”

“Physician assistants are an integral part of caring for patients and their well-being. Often, PAs are the first encounter with our patients. They help discuss treatment options as well as help establish expectations for recovery and rehabilitation. In the USF Athletics department, our physician assistant, Larry Collins, helps maintain the health of our student-athletes right along with us,” said Dr. Trey Remaley, an orthopaedics and sports medicine physician at USF Health.

Education and Training

It may be a bit surprising, but physician assistants complete about 85% of the same medical training as medical students. PA training is comprehensive and intense due to the accelerated 27-month program completion. Also, physician assistant students typically have extensive hands-on patient care experience before beginning their training. A typical candidate for the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine’s Physician Assistant Program has 2,500 hours of clinical care experience before applying. Another difference is that the PA curriculum combines basic sciences into clinical care coursework, and PAs still have to complete the core MD classes of anatomy and physiology and pharmacology.

Role of the PA
At USF Health, PAs care for patients in both inpatient and outpatient settings. “Anywhere you might see a physician, you might also see a physician assistant,” Collins said. PAs assist in the care of patients in different ways, sometimes they work alongside physicians or they may work independently with patients. Many PAs have specialized expertise, and PAs and physicians often consult back and forth about patients. PAs are an integral part of patient care teams at USF Health.

“In surgery, PAs are the second set of hands for the surgeon,” Collins said. PAs are active participants in the steps to complete a surgical procedure. “I have been trained to do each part of a knee replacement, so if something comes up that we have to adapt to during a case, I’m trained to assist at a high level,” Collins said. “PAs provide post-operative care too, so surgeons can move on and start the next surgical procedure. This way, we are able to provide comprehensive care for more patients. Instead of waiting two months to schedule a surgery, patients may only have to wait two weeks.”

“Being able to have a PA with us both in clinic and the operating room is very beneficial. Often, the PA may have more familiarity with a patient because they had more opportunities to interact with the patient in clinic. They can discuss with patients in more detail what to expect postoperatively. They also assist the operating room staff in preparing for surgeries, which helps the surgeon be more efficient,” Dr. Remaley said.

PA vs. an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN)

There are many types of nursing roles, but the basic differences between PAs and nurse practitioners are their education and training models. “Nurse practitioners are first trained as registered nurses, earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. The nursing model is patient-centered and focuses on health promotion, disease prevention, and patient education, in addition to health assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of common or complex medical conditions. Registered nurses may pursue more advanced education and clinical training at the Masters or Doctoral level to become a board-certified nurse practitioner in a wide range of specialties, including, but not limited to, acute care, primary care, family, emergency, neonatal, oncology, pediatric, psychiatric, or women’s health,” said Christina Cardy, Director of Advanced Practice Providers and Cardiology APRN at USF Health. The PA curriculum is similar to a medical student curriculum. Although their education and training are different, many times, PAs and nurse practitioners have comparable responsibilities caring for patients.

“PAs bridge the gap by providing a continuity of care to patients. They are highly trained care providers dedicated to helping our patients achieve their optimum results from orthopaedic surgery as well as other specialty and general care at USF Health,” Dr. Remaley said.

To make an appointment with our team of Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine specialists and PAs at USF Health, please call (813) 396-9422.

Written By: Kathleen Rogers

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