Physician Assistant: A review of the PA program
Guest: Jamie Woody - College of Health Professions, MUSC
Host: Dr. Linda Austin – Psychiatrist, MUSC
Dr. Linda Austin: Jamie Woody is an academic teaching fellow in the PA (Physician’s Assistant) division in the College of Health Professions. Ms. Woody, in this podcast, let’s talk about the profession of Physician’s Assistant. Explain to us what that is.
Jamie Woody: A PA is a licensed and board certified healthcare professional who practices medicine with the supervision of a physician. They work in all arenas of healthcare; in many different settings. They work in hospitals and outpatient settings, as well as nursing homes. They also work quite a bit in primary care, and in all the specialty areas of medicine.
Dr. Linda Austin: What are some of the reasons that physician’s assistants have become so important in recent years?
Jamie Woody: PAs have actually been playing an integral role in healthcare delivery for over 40 years. And the need for PAs in the healthcare system continues to increase with the passing years. The main reason is that we are able to function well as part of a healthcare team by extending the services of physicians. We’re rigorously trained in a medical model very similar to the model that physicians are trained in. And, in that way, we can really work very much like physicians; to extend those services to work with them, and to extend those services to patients that otherwise may never get seen. As the healthcare system becomes more burdened with greater numbers in the population, and an aging population, it’s a struggle for all patients to be seen. So, we can increase the numbers of patients that are seen. And they can be seen by someone who’s been rigorously trained and can deliver high-quality medical care.
Dr. Linda Austin: Do PAs specialize in various areas of medical care?
Jamie Woody: They do. PAs can work in primary care settings; general medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, or OBGYN, or they can work in the specialties, like cardiology, orthopedics, otolaryngology. And this list, really, just goes on and on. You’ll find PAs in just about every specialty of medicine these days.
Dr. Linda Austin: Jamie, let’s talk about the training that’s required to be a PA. First of all, what are the prerequisites in order to apply to PA school?
Jamie Woody: The prerequisites are very strongly science and math oriented. There are several prerequisites that have been very well-defined by the PA program, and they’re listed on the Web site for students that are interested. We also like for PA applicants to have had some experience in the medical field, as well as a very strong interest in working and dealing with patients, obviously. Those are some of the primary things. And, of course, PA applicants should have a BS, and several prerequisite courses beyond that, to prepare them for the PA program.
Dr. Linda Austin: And then tell us about the PA program itself.
Jamie Woody: Well, the PA program is a 27-month program. It’s split, basically, into two parts. There’s a didactic half, and then a clinical half. In the didactic year, students spend all their time in the classroom; or in activities, for example, in the Simulation Lab, learning physiology and anatomy – the fundamentals of medicine. And in the second half, they go into the clinical setting. They work in the clinics with preceptors, and with patients. When they graduate, they have about 2000 hours of clinical experience.
Dr. Linda Austin: Fantastic. Jamie, what are some of the things that PAs can do clinically?
Jamie Woody: PAs are able to diagnose and treat illness. They can conduct physical exams. They write prescriptions when necessary. They also order and interpret lab tests. They even first assist in surgery.
Dr. Linda Austin: And then, what sorts of jobs do our graduates go off to?
Jamie Woody: Oh, well, they just go off to all sorts of jobs. I mean, really, they go into all settings, and they go into many different specialties. We like to see that many of our graduates go into primary care. Some of them work in the urban area, right here, around Charleston. And others go all throughout the state, into the rural areas. Again, they work in all different fields, in primary care or in the specialties. And you’ll see PAs working in surgery as well.
Dr. Linda Austin: Jamie, thanks so much for talking with us today.
Jamie Woody: Thank you. It was a pleasure to be here