Physician assistant enjoys making a difference

Physician assistant enjoys making a difference

After entering the physician assistant program in 1996, friends said I should pick another profession. They predicted the saturated field would result in less jobs. Well, it’s been 17 years, and the field continues to grow exponentially. In fact, the U.S. had more than 83,000 physician assistants last year, about double the number a decade ago, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Doctors attend four years of medical school after undergraduate education, do a year of internship, and several more years of residency. Becoming a PA meant I could still practice medicine but finish schooling in half the time and expense. The trade-off is physician assistants have to work under the authority of a physician: In many states, we can’t practice independently. However, as health care changes, more demands are placed on doctors. This creates a wonderful opportunity for PAs and broadens our scope of practice.

Today, I practice family medicine at Alliance Family Physicians in Gainesville, Fla., where I perform full exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, manage long-term illnesses, and perform skin biopsies and joint injections. I also order and interpret lab tests, EKGs and X-rays and prescribe medications. Surgical PAs work as first assistants in the operating room with their surgeons. They also do post-operative checkups. Physician’s assistants have the unique chance to make a difference in the lives of others and for me, I feel rewarded every day.

I had a patient several years ago — who for privacy’s sake I’ll call John — came to see me for an annual exam. As I finished John’s checkup, I asked to listen to his heart and lungs. As I listened to his heart, I heard a pronounced murmur — an immediate red flag. I ordered an echocardiogram. A cardiologist diagnosed John with a tear in one of the muscles that controlled a valve in his heart. They rushed him in for open-heart surgery. After he recuperated, he came back, healthy, smiling and thanking me for saving his life. I told him listening to his heart is just part of my job.

I had another patient call and request a prescription for a rash. I told her I had to look at it, and she came into the office. Her “rash” turned out to be a bruise from damaged blood vessels beneath her skin. Subsequent blood work showed an essential clotting factor was low, so we rushed her to the hospital. Later, the admitting doctor told her if she had sustained so much as a nosebleed, she could have bled to death.

Helping patients like these reminds me why I got into this field of medicine. The staff members are like a second family to me and my supervising physician, Dr. Bruce Branin, is more than a supervisor, he’s a friend. We enjoy our work together and that’s reflected in our patient care. I became a PA to make a difference. That may sound like a cliché, but it’s true. The patients with the heart murmur and rash trusted my judgment and got the quick care they needed. Those outcomes reinforced why I became a PA in the first place. It’s an awesome responsibility and privilege when someone puts their care in your hands.


Al Otero is a certified physician assistant who specializes in family medicine at highly rated Alliance Family Physicians in Gainesville, Fla. When he’s not working, he enjoys jogging and bowling.


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