Physician Assistants and Spine Patient Care

Medical teamA Physician Assistant (PA) is a graduate of an accredited PA educational program who is authorized by the state to practice medicine with the supervision of a licensed physician.  The hallmark of the PA concept is the trusting and collaborative relationship of the MD-PA team.  A spine PA may work with an orthopaedic spine surgeon, neurosurgeon or physiatrist and helps to ensure quality patient care. As part of the spine team, a PA may perform history and physical examinations, make diagnoses, recommend and treat spinal disorders (eg, herniated disc), perform certain procedures, assist during surgery, and make rounds in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, and nursing homes.

PA Education and Training
Physician assistants are dedicated medical practitioners who have received an extensive academic and clinical education. The PA educational program is closely modeled after the medical school curriculum and includes both classroom and clinical study.

Completed in an average of 27 months, a PA program requires candidates to complete courses in the core sciences, such as anatomy and physiology, as well as behavioral science and medical ethics. In addition, the majority of PA programs across the country require candidates to have prior healthcare experience to qualify for the program.

Physician assistants may choose to specialize in a particular area of medicine, such as spinal disorders, orthopaedics, surgery, pediatrics, and primary care.  There exists a significant amount of advanced clinical training (on the job) once a PA joins a medical team or surgical team.

Demanding and Rigorous Program
The education of a physician assistant doesn’t start when they are accepted to PA school. The prerequisites for acceptance into a PA program include completion of at least two years of college and basic science courses.  Once accepted into a program, over 2,000 hours of clinical rotations are required in various clinics and long-term care facilities. After completion, physician assistants are required to maintain national certification by completing 100 hours of continuing medical education (CMEs) every two years.

PA Educational Programs are Accredited
There are currently 181 accredited PA programs in the United States. Each program requires rigorous training to ensure that the PA is prepared to handle all aspects of patient care. Educational programs for physician assistants are supported by the Physician Assistant Education Association and accredited through the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant.

During Your Appointment
You may be seen by your spine specialist’s PA during your appointment. Patients can be assured that care provided by a PA by no means substandard to that offered by a physician. Remember, a PA’s education and hands-on training are closely modeled after that of a physician. PAs overseeing patient care are supervised by the physician as a quality care measure. However, supervision does not mean the physician will be or is required to be present during all aspects of patient care.

Physician Assistants are Essential to Quality Patient Care
PAs are capable of making important diagnostic and therapeutic medical decisions and recommendations. They order and interpret imaging studies (eg, x-rays, MRIs) and lab test findings often necessary to diagnose the cause of neck or back pain. Furthermore, they promote healthy lifestyle choices and encourage preventive care.  

The United States Department of Health and Human Services is spear heading the Healthy People 2020 initiative of which PAs are actively involved. The initiative works on four fundamental principles that parallel the work for which PAs are responsible. These include:

  • Helping people live longer through preventing disease
  • Eliminating health disparities, which mean providing extra hands in offices and hospitals
  • Creating environments that promote good health
  • Promoting healthy behaviors throughout all stages of life

Studies have shown that patients are just as satisfied with medical care provided by PAs as those who were treated by doctors. Physicians and PAs alike are dedicated to your care and well-being.  They work closely together as a team in order to enhance your overall patient experience.

Updated on: 01/27/16
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