On a daily basis, does the work you’re performing feel like that of an assistant?
If you answered “no,” then you’re like the vast majority of PAs who responded to a survey administered by the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) in May. It found that 90 percent of PAs feel a disconnect between their official title and role in healthcare, and that the term “physician assistant” can cause confusion regarding what PAs are capable of and legally allowed to do. The research involved 6,000 PAs and 1,300 PA students, as well as focus groups and interviews with more than 50 people, including patients and other healthcare professionals.
What is AAPA’s title change investigation?
PAs’ concern about their title has been prevalent for some time. In fact, it prompted the AAPA to launch a title change investigation (TCI) a year and a half ago, in May 2018. The TCI is exploring alternative terminology for the PA profession to better reflect its scope of responsibilities. As you know, PAs, thanks to their thousands of hours of medical training, diagnose illnesses, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient’s principal healthcare provider.
At this stage — between phases four and five, according to the AAPA — it’s unclear whether the TCI will result in a new name for PAs. That decision lies with AAPA’s House of Delegates at the conclusion of the investigation, anticipated for May 2020. The AAPA hasn’t released any new information about its progress since May. But based on its online schedule, by now it should’ve already identified potential alternatives to “physician assistant” and begun gathering feedback on its selections.
What are the arguments in favor of “physician associate”?
The most talked-about option, of course, is “physician associate.” (In fact, multiple medical schools, including Yale and University of Oklahoma, already use this term.) Many PAs and other health professionals have offered their take on this issue. A quick Google search shows that PAs seem to be generally in favor of the switch.
“I am a staunch believer that the word assistant hurts us every time we write or say it. My belief is it has held the profession back immensely. After 50 years we are still telling people we are not ‘that kind’ of assistant,” explains David E. Mittman, PA, DFAAPA, in the AAPA blog.
“I have a license to practice medicine and a DEA license just like the [physicians] do … We are no one’s ‘Assistant’ … We are an associate, an extender, but not an assistant. There is no hand-holding after years of experience … We do not practice as assistants and the patients still DO NOT GET IT … We are clinicians. Period,” posted PA Laura Record-Halpern on LinkedIn.
What are the arguments against “physician associate”?
In the “against” camp are many people who argue it won’t spread awareness of PAs’ capabilities and will only create unnecessary red tape. For example, laws that specifically reference “physician assistants” will need revision and research into the profession will require looking up both the old and new titles. PA schools and organizations would have to spend money on rebranding themselves, as well.
And last, there’s a whole separate group of PAs who are indifferent to the argument. (Might this be the biggest group?) Many of these individuals feel the debate wastes time, funds and energy that could be spent furthering the profession in other ways, especially policy changes and educating patients. Others say they will always identify themselves as a “PA,” because it’s the letters that mean something to them, regardless of what they stand for.
“I have always shied away from this discussion because it wastes energy, time and money. I have always felt that I am a PA. I have let any patient or professional opinions of me rely on my demonstrated skills and ability to communicate with and care for patients. I would love to see this discussion simply go away,” commented Tony Petrillo, PA-C, on the NEJM website.
“PAs stand for excellence in clinical care practiced safely in teams with other healthcare professionals. PAs stand for increasing access to all levels of the healthcare system. PAs stand for patients,” added David J. Bunnell, MSHS, PA-C.
So, are you for, against or neutral about changing the name? Share your thoughts in our poll.