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Dec. 14, 2022

Physician Assistants: Can Physicians Side-Step Ego to Help Rural Health Care? Eric Demers and Dr. Alex Nataros

Physician Assistants: Can Physicians Side-Step Ego to Help Rural Health Care? Eric Demers and Dr. Alex Nataros
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Physicians Assistants: Can Physicians Side-Step Ego to Health Rural Health Care? Eric Demers and Dr. Alex Nataros

Physicians Assistants or PAs are, in essence physician extenders, they extend the care of a primary physician. They are not nurses, nurses assistants nor are they practical nurses.

PAs got their start in the US in the 60s to respond to a shortage and uneven geographical distribution of doctors (sound familiar)? The PA profession alleviated doctors from performing routine technical tasks in hospitals allowing more patients to be served and physicians to focus where their skills would be better utilized. This rapidly evolved to include utilizing PAs in primary care settings.  PAs continue to be a part of the U.S. health system with almost 130,000 practicing PAs and 225 accredited programs.

In Canada, in 1999, the government of Manitoba passed the clinical assistant (CA) registration amendment under the Medical Act. This allowed for the licensing of registered clinical assistants which later became the registration of Physician Assistants. 

There is currently legislation on the books in Ontario, New Brunswick, Alberta and Manitoba. In Nova Scotia, the government has launched a pilot project at the Nova Scotia Health Authority for three PAs to work in orthopedic surgery to help tackle hip and knee surgery wait times. British Columbia has had interest but currently has no legislation. Getting PAs accredited or recognized legally is often tied to a relationship with the College of Physicians and Surgeons in the province.

In Canada, the Physician Assistants program has deep roots in the Canadian Military, the first to establish a school and a program. 

McMaster University and the University of Manitoba currently have PA programs . A PA Consortium, which includes the University of Toronto, Northern Ontario School of Medicine and The Michener Institute for Education at UHN has a Bachelor of Sciences Physician Assistant Degree. 

Currently though, there are only 70 seats for folks to become a Physician Assistant and the admission, as you can imagine, is highly competitive. 

Why aren’t more rural Canadian communities utilizing the services of PAs? Why are physicians resistant to adding them to their care team? And how can you be proactive in bringing physicians to your rural and/or remote communities that are open to working shoulder to shoulder with PAs?

This episode, we talk to Eric Demers, a Canadian Armed Forces veteran, a past president of theCanadian Association of Physician Assistants, who currently lives in British Columbia but works in the Northwest Territories as a Physician Assistant. And we speak to Dr. Alex Nataros, a primary care physician who just put down roots in Port Hardy, British Columbia and is advocating to have PAs recognized in British Columbia. He has alsojust started a columnin the local digital publication called theNorth Island Gazette.