What's in a Name?

Photo Credit: Skye D.

Physician Assistants collaborate with Physicians to provide the highest level of care. By this I mean: work alongside surgeons in the operating room, conduct independent hospital rounds, administer injectables (like Botox and Fillers), and function as the primary providers in many outpatient settings to list a few examples. The role of PAs is integral as providers work hand in hand in a team based approach. While PAs play a crucial role in our health system, many feel that our title is misleading. It gives off a false impression of our responsibilities. For those who are not familiar with the field, it is not unusual for PAs to be confused with Medical Assistants or a variant of a nurse.  While these providers serve an important role in patient care, PAs duties are significantly different from either profession. 

While a large group feel that the title Physician Assistant paints an inaccurate depiction of the field, efforts have been made to suggest our title be changed. If you type, "Physician Assistant name change" into your search engine you will find an array of articles and commentaries detailing why this would be good and bad. Professionals have also created social media groups to align those in agreement. PAs have been incorporated internationally, however our title is not uniform. In the UK the term PA is abbreviated for Physician Associate. 

So why is a name change warranted? According to dictionary.com an assistant is someone that is subordinate to another in rank, function, etc. or a helper. Clearly, the word assistant is a misrepresentation of the important role of PAs. A well-seasoned PA typically earns autonomy within their specialty over time. They are utilized in ways that enhance patient care and are directly involved in decision making. They also have the ability to order necessary tests and follow through with patient care whether it means prescribe medication or perform minor in office procedures. I once needed a skin biopsy and saw a Dermatology PA who did this on their own. I felt very comfortable under the practitioners care who had been practicing for many years and was professional, knowledgeable, and skillful.

While I too agree that though our name is misleading, a greater effort should be made on educating the public of our role in the industry. In the interim of this potential name change can we agree that organizations can do a better job of clarifying our duties? As our young profession climbs the ranks and continues to be rated as one of the most desirable occupations, I firmly believe more people will catch on. I have never met a patient that wasn't intrigued by my choice to become a PA. There have been countless times I've been asked if I would speak to their child/family member/friend about how to pursue this degree.