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Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners

For my most recent annual gynecological examination I was scheduled to see a physician assistant instead of my regular physician. At first I was concerned that I would not receive the best quality of care. This assumption turned out to be incorrect. My physician assistant was more helpful, more friendly, and more personable than most physicians I have been examined by. Here are a few things you should know about these valuable members of the medical profession.

Physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners are medical professionals. They usually operate under the direct supervision of a physician and are licensed to perform some of a physician's duties. The licensing requirements are different in each state but each state typically requires at least a four-year degree and advanced medical training.

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State law and physician preference determine they type of duties physician assistants and nurse pratitioners are allowed to perform. Generally, they are permitted to perform physical examinations (like my annual pap smear), order medical tests, write prescriptions, and diagnose and treat routine illnesses.

This medical profession is important in the healthcare industry because it relieves physicians of having to assess the condition of new patients or existing patients with new illnesses. Instead, the physician assistant or nurse practitioner will work up the patient and determine a preliminary diagnosis and treatment to present to the physician.

The physician is required to confirm the findings made of the assistant or nurse practitioner before signing off on the diagnosis or treatment. This is very important because the physician is ultimately responsible for the patient's medical care. Even minor illnesses may cause the physician to take some time to visit with the patient in person. Sometimes the physician approves treatment without seeing the patients. However, if for any reason the patient's signs or symptoms lead to a more serious illness, the patient is immediately placed under the physician's direct care.