UTHSC Celebrates 50 Years of the Physician Assistant Profession

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The physician assistant profession celebrates 50 year of existence. (Photo by: Allen Gillespie/UTHSC)

As the physician assistant (PA) profession is approaching its 50th year of existence, many people are still not aware of the occupation, what it entails, and the significant impact it has in the health care community.

The PA’s role is to see patients, order tests, perform procedures, and assist in surgery. PAs can also see any type of patient that may need treatment, from premature infants to nursing home patients. Anywhere a physician can practice, so can a PA. In a study performed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), they found that a PA can perform 80 percent of what a general practice physician does, but at a 20 percent savings in cost.

Susannah Cash (Photo provided by Susannah Cash)

Susannah Cash, first-year physician assistant student and class president at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), knew she wanted to be in the profession after she started working at an orthopedic office when she was in high school.

“Becoming a physician assistant seemed most appealing to me from my experience for many reasons,” Cash, who plans to specialize in dermatology after graduating, said. “You are able to have the autonomy to see patients and dictate clinical care and treatment, but you also have a physician to turn to if you are confused about anything, want a second opinion, and to make sure no mistakes are made. It’s reassuring to know you are always able to confer with a provider on patient care.”

UTHSC began its Physician Assistant Program in 2014 and shows no signs of slowing down. It is the only public PA program in Tennessee and is the sole affiliate of  the University of Tennessee system.

Sixty-five percent of Tennessee counties are medically underserved. PAs can help provide care to these counties that may not have a single physician registered to practice. “In the current health care climate in the United States, we need more practitioners providing care, specifically primary care, and PAs are designed and trained to provide primary care right out of school,” said Kristopher Maday, MS, PA-C, associate professor and program director of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies at UTHSC. “I feel that we are well suited to not only provide quality care to patients, but also decrease costs to the medical system.”

Kristopher Maday (Photo by Scott Morgan)

The profession was created in 1967 as the brain child of Duke University’s Eugene Stead, MD. Dr. Stead recognized that military medics and corpsmen were trained for the Vietnam War to provide care to the soldiers in the front line. They then came home and did not have an avenue to be able to put those skills to use within the medical model of the time.

He then pioneered the idea to specifically train these veterans to provide primary care under the supervision of a physician and the profession was born. Since then, PAs have successfully lobbied at the state and national level to recognize the profession as medical providers with prescription privileges in all 50 states.

“My vision for the UTHSC program is to continue training students to provide good quality primary and specialty care to the community around Memphis and throughout Tennessee,” Maday said. “I hope that our students will provide care where they are needed the most and strive to improve the health care of all Tennesseans for years to come.”

National PA Day is October 6th. UTHSC will commemorate the occasion and PA week with various activities from October 6-13.