Physician Assistant Job Description:
I function under the supervision of a doctor. Each state has different regulations over what physican assistants are able to do. Usually, we diagnose, prescribe medication and treatment, and manage patients under the supervision of a doctor. Like a physician, we can also specialize in areas such as surgery. I specialize in cardiology. I perform stress tests, admit patients and do follow up visits. Duke University actually started this profession.
What were the steps of your physician assistant career?
I always wanted work in medicine. I worked in a hospital one summer, on a college internship, and while I was there I saw physician's wives would bring their families to the hospital to see dad. I didn't want that kind of schedule, where you rarely see your family. One of those nurses told me about working as a physician assistant.
I went to the hospital library, looked it up and decided that was what I wanted to be. Some are on-call and paged to work, but you can choose not to be the kind who are paged. I was pre-med in college, so I completed my pre-med and applied to colleges with physician assistant programs.
My physician assistant program was two years, but some are three. There's a big variable in training. Physician Assistant training is like condensed medical school; we basically do three semesters to four. I did my rotation my second year.
I worked for the National Health Service Corps, a government agency that helps the underserved in North Carolina. Then I went to a nearby city and worked in cardiology for a large practice; I worked in the hospital and office.
Then I moved to Virginia to teach. Now, I'm a professional speaker on health and wellness for corporations and community groups. I feel like I can accomplish more by teaching groups of people instead of one person at a time.
Based on your physician assistant career, what do you think is the greatest threat to our health today?
Toxic chemicals in our environment and homes. Legislation is not protecting us. Toxic chemicals are in shampoo and cleaning supplies, many name brand products, etc. Only 7 percent of chemicals are tested for children, so we don't know how the other products affect kids. I would also include food with additives to those chemicals.
There is a 10 Step Action Plan in my book, Holler For Your Health. In the book, I recommend helpful websites, eating organic food, starting community co-ops. Holler For Your Health is available at my website.
Do you recall any memorable moments from your cardiology physician assistant jobs?
I had a patient who I had to draw blood from every day and she was really out of it, never spoke to me. I always introduced myself before I took her blood. Then her sister came to visit, walked up to me and said, "I've always wanted to meet you," and called me by name. My patient actually introduced me to her family members. That taught me that even when you're in a rush, you should always talk to your patients.
What is the required education of a physician assistant?
It varies program to program, state to state. If someone wants be a physician assistant, they need to have had some kind of experience being around patients. They can intern at a hospital, volunteer, or even shadow a physician assistant. Most programs require a BA, but a few will take you without a degree. Its rigorous coursework, like a condensed medical school.
What is the employment outlook for physician assistant jobs?
Money Magazine ranked physician assistant jobs very high, in the top five. The heath care industry has a great, outstanding outlook for physician assistant jobs, especially with the push these days for cheaper health care. Physician assistant jobs are at hospitals and private practices. Join the American Academy of Physician Assistants, that's the best place to find physician assistant jobs. There are also medical journals with physician assistant job listings.
What factors can affect physician assistant salaries?
You need real good salary negotiation skills. You also need experience, so for the first few years you can't really ask for a big salary. With more experience, you can ask for more money because you need less supervision. Specialties bring larger physician assistant salaries, such as orthopedic surgery. If you specialize, you can actually earn six figures.
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