Health Team

Physicians assistants becoming backbone of primary care

Posted May 19, 2010

— There's already a shortage of primary care physicians in the country. Now with health care reform, the demand will grow even greater.

More doctors are turning to physician assistants to handle many of their patients' needs. Rather than the more extensive four-plus years of medical school, physician assistants train for a little more than two years in a masters program.

Physicians assistants becoming backbone of primary care Physicians assistants becoming backbone of primary care

Methodist University in Fayetteville is one of those programs focused on serving rural communities. Physician assistant students at Methodist get a taste of all the medical specialties, but the 27-month masters program stresses experience in primary care.

“One of the unfortunate things for us as a country is that we are not meeting the primary care health needs of the nation as a whole,” said Dr. Sekhar Kommu, director of Methodist’s physician assistant program.

Kommu said he believes physician assistants will be the backbone of primary care. That's how the program in Fayetteville was born 14 years ago – with a mission to send graduates to under-served areas of the state.

“(We) literally teach students to be able to pick up the primary care needs of a rural community with a supervising physician,” Kommu said.

It's a small program compared to others in the state, but it's well equipped and strongly supported by the local medical community.

“Most of us came from other states or other areas of the state, so we really rely on ourselves, we're our own family,” said student Jacqueline Gobein.

The physicians assistants program has about 34 students. With the doubling of the space, they hope to attract up to 46 students within the next three to four years.>

“There's certainly a need and we're having the interest. We're getting close to 400 applications a year from really good students,” said Methodist University President M. Elton Hendricks.


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  • edits May 24, 2010

    I love my NP that I see at my doctor's office! I would rather see her than the doctor, same goes for the PA I see at CBI!

  • helloworld May 24, 2010

    NPs also have rotations exactly like PAs. My physician prefers NPs to PAs. PAs do not have to have a medical background in order to train as a PA. NPs have more latitude and independence.

  • moth May 24, 2010

    " Won't be long and it'll be the receptionist. "
    Agreed - except the health insurance companies and the hospitals will still charge everyone the same amount as seeing a real physician. Ugh.

  • ppeifer May 21, 2010

    Seems the people making comments don't have any understanding about Physician Assistants (PA'S). This story is misleading,...PA's already have a 4 year degree before returning to school to get their masters. They are trained in the same medical model as MD's and often go through the same program as Med students! The word "Assistant" is a misnomer and PA's are thinking of changing the name to Associate.
    The difference between PA's and Nurse Practitioners is that NP's receive advanced nursing training but are not trained in the medical model like physicians and NP's receive no surgical training. They receive approx. 200 clinical hours during their training while PA's rotate through medical rotations, like MD's, and receive over 2000 clinical hours of training.

  • ObamaMustGo aka NCcarguy May 20, 2010

    Won't be long and it'll be the receptionist.

  • barnzez May 20, 2010

    I agree 27615, there should be a break down of costs from the physician to the assistant.

  • 27615 May 20, 2010

    why does my doctors office charge me the same amount regardless of whether I see an actual physician or an assistant?

  • mcgettrick May 20, 2010

    Do not forget nurse practitioners who fill the same role as physician assistants and since they have to be RNs first they already know how to interact with patients.