Today, Ontario’s first class of physician assistants (P.A.s) graduates from McMaster University. Physician assistants support licensed physicians to provide patient care in clinics, hospitals and other health-care facilities. For years, the Canadian Forces (the military and their family members) have been treated by P.A.s, but the role is relatively new to the civilian health-care system. Says HealthForce Ontario:
“Evidence shows that P.A.s help to improve access to health services and overall quality of care. The introduction of P.A.s is designed to help reduce wait times and help ensure that the right care is provided by the right provider at the right time. Expanded interprofessional health care teams will be better able to serve patients.”
This new development should help ease some of the strain on our country’s doctors. In Northern and rural areas, there have been a shortage of health-care professionals, and the presence of P.A.s could help bring medical attention to patients who need it. According to an article in Toronto Star, McMaster’s first graduating class is being encouraged to move away from urban centres and help serve the demand for health-care services elsewhere.
McMaster’s pioneering graduating class of P.A.s are part of the province’s large effort to integrate this role in 20 hospitals, where they assist in general internal medicine, emergency, orthopedics/orthopedic surgery, general surgery, complex continuing care and rehabilitation. However, P.A.s are more established in neighbouring locales. In Manitoba, where they are known as clinical assistants, P.A.s have been working in since 2002. In the U.S., there are about 70,000 P.A.s working.
Training students as P.A.s might also allow more Canadians to serve in giving medical care; in Canada, spots for students in medical schools are limited. For those who are interested, and have at least two years of a university education, P.A. education programs are available at McMaster University, as well as the University of Manitoba and the University of Toronto.