Today marks the beginning of National Physician Assistant Week, celebrated annually to support, highlight and recognize the significant impact of physician assistants in health care. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), the week is “an opportunity to promote public awareness of the PA profession and to salute the outstanding growth of the PA workforce.”
PAs, who practice medicine with the supervision of licensed physicians, are key members of health care teams in hospitals, multispecialty clinics, academic medical centers, physician offices, long-term care residences and other settings in rural and urban areas. As part of their comprehensive responsibilities, PAs conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery and write prescriptions. With the physician-PA relationship, physician assistants exercise autonomy in medical decision-making and provide a broad range of diagnostic and therapeutic services. A PA’s practice also may include education, research and administrative services.
Making the week even more special this year is that Des Moines University’s PA program is celebrating its 30th birthday. DMU was the first osteopathic medical institution to offer a PA program, which became the University’s second program in 1981 (DMU now offers nine graduate programs). The inaugural class of 10 students graduated in 1983 and achieved a 100 percent pass rate on their board exams. DMU graduate Jodi Cahalan, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.S., PA-C, was the first PA to serve as a program director at the University; she’s now dean of the College of Health Sciences.
This year’s PA Week also features a special emphasis on the unique potential PAs have — no matter their specialty nor the environment in which they practice — to educate their patients about ways to prevent chronic illness, such as obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. As “prevention ambassadors” oriented in health care teamwork, PAs help patients see themselves as partners, with their care providers, in getting care that lets them avoid life-long illnesses that reduce quality of life and drive up health care costs.
“By putting prevention first, we can help patients and families avert a lifetime of limitations and significant health complications,” says the AAPA website. “It’s time for all of us to shift our thinking toward a more pro-active approach to providing top-quality health care.”
You can learn more about DMU’s physician assistant program by clicking here. Hats off to the program and to all our hard-working PA students, faculty and alumni!