Physician assistants -- sometimes called doctor's assistants -- are highly skilled medical professionals who practice medicine under the supervision of a doctor. The job requires at least a master's degree. As of May 2013, their median annual earnings were $92,970, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Ob-Gyn practices, though, physician assistants are still relatively uncommon, with only 2 percent of PAs practicing in this medical specialty, according to the Association of Physician Assistants in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Becoming a Physician Assistant
To become a physician assistant, you must complete four years of college, in addition to at least two years of graduate school in an accredited physician assistant program. The profession is a licensed one, which means you'll also have to become licensed before you can practice. To do so, you must take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) through the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. Beginning in 2014, PAs must become re-certified by taking the test every 10 years. You'll also have to complete 100 hours of continuing education every two years.
Assistance During Examinations
Annual gynecological exams can be nerve-wracking, particularly for new and young patients. Physician assistants frequently sit in on these exams to offer a second pair of eyes, help the doctor prepare the right supplies and provide the patient with information about the purpose of each exam phase. Having a second person in the room also serves as protection for both the doctor and the patient, protecting the patient from inappropriate behavior and the doctor from allegations of such behavior.
Medical Exams and Tests
Physician assistants can examine patients on their own, as long as they practice under the direction of a doctor in a licensed medical practice. Community clinics such as rape crisis centers may rely partially or solely on PAs to provide medical care and exams. Likewise, in a busy medical office, PAs can alleviate the work burden of doctors by performing uncomplicated routine exams such as Pap smears and well-woman consultations.
Patient questions about minor aches and pains, drug interactions and medical symptoms can quickly eat up much of the day. Physician assistants may answer patient questions -- both over the phone and in person -- about minor medical issues, potentially freeing up time for an entire medical practice. For example, women may call a PA with questions about birth control or advice about over-the-counter treatments for yeast infections. By answering these questions, PAs can encourage women who need treatment to come in, and save women who have a simple question the time and expense of a trip to the office.
Labor and Childbirth
PAs may serve as on-call staff for women about to go into labor. They can oversee uncomplicated vaginal deliveries, in addition to referring women to doctors and specialists when necessary. PAs can also coach women through the process of childbirth, work with patients to prepare them for delivery and answer questions women have about their health, breastfeeding or babies after giving birth. This makes their role similar to that of a midwife.
- WebMD: Using Chaperones During Pap Smears
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians Assistants
- Association of Physician Assistants in Obstetrics and Gynecology: The Ob/Gyn Physician Assistant
- American Academy of Physician Assistants: Specialty Practice Issue Brief
- American Academy of Physician Assistants: Physician Assistants and Women's Health
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Physician Assistant
- Photo Credit pojoslaw/iStock/Getty Images
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