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Physician vs Physician Assistant

“What’s the difference between me and you? About five bank accounts, three ounces, and three vehicles.” 

“What’s the difference between me and you? About five bank accounts, three ounces, and three vehicles.” 

As most of you realize this blog post is not about Dr. Dre; rather, the more traditional doctor, and specifically, about the difference between Physicians and Physician Assistants. 

Google defines a Physician as “a person qualified to practice medicine.” A Physician Assistant is defined as “a type of mid-level health care provider. They are not to be confused with a physician. PAs diagnose illnesses, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and may serve as a principal healthcare provider.” I can imagine why this may seem somewhat confusing. What does it all mean? I would like to highlight, in my opinion, the biggest difference and how that difference translates to better outcomes.

The major difference is training. The PA profession was created in the 1960s in response to a recognized shortage of primary care Physicians. The intent was to create a fast-tracked program (2-3 years) with highly focused goals resulting in individuals that are capable of all that is defined above under the supervision of a Physician. In contrast, Physicians spend a tremendous amount of time investing in their education: undergraduate, medical school, and residency. We are talking a minimum of seven years of commitment just to earn this privilege! You might be thinking, Yikes, I don’t want someone with “fast-tracked” training managing my care… but hang in there with me.

Collaborative teamwork between Physician and Physician Assistant is key to how we make the dream work. What dream is that? Providing quality patient care with optimum efficiency. 

Dr. Ali Mesiwala (middle) with PAs, Michelle Lancaster (left) and Victoria Callahan (right).
Aka, the “Dream Team”.

Dr. Ali Mesiwala (middle) with PAs, Michelle Lancaster (left) and Victoria Callahan (right).
Aka, the “Dream Team”.

When I finished PA school, I knew a little about everything and not a lot about anything. The beauty is my supervising physician knows a lot about everything our specialty encompasses. Knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know becomes key. PAs manage routine issues with their highly focused training, allowing us to recognize the more complex issues that require the attention of a physician. You can imagine how this significantly improves efficiency. 

Our practice model is such that the majority of new patient evaluations are scheduled with Victoria or me. Our training allows us to obtain a detailed medical history, complete a physical examination, review diagnostic testing, and discuss treatment options. You would be surprised how many patients are referred to a Neurosurgeon that do not need surgery or don’t have the appropriate workup to determine the best surgery for them. It can take months to see a qualified surgeon, but when you have a qualified PA to triage care, it benefits both patient and provider.

Just today I saw a gentleman who has been experiencing distressing pain and weakness in his left leg for over a month that has been progressively worsening. Upon examining him and reviewing his imaging, I was able to determine that he needs surgery, sooner rather than later. I was also able to bring this information directly to Dr. Mesiwala and the patient has been scheduled for surgery Monday. So you see, our differences make us stronger. It is because of the PA/Physician partnership, aka the “Dream Team,” that patients benefit from more efficient care.

There are many other talking points that often arise when discussing this topic including independence, salary, and work-life balance. For more information be sure to visit AAPA.org. In the meantime, remember “who’s the Doctor they told you to go see?” … Ali Mesiwala with the assistance of Michelle Lancaster and Victoria Callahan