Physician's assistants growing in popularity

PAs perform many similar duties to MDs

SAN ANTONIO - With many practices leaning more and more on physician's assistants -- and less on the actual doctors -- the face of health care could soon look different.

Much like a young medical student, Amanda Snyder spends several hours a day in class and three or four more after that studying.

Her classes are called Clinical Science, Preventative Medicine and Pharmacology -- just like many medical students.

In fact, she shares some of her classes with medical students.

But she is not studying to be a doctor. She is studying to become a physician's assistant.

"I knew that the PA profession allowed me to graduate in a sooner amount of time and still let me do everything a family practitioner can do," Snyder said.

It's a title that may seem a bit misleading.

When Snyder graduates she won't have a M.D. next to her name, but she'll still be able to do many things doctors can do.

She can perform physicals, sew up nasty cuts or even write prescriptions.

More and more often, a visit to a doctor's office could find you face-to-face with a physician's assistant -- not an actual physician.

"That's not even the future, that's now," said Dennis Blessing, associate dean of UT Medicine's Schools of Health Professions.

"It allows the practice to see patients sooner (and) to see more emergent patients," Blessing said.

Doctors spend two extra years in the classroom and they spent quite a bit more money getting through school.

In the end, the pay isn't that different. Physician's assistants make around $95,000 a year. A general practice doctor makes right around $150,000 a year.

"Communities that can't support a physician ... may be able to support a physician's assistant," Blessing said.

And while a patient always has the option to see a physician upon request, with a growing demand for health care and a sweeping doctor shortage, opting for a PA instead

could save you a long wait and a little bit of cash.


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