Physician Assistant Week 2017- What's a PA-C?

Physician Assistant Week 2017- What’s a PA-C?
By: Natalia Darling, PA-C
Many of you may not know, during the week of October 6-12 the medical community annually celebrates Physician Assistant Week, and this year it also happens to be the 50th Anniversary of the PA profession! Hi, I’m Natalia Darling, and I am currently the only physician assistant (PA or PA-C for physician assistant certified) working at Potomac Pediatrics.  I often find that many  children (and sometimes their parents) on my schedule do not know exactly what PA is. To be honest with you, I had never even heard of physician assistants or the PA profession until I was well into my sophomore year of college but after I sat in on a lecture about the PA profession, I immediately changed my major and career path and set my sights on becoming a Physician Assistant.  The PA profession is exploding as our nationwide healthcare needs change as our population grows and ages. Did you know the demand for PAs has increased by 300% over the last 3 years?
What is a Physician Assistant?- A PA is a nationally certified and state licensed medical provider who practices on a healthcare team in conjunction with the the doctor(s).  PAs are trained to take histories, perform physical exams, diagnose, treat, prescribe medications, write treatment plans, and guide follow up care for medical conditions similarly to the way doctors and nurse practitioners are trained.  PAs work in a wide variety of medical settings- outpatient offices or clinics,  hospital and inpatient settings, the ICU, and the Emergency Department. You will also find physician assistants in nursing homes, at schools and universities, in workplace clinics or correctional facilities.   If you think of any specialty that a medical doctor practices in (Pediatrics, oncology, GI, ENT, general surgery, etc) there are PAs who are trained to practice in that specialty . For an easy to watch video with further information about what exactly a PA is, click here. 
How do you become a Physician Assistant?– The application process to become a PA is competitive and rigorous.  First, you must have good grades and many science based prerequisites and must take and receive a good score on the GRE.  Many PA programs require a certain number of hours in direct patient centered healthcare experience with hands on patient care. Prior to being accepted into and starting PA school, I got my hours by working as a medical assistant for 2 years at Potomac Pediatrics.  Once you submit your applications, the schools who are interested in you will invite you for an interview, some of which span across two days to make sure we stay up to date and current with medical practices and literature.
How are PA’s trained and educated– Once accepted, PA candidates enter into programs that average about 26 months in duration, generally divided into a first half of didactic classroom work and education, and a second half of rotations which average about 2000 hours of hands on clinical training experience in the fields of Family medicine, Internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery, emergency medicine, psychiatry, and pediatrics.  After graduating, we take a national certifying examination, and need to become licensed by that state we choose to practice in.  To maintain our certifications we must complete continuing medical education each year and regularly take a national board re-certification exam.
 A word about me-My name is Natalia Darling, currently the only Physician Assistant working at Potomac Pediatrics. I was hired by Potomac Pediatrics two years ago after receiving my Masters in Physician Assistant Studies  from the Medical University of South Carolina.  I was trained by all the doctors at Potomac Pediatrics to take histories, perform physical exams, diagnose, treat and prescribe medications in the way that the doctors here have been doing for years. My passions include running, barre and cycling, my family and friends, my Alma Maters (Go Tartans, Go Gamecocks!), travelling, and the care and well-being of children.  I would LOVE for you to read this post and use it as a talking point for your kids to spread the word of what a Physician Assistant is, what we are capable of doing, and who I am so that the next time you are on my schedule, your children are a little more familiar with the PA profession and maybe develop interest in pursuing careers as Physician Assistants as well.
For further information about what a Physician Assistant is in the word’s of our very own Dr. Fishelberg, please click here.