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Mississippi might become last state in nation to license

Compromise legislation may lead to licensing of state’s PAs

In recent years efforts to license physician assistants (PAs) to practice in Mississippi failed in the Legislature due to opposition from the Mississippi Nurses Association (MNA). But this year compromise legislation agreed to by MNA and the Mississippi Academy of Physician Assistants (MAPA) should pave the way for Mississippi to become the last state in the nation to license PAs.

The announcement of the compromise came from MNA president Karen Utterback, MSN, RN, CAN and MAPA president Murl Dotson, PA-C.

“This agreement is the result of negotiations between the two groups over the last two months where nurse practitioners and physician assistants worked together to craft language that both groups could agree upon,” Utterback said. “Both groups identified quality patient care as the ultimate goal. A major issue of discussion was the degree requirement. Language has been drafted that is acceptable to both groups.”

Dotson said they are very hopeful that the Legislature will act to license PAs this year.

“This is the only state in the nation that does not have licensed PA’s, but it has also been ranked as one of the states in the U.S. with the least accessibility to health care in the nation,” Dotson said. “Over 60 out of the 80 counties in Mississippi have been designated as medically under-served areas. PAs have been shown to provide high-quality, cost-effective health care under the supervision of the physician.”

Dotson, who works as a PA at the Biloxi Veterans Administration Hospital, said right now the only PAs practicing in the state work for the federal government. Although there is no program for training PAs in Mississippi, all surrounding states have programs. Dotson said Mississippi residents are going to other states to get their degrees because they see it as being a good career choice.

“The satisfaction you can get from delivering health care to patients makes it a rewarding field for so many people,” Dotson said. “In many practices it frees the physician to handle the more complicated, difficult cases whereas the PA can be taking care of the others. In many cases patients feel they get to spend more time with a PA than with a doctor. We do a lot of patient education and training. We try to give them a better understanding of what their problems are, and what to do for them.”

The first PA school started out in 1968 with four students. Currently there are about 30,000 practicing PAs in the U.S. and about 107 PA schools in the U.S. PAs provide medical services under the supervision of a physician. They conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventative health care and assist in surgery.

Dotson said PA school is two-thirds the length of medical school. PAs take many of the same courses as physicians, and at some schools students in both the PA and physician programs attend the same classes. The PA program includes a year of intense academic studies and one year of clinical rotations.

Students entering a PA program are required to meet certain pre-medical requisites. After graduating from school, students must pass a nationally certified test in order to get a license. After being certified, PAs are required to have 100 hours of continuing education medical hours each two years, and are required to re-take the licensing test every six years.

The starting salaries of PAs depend on the location and field, but average about $50,000. Dotson said that lower salaries for PAs than for physicians allow health costs to be contained.

“We pride ourselves in being cost effective and yet providing high-quality health care,” Dotson said. “

Dotson was pleased that a compromise agreement has been reached with the MNA, and is optimistic that without opposition from MNA the Legislature will license PAs this year.

PAs perform duties similar to nurse practitioners (NPs) who practice in a collaborative arrangement with a physician. They are licensed by the Mississippi Board of Nursing with rules and regulations jointly promulgated by the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure. (BOML). There are currently more than 600 NPs providing primary care in Mississippi.

Under the legislation agreed upon by the MNA and MAPA, the BOML will be given the authority to license PAs. Both NPs and PAs will have representation on any task force or committee appointed by BOML to address PA regulation.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com.

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