By NASH NUNNERY
Every now and then, Steve Martin still hears (and reads) the name of his profession butchered verbally and in print.
The term “physician’s assistant” is a misnomer. PAs are not assistants to physicians.
Martin is a professor and program director for the Mississippi College Department of Physician Assistant Studies, the only PA program in the state of Mississippi.
He’s also a physician assistant. There is no possessive apostrophe in the title of the profession.
“(The mispronunciation) happens a lot less frequently than when I arrived in Mississippi five and half years ago,” said Martin, a South Carolina native. “There have been some advocacy among PA groups over the years to change the name and remove ‘assistant’.
“Patients don’t care what we’re called. They’re just glad we’re here.”
Based at the sprawling Baptist Healthplex on the east side of the campus, the MC PA program launched in 2011 and graduated an initial class of 29 in December 2013. Working with the University of Mississippi Medical Center, federal clinics and other medical facilities in the region, the 30-month PA program is rigorous and time-consuming.
Upon graduating, MC-produced PAs deliver a wide range of medical and surgical services. Their duties include conducting physical exams, dignosing and trating illnesses, order and interpreting tests, counseling on preventive health, assisting in surgery and prescribing medications.
Currently, there are three cohorts of 30 students each enrolled in the MC PA program. The college receives 1,000 applicants annually.
Only 30 students make each cohort cut, with 50 percent of those required to be Mississippi residents. Since the program’s inception eight years ago, the school has produced 180 PAs, many of whom elected to stay and practice in-state.
“It’s very difficult to get into our program, as the average age of an MC PA student is 26-years old,” Martin said. “We don’t require prior experience, such as athletic training, EMT training or the like but we strongly encourage it.
Being a member of a comprehensive medical team is the MC PA program mantra, said Martin.
“Our concept is one of team and working collaboratively with all medical professionals, from nurses to doctors,” he said.
According to the American Academy of PAs, the profession was created to improve and expand healthcare. In the mid-1960s, physicians and educators recognized there was a shortage of primary care physicians.
Eugene A. Stead Jr., MD, of the Duke University Medical Center, put together the first class of PAs in 1965. Stead based the curriculum of the PA program on his knowledge of the fast-track training of doctors during World War II.
The US Bureau of Labor projects the number of PA jobs will increase a whopping 37 percent between 2016 and 2026. That’s significantly more than most other professions, including medical doctors, who are only projected to increase by 13 percent in the same time period.
PA Stephanie Keith, 28, was torn between PA and medical school after earning her undergraduate degree at Mississippi State University. However, she relished the idea of working together with a medical team and chose PA school. A graduate of the MC PA class of 2016, Keith says the program has a unique quality.
“There is a loving and caring environment at MC that graduates, students and applicants talk about,” says Keith, who now serves as an assistant professor of the MC physician assistant studies program. “PA school is intense and incredibly stressful, but I always felt like my professors and the staff were constantly supportive and encouraging.
“You don’t find that in a lot of professional schools.”
PAs practice and prescribe medications in all 50 states and are licensed by the same medical boards that confer physician licenses. They also must pass a national certifying exam prior to practicing and are required to re-certify every 10 years. Additionally, PAs must attain 100 credits of continuing education every two years.
“It’s a tough process, but the job is extremely rewarding and very flexible, as opposed to being a physician,” said Martin, who joined the MC PA faculty in 2014.
MC PA-S (student) Hailey Daniels’ dream is to pursue a post-graduation career as a surgical PA in orthopedics, preferably in the Jackson metropolitan area. A Brandon native, the 28-year old said she is driven by her passion of caring for others.
“I want to affect change in our health care system in order to positively influence patient care,” Daniels said. “I believe that starts with developing sound, trusting relationships with patients.
Martin, who also has served as a member of the Uniformed Services with a federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) as part of the National Disaster Medical System with the United States Department of Health and Human Services since 2001, said he has no regrets after deciding to apply to PA school at the University of Florida at age 40.
“Recently, I read that physician assistant was named the number one job in healthcare by U.S. News & World Report,” Martin said. “It’s been a wonderful career.”
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