Arizona is in the early stages of our COVID-19 crisis. Every day our cases increase, our hospitalizations rise and our death rate climbs. Our health care providers are our heroes and we want to encourage them to keep going, even when the going is very rough. We need all our nurses, doctors and providers now more than ever. There is work to be done and lives to be saved. We must all work together as a health care team. No one is expendable, everyone is integral.
I practiced as a physician assistant for 30 years and loved my career. But now things have changed. I am hearing concerning stories from my PA colleagues on the ground all over the country. They are running into barriers for practicing, just when we need health care providers the most. Companies are refusing to hire PAs due to administrative burdens regarding our practice authority and need for some supervision. Many PAs around the country are being let go because their clinics are temporarily closing and their services are no longer needed. Some are finding work in telehealth or traveling to states where the need is greater. New York, Tennessee and Maine have waived physician supervision requirements during this pandemic. Another 14 states have removed physician supervision requirements during emergencies or disasters.
I recently spoke with a frontline PA practicing in Arizona. She stated how bad things are in our state. “Things are pretty rough. We are all feeling like we are not helping much because every day things are changing. We also all feel like we should be in the hospitals helping more than we are. This is a nightmare…”
Physician assistants were created for times such as these. Doctors and nurses are very important, but are not enough, we need PAs! We need people to know we are a valuable member of the health care team. Our profession has always helped out in disasters of all kinds. We go on medical missions around the world and volunteer at free clinics. Our roots came from the Vietnam War and we have always served in every branch of the military. We work in rural underserved communities where there is a lack of providers. Our training programs are uniquely suited to get us out into the community as soon as possible. Once graduated, we are ready to practice immediately, no residency or internship required. We receive about 3,000 clinical hours of patient contact during our intensive two to three years of education.
PAs have been around for over 50 years. I graduated in 1983, back when few understood what a PA was or what we did. Over the decades we have done a great job educating the public and earning their trust. We even have PAs in the White House and the CIA. We have PAs all over the world, even in Canada, Australia and Europe! Ten years ago I was part of a pilot project introducing our profession to England. Since then the UK has hundreds of PAs and are educating more. We have made our mark and proven our worth.
Arizona is now facing a challenge of extreme proportion. Our health care workforce will be stressed, our workers will fall ill, many may die. Now is the time to expand the numbers of people who can provide good care to patients. Now is the time to integrate physician assistants completely into a system that will be otherwise overstressed and overwhelmed. We cannot count anyone out. We need “all hands on deck.” Unfortunately, I am hearing stories about PAs/NPs losing their jobs as their clinics cut hours, their offices stop seeing patients. Some will continue to practice telemedicine, some will go on unemployment, some will travel to our country’s hot spots to provide much needed health care.
Arizona is fortunate to have very good laws for practicing PAs. During a health emergency, physician assistants may practice to the full extent of their training with or without physician supervision. This frees up PAs to serve best where needed and help out in our state during our time of need. They can continue to see patients in rural communities, work in hospitals, see patients in the ER, provide telemedical support. We are over 1,600 strong in Arizona and we are in your communities. Please join me and welcome Arizona PAs as full partners in health care, ready to serve and to save lives. When you thank a nurse or doctor, remember this: to also thank a physician assistant.
Sharon Girard, PA-C emeritus, is an Eloy resident and a Democratic candidate for state House in Legislative District 8.