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‘Monumental move’: Physician assistants could alleviate Greater Victoria shortage

Physician assistants are closer to providing a broad range of health services to B.C. patients

Greater Victoria medical practices could soon welcome physician assistants with open arms as part of a change in B.C.

Lisa Stewart, B.C. director of the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants (CAPA), says their advocacy efforts go back 30 years.

“There are about 1,000 physician assistants across the nation right now, and there are many of us that are originally from B.C. who would love to return home and practice,” said Stewart.

During the ongoing medical staffing crisis, emergency departments, such as the one at Saanich Peninsula Hospital, have been experiencing staffing shortages, which has led to some closures. The B.C. Ministry of Health announced on Sept. 27 that it’s seeking public feedback on the proposed changes for physician assistants to be able to practice in the province.

Stewart, who obtained her certification 12 years ago at the University of Manitoba, says physician assistants can alleviate some of the work placed on doctors.

“They are constantly reviewing things with the emergency doctor and checking over things. Sometimes, emergency (staff) might step in and quickly see the patient that the physician assistant is seeing, but it just allows things to become way more efficient and expedited,” said Stewart.

READ MORE:Physician assistants improve health care in provinces that recognize them; B.C. doesn’t

Over the last year, physician assistants have intensified their efforts to be licensed in B.C. to coincide with other provinces. Physician assistants are already licensed in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta.

Their role is fundamentally a team-based position; while they do not possess a medical degree, they are educated through a two-year graduate program under the same medical model used to train doctors. Military and university-trained physicians can sometimes act as an “extra set of eyes and ears for the doctors.” In addition, they would also help assist and lighten the workload of other allied health care providers, such as nurses.

“Just by adding that extra body that focuses on working with the team, it allows everyone to focus a little bit more and a have a little bit more time to do the task at hand,” said Stewart.

Stewart says the decision could be a monumental move for B.C. and hopes it leads to more universities implementing physician assistant programs to help quell the ongoing medical staff crisis.

“Currently, we have three physician assistant schools that have been in function for over 10 years now, and we have two more in Alberta with the University of California,” said Stewart. “It would be prudent for B.C. to jump on board to reinforce that stability of physician assistants in our future in B.C. We’re very much looking forward to collaborating,” said Stewart.

If the new bylaws are put in place, it will allow physician assistants, who will have to register with a college, to practice in emergency departments under the direction and supervision of physicians.

READ MORE: Military and university-trained physician assistants rejected by B.C.’s health system