What Is A Physician Assistant?
Most Summit doctors work with a licensed physician assistant with a valuable role in patient care.
At Summit Orthopedics, most physicians practice in a healthcare team that includes a physician assistant, or PA. But patients don’t always understand the physician assistant’s role. Summit physician assistants Bryan Sternberg and Brett Osgood describe their role in an orthopedic practice. They also explain the education and training that physician assistants receive.
Physician assistants are an integral part of the Summit medical team
“PAs are midlevel healthcare providers who practice medicine as a part of a healthcare team with supervising physicians and other providers,” says Bryan Sternberg, PA to Summit surgeon Dr. Kristoffer Breien. “You’ll find PAs in most orthopedic practices today,” he continues. “There are 45 physician assistants at Summit. The majority of us work with a single physician, but we have several floating PAs. There are also Summit PAs who manage hospital patients after surgery. They maintain specialized orthopedic standards of post-op care to control pain and manage wounds in the hospital setting. Finally, Summit physician assistants see patients at OrthoQUICK clinics.”
Education and licensing
The education of a physician assistant includes a four-year degree, typically in the sciences, followed by a two-year master’s degree. After earning a master’s degree, PAs have the option to pursue additional specialization training. But most choose to go directly into practice, where they receive specialized training from their supervising physician. Physicians groom their PA to their personalized care approach. “In a very real sense,” explains PA Brett Osgood, “we act as an extension of the care our supervising physician provides.”
Each physician assistant facilitates access to Summit specialists
“I work exclusively with my supervising physician,” explains Osgood. “When a patient calls to see the physician, there might be a three- to four-week wait to get an appointment. So, that patient has the option to see me. I might be available the next day. My accessibility means that patients get immediate attention from the team of the doctor they prefer. If their problem is complex, I have immediate access to consult my supervising physician and provide seamless quality of care.”
“Physician assistants are trained to provide many of the same treatments that a physician can provide,” explains Sternberg. “Dr. Breien may do the initial consultation and establish the treatment plan. Usually, we begin with conservative treatments that I am trained to provide—at a lower cost to the patient. I may see patients to administer steroid injections for years before we ever consider surgical options. Throughout treatment, I am always available to answer patient questions or discuss any concerns.
“We are very well trained to identify potential problems quickly and speak with our supervising physician about them,” he continues. “If injections cease to work effectively, we may repeat an X-ray and reevaluate the patient. If it’s time to consider surgery, I’ll set up an appointment with Dr. Breien. This way, when patients need Dr. Breien’s expertise, they’ll get it. In the meantime, I am answering questions and treating them for simpler issues without any sacrifice in quality. It works out very well.”
Cost savings are a patient benefit
Physician assistant services are billed at 85 percent of their physician’s fee. “This savings is an advantage for patients,” explains Osgood. “Through us, patients always have access to the doctor of their choice. However, they don’t have to pay the physician’s full fee to have a simple problem diagnosed or treated.”
A relationship founded in trust
“Our surgeons trust and respect their physician assistants,” says Osgood. “That trust is important to our patients—and to us. Often, my supervising physician will tell patients, ‘I want you to come back and meet with Brett next time. He’s a master’s degree PA and he’s been working with me for 12 years. I would trust Brett to take care of me and my family.’ That message makes our patient feel more at ease. They know that if their doctor trusts me, they can trust me too.”
More resources for you
Dr. Mundrati’s advice to help patients manage back pain—and keep it from recurring.
Dr. Choi helps chronic pain sufferers understand the link between stress and back pain.
Ask the Expert: Spine Video Series