With not enough doctors, physician assistants fill the bill

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As more and more patients continue to enter the health care system, already crowded waiting rooms in doctors' offices will soon overflow.

And as the impact of the physician shortage is increasingly felt in hospitals and clinics across the country, we ask: Who will provide care to those who need it, when they need it?

Physician assistants like me stand ready to provide this care.

Their education in the medical model gives them the skills to not only conduct physical examinations, but also to diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery and write prescriptions with physician supervision.

The bottom line is that patients appreciate a provider's time, attention and treatment plan.

Today, more than 81,000 certified PAs provide high-quality patient care to people in all corners of our country.

PA's at Family Medical Center in Walla Walla are committed to providing family-friendly and affordable health care to the entire community.

In every medical setting, PAs practice and foster a team-based, coordinated approach to health care that has been shown to improve outcomes and reduce costs. In some rural and underserved communities, we are the only health care providers for hundreds of miles.

PA education programs graduate more than 6,000 providers each year -- five times more than family medicine programs -- and are able to quickly build a qualified work force. In fact, the American Academy of Physician Assistants predicts that the PA work force will grow to 100,000 strong in the next five years.

As the health care world evolves and grows, PAs can play a vital role in a patient-focused, team-based approach to care.

Kimberly Ferguson is a physician assistant practicing at Family Medical Center in Walla Walla and is a member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

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