Sadly, physician assistants stuck on sidelines

Frustrated and tired. That’s how I’m feeling. I’m a military-trained physician assistant (PA) with over a decade of medical experience who could be helping to provide care that is so desperately needed here in Nova Scotia.

PAs are here in the province, ready and able to help connect patients to family doctors who don’t have one. To help reduce the backlog for much-needed surgeries and treatment and to help expand the availability of other physicians who are overburdened – like psychiatrists, neurologists, and geriatricians. But even though I’m trained to help and want to help, I’m unable to practise here – yet. There are many experienced PAs who have left Atlantic Canada to train and practise medicine. They would jump at the chance to return home, and their skills would offer an immediate boost to the health-care system.

While PAs were introduced in Nova Scotia in 2020 through a pilot project in orthopedic surgery, legislation still doesn’t permit us to practise in other areas of medicine. I commend the government for introducing the pilot. And given its success, it’s time to allow PAs to practise more broadly, now.

PAs are physician extenders who are trained as generalists and can assist with any task within their supervising physician’s scope of practice. In primary care, PAs make services more accessible, and in emergency departments, PAs can cut wait times by half.

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) knows this, which is why military PAs will be starting to work at Cobequid Multi-Service Centre in Lower Sackville this month. This is added medical training to maintain clinical readiness skills to treat patients.

The CAF has been employing PAs for over 20 years. PAs are also working in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick, plus in the natural resource oil/mineral sectors, not to mention there are over 120,000 PAs working in the U.S. Makes you wonder why not here in Nova Scotia. Research has proven time and again the value PAs bring to the table. A comprehensive study by the Conference Board of Canada confirms the effectiveness and value of PAs. On top of this, physicians here in the province are anxious and calling for PAs to be brought onboard to help with the shortage of medical workers.

The evidence is clear. The need is clear. And the help is here. So, let’s move quickly to allow PAs to practise here in Nova Scotia. We need all hands on deck.

Peter Thibeault is a physician assistant who lives in Nova Scotia and practises in Ontario. He is the Nova Scotia provincial director for the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants, the national voice of physician assistants, supporting quality standards and competencies and helping to establish the profession within the national health-care framework. To learn more, visit