Rise of the Physician Assistants

WINNIPEG | With provincial govern­ments seeking cost efficiencies in health-care delivery, physi­cian assistants (PAs) have seen their ranks swell and their scope-of-practice expand in recent years.

But leaders in the profession say the rise of PAs is also the result of adaptability and efficacy.

“The PA profession in Canada has expanded fairly dramatically,” said Winnipeg’s Chris Rhule, president of the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants (CAPA) and the first PA licensed (2003) in Canada.

In Manitoba alone, the PA program has grown from having three clinical assistants to about 100 working in Winnipeg, plus another 12 to 20 in the province’s rural areas, he said.

Currently, there are more than 300 PAs working in Canada—mostly in Manitoba and Ontario—with another 160 students enrolled in PA programs. And as financial concerns grow, more provinces and health authorities will seek their services, Rhule predicts.

“We’re providing a greater scope than we ever have before,” he said, adding that PA students in master’s programs differ from nurse practitioners (NPs) in several ways—one of them being hours of clinical experience.

“PAs must spend more than 2,000 hours in a clinical setting, compared with 600 to 1,200 hours for NPs, which is why we tend to work in specialties,” said Rhule. … suite