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Physician's Assistant

Neal Dobson

Tell us about your work, what do you do? I am a physician's assistant with my own family practice in a community health clinic that offers comprehensive medical service to members of the community. Physician's assistant is a bit of a misnomer, in that there is increasing autonomy in PA practices. It is the doctors that allow PAs to do their jobs, yet in certain circumstances, PAs may practice without the input of a physician. We may see the name of this area changed to Physician's Associate. What skills are needed? Ability to diagnose and treat medical problems ; manual dexterity for procedures like examining eyes, suturing, or pap smears. In my practice, I speak Spanish , which is a great asset in community health programs. What was your major? I majored in Biology . How did you get started in your career? I was a Peace Corps volunteer as a rural public health promoter in Ecuador. I then worked as a paramedic in New York City. For many people, becoming a PA is a second or third career because it isn't as focused as a medical career -there's no med school or residency. What experience do you need in this job? Most PA schools require a year of health care experience, voluntary or paid -- ambulance work , EMT , work in a lab, nursing . Describe your "typical" workday: There is a morning and an afternoon session of seeing 7-9 patients per session, and on a busy day, I may see up to 18 patients. I interview patients to determine the problem, document the whole process, follow-up with lab work . What is the hardest aspect of your job? Keeping up with the various needs of the patients -- the high volume and nature of family practice means a tremendous volume and variety of need. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? I like knowing that I'm making a difference in people's quality of life, and that's something I can quantify. Seeing the improvement in the state of someone's health is definitely the reward. What are your suggestions for someone considering this field? Get experience, volunteer in a health-related field -- but more importantly, ask yourself if you want to be empathetic -- if you can be empathetic with others. You can have all the experience and skills in the world and that's meaningless if you don't care -- so get exposure in health care and know where your heart is.
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