Physician assistants provide care in many different healthcare settings and can work with primary care physicians, specialists or surgeons. They also fulfill a variety of needs in the healthcare system, from acting as surgical assistants to increasing access to care in rural communities. If your dermatologist’s practice has physician assistants, you might have questions about what that means for you as a patient. What is a PA in dermatology anyway? What are they trained to do?
The addition of physician assistants to your dermatologist’s team can be a significant benefit to you as a patient, but it’s important to understand that PAs do not replace your doctor. They do, however, serve an important role by providing greater access to care. This can make it much easier and more convenient for you to get an appointment when you need routine treatment for a common skin condition.
What Qualifications Do PAs Have?
Physician assistants follow the same kind of science and clinical curriculum as medical students — often sitting in class right alongside them and under the tutelage of the same professors. They are trained like medical students and undergo clinical rotations.
Physician assistants are typically trained through a college or university’s College of Medicine Physician Assistant Program. Most dermatology PAs have a master’s degree in physician assistant studies.
PAs are physician extenders, not physician replacements. At U.S. Dermatology Partners, for example, physician assistants are all trained by a board-certified dermatologist for an extended period of time before seeing patients on their own. This training includes didactic lectures, independent study and one-on-one proctoring with our board-certified dermatologists on staff.
As our PAs gain real-world, hands-on experience, they are able to review charts and cases, as well as treat common conditions. They are in constant communication with their supervising dermatologist and receive assistance and clinical advice on an ongoing basis about specific conditions and treatments.
Dermatology physician assistants also receive additional training through continuing medical education (CME) conferences, courses, and workshops. At least 100 CME credits are required every two years to maintain certification from the National Commission on the Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), and PAs are required to take a recertification exam every six years.
All of our dermatology PAs are supervised and supported by a board-certified dermatologist, who works with them to provide patients with great care.
What Can a PA Diagnose and Treat?
The roles and responsibilities of dermatology PAs vary from practice to practice. The supervising physician determines the scope of what a PA can diagnose and treat. In many dermatology practices, physician assistants are well trained to handle all kinds of skin conditions ranging from acne to eczema, rosacea, warts and more.
Many physician assistants assist board-certified dermatologists with surgical cases such as Mohs surgery and perform minor in-office surgical procedures. They can also perform biopsies, skin cancer screening exams and provide a wide range of preventative education and care for patients within a dermatology practice.
Dermatology physician assistants also conduct a wide range of cosmetic dermatology procedures to help patients improve the appearance of their skin. These minimally invasive, surgical and non-surgical treatments can include anything from injections such as Botox and Kybella to chemical peels, microdermabrasion, laser skin resurfacing, body contouring and even tattoo removal.
“PAs are an invaluable resource for our practice, as well as for our patients,” says Chief Medical Officer Dr. Lawrence Anderson. “Our patients are comfortable seeing the physician assistants in our office and many appreciate the ability to get an appointment without having to wait as long. They like the flexibility and efficiency PAs bring to our practice and they know they are always getting great care.”
As the demand for skin care services — both medical and cosmetic — continues to grow across the country, more and more leading dermatology practices have incorporated trained PAs into their staffs. Working under the supervision of board-certified dermatologists, these professionals are able to significantly extend the practice’s overall reach of care.
As a result, patients have quicker access to high-quality skin care without the headache and unnecessary delays that can come with trying to schedule an appointment with a busy dermatologist.
To learn more about the board-certified dermatologists and highly trained dermatology physician assistants on our team, contact U.S. Dermatology Partners today.
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