All patients are equal, and we need to treat them that way

Focusing on physician assistant salary may be contributing to a decrease in compassion for under-served patients.

All patients are equal, and we need to start treating them that way
All patients are equal, and we need to start treating them that way

 I see myself as a pretty patient person. I can put up with the standard annoyances without freaking out, don't come unglued when stuck in traffic, and smile and nod at failed jokes.

But I have completely run out of patience with physician assistants (PAs) and other providers who continue to slam Obama Care and the slew of “undeserving” patients that it has brought to us.

It seems that the medical providers who are the most critical act as though the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has hurt their practices, because now they have to see a huge influx of ingrates who don't really deserve insurance in the first place. Nobody says that exactly, but naysayers get pretty close.

If you're a PA, you've heard the comments from other PAs and providers: “The patients are demanding, they're stupid, they think we're stupid, and they act like health care is some sort of a right, an entitlement. They're lazy, and don't want to work.” And so on.

Certainly we can hope that this is a minority of providers, but even if this reflects 1% of PAs, it's about 200% too many. This kind of cynicism seems to sometimes come with burnout, but sometimes is seen in young and new providers.

Sometimes you even see it on Facebook: a provider makes a crack about a stupid patient who came in to the clinic and asked for drugs with some crazy story, often followed by a string of comments from other providers or sundry Facebook friends high-fiving each other with matching comments.  

When I hear or see social media, it underscores my notion that too many PAs become PAs in order to make a healthy salary, which we certainly do. Something happens to too many PAs over time that makes salary a more salient reason for practicing and it's often accompanied by a certain gained bitterness about patients.

I can't help but think that the American Academy of Physician Assistant's (AAPA) recent promotional efforts contribute to this concern. You've probably seen it, either at AAPA conferences, or in publications. Headlines blare “PA profession voted best way to make 110K with only three years of school!” or “CNN cites physician assistant profession as one of the fastest ways to make big dough!”

It's not much of a leap to think that people looking for a meaningful and rewarding profession jump all over this. With these increased expectations may also come decreased tolerance for the increasing diversity and complexity of our patients.

Most of us don't come from this perspective. But even just the presence of a small but visible chunk of health-care providers accusing our patients of being demanding and dumb is embarrassing and just plain wrong.

Jim Anderson, MPAS, PA-C, ATC, DFAAPA, is a physician assistant in Seattle, WA.

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