Exploring physician assistant specialties: Primary care

Considering a primary care specialty for your physician assistant career? Clinical Advisor recently spoke with the director of a well-respected PA degree program, Cindy Lord, PA-C, MHS, of Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., who also happens to practice part-time in primary care, to find out about the specialty.

“The real beauty of the PA profession is that our training allows graduates to be very nimble and flexible across multiple medical disciplines, which is ideal for primary care,” Lord said.

There is a misconception that PA's who work in primary care treat nothing but sore throats and colds, according to Lord, who added that this is not the case.

“I've been treating many of my patients for 15 to 20 years, and as they age, they develop multiple chronic conditions that must be carefully managed. There's a great deal of internal medicine to be practiced in primary care these days. Every day is a very busy and exciting practice day.”

Students in accredited PA programs can expect to spend anywhere from 27 months to 36 months completing a terminal Master's degree and clinical PA certification after they receive a Bachelor's degree.

Once this is complete, clinicians can move right along into clinical jobs in primary care or any number of other specialties. “We're getting qualified practitioners out working in the field relatively quickly,” says Lord. “Which is crucial now, because there is an overall shortage of qualified medical providers, especially in primary care.”

While PAs are able to practice in primary care immediately after they graduate and complete the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (PANCE), those who wish to do so can pursue additional training and/or specialization.

Starting salaries for PAs working in primary are in the $75,000 to $85,000 range, according to Lord. “With recent changes in healthcare practice regulations, such as mandates for reduced working hours for hospital residents and healthcare reform, there are growing opportunities for PAs to practice,” she says. “We're filling in those gaps.”

Jill Elaine Hughes is a freelance medical writer.

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