The 2019 American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) Annual Meeting, held May 18-22 in Denver, Colorado, hosted more than 7000 PAs and students at the Colorado Convention Center. Up to 275 hours of continuing medical education were available in both medical and surgical specialties, and attendees were able to participate in meetings for the House of Delegates, Student Academy Board, and the Assembly of Representatives, as well as view posters on the latest research.

The 2019 keynote speaker, Allison Massari, is a leading healthcare educator, artist, and activist who spoke on Saturday, May 18, at the General Session. In 1998, Ms Massari survived a severe automobile accident; 3 years later, she experienced a traumatic brain injury in another accident. Ms Massari provided her perspective as a patient, recalling the compassion and kindness her caregivers showed during her difficult recovery. Raised by her mother, a nurse, and her father, a surgical oncologist, Ms Massari grew up understanding the challenges associated with medical professions. Following her tragic accidents, she developed strength, resolve, and a renewed will to live. Ms Massari’s take-away message was for PAs to always remember to put their patient’s well-being first.

Throughout the meeting, attendees had the opportunity to view poster presentations submitted by PAs and students from programs throughout the country. Researchers from The Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at University of California Davis presented findings suggesting the need for more doctoral programs as a trend toward an expectation of doctoral degrees for PA faculty is emerging. Another study conducted by PA students at Long Island University concluded that students in PA programs should be screened for prescription stimulant misuse, as 1 in 10 students was found to have misused these medications.

Obesity was a prominent topic at the meeting in both poster presentations and speaker seminars. In a survey conducted by PA students, obese individuals were found to be more likely to overestimate the caloric content of food compared with individuals with lower body mass indices. Amy Ingersoll, PA-C, MMS, and Sandra Christensen, MSN, ARNP, FNP-BC, presented a lecture on prescribing anti-obesity medications to prevent further weight gain and obesity-related complications, and to improve existing comorbidities. Additional topics covered in the presentation included how to initiate, titrate, and monitor the response to anti-obesity medications approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, including criteria for treatment continuation and discontinuation.

The opioid epidemic was a hot-button topic at the meeting in both lectures and poster presentations. Student researchers from the University of California Davis found that initiating buprenorphine in the emergency department may improve retention rates in opioid use disorder treatment programs, reduce illicit opioid use, and curb the mortality rates associated with long-term opioid use. In addition, students enrolled in the behavioral medicine course at Mercer College of Health Professions found that PA students who completed their core clinical rotation were more confident in patient communication and clinical assessment skills after receiving training on opioid-use disorder.

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On Sunday, May 19, investigators from the public relations company WPP presented the efforts that are underway to change the PA title. The investigators conducted a survey of more than 700 PAs and students and found that, although PAs are satisfied with their role and the benefits it provides, the title of the profession does not accurately represent their role. Three key points emerged as a result of the research: 1) the title “physician assistant” does not capture all of the clinical skills that PAs possess; 2) the word “assistant” may be demeaning to some clinicians and is associated with rational, emotional aversions; and 3) there is a general lack of education and awareness about what a PA is capable of, specifically from patients. Next steps toward changing the PA title include implementing strategies to capture the PA brand, which will support and elevate the profession in conjunction with the new title. The team will then decide on appropriate alternative titles for the profession and present the findings to the AAPA House of Delegates.

Planning has already begun for the 2020 meeting to be held May 16-20 in Nashville, Tennessee. Along with setting new goals in collaboration and care, discovering the next big PA moment, and taking stock of what the profession has achieved, the new PA title will be unveiled. Although high expectations were set for this year’s meeting, 2020 is on track to be even more successful.