Are you a physician assistant contemplating specializing in surgery? Clinical Advisor recently spoke with Michael Doll, MPAS, PA-C, about his career in cardiothoracic surgery. Doll is the director of physician assistants at the Cardiac Surgery Service Line, part of the Geisinger Health System in Danville, Penn.

 “I’ve worked in this field since the mid 1980s and I’m very proud to be a part of it,” Doll said. Geisinger has a long history of promoting physician and PA teamwork in the surgical suite, and was one of the first health care organizations to pioneer these collaborations in the early 1970s.

 “I see patients before their cardiac operations. I take care of the documentation to get the patients properly prepped, and co-morbidities tracked and treated appropriately,” Doll said describing his typical workweek. “In the OR, I provide support to the cardiac surgeon harvesting veins from patients’ legs with an endoscopic technique. I also assist the surgeon on the cardiac bypass operation itself.”

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From there, Doll follows the patient into the intensive care unit, coordinating care with the other members of his team that are responsible for providing critical care. He supervises 11 PAs in the cardiothoracic surgery unit with whom he rotates roles on a weekly basis.

Learning that PAs are this hands-on in a surgical setting may be surprising to some, but Doll advises that team building like this is the way of the future. He said that at Geisinger Health System, PAs are getting the opportunity to take on roles that MD fellows and residents are filling in many other care settings.

 “The Society for Thoracic Surgeons has cautioned that since more surgeons are retiring from the field than entering the profession, there will be a shortage of qualified surgeons. PAs and other clinicians, like nurse practitioners, are going to be filling those gaps.”

Jill Elaine Hughes is a freelance medical writer.