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Do you experience bias in patient perception of MD vs PA-C?

I am currently in school completing my pre-reqs in order to apply to physician assistant school. Over the last few years, I have heard a number of people say they would rather see a MD than a PA-C as they feel an MD has more experience, expertise and knowledge in the field of medicine. Do you experience this bias from patients in the workplace?
#medicine #physician-assistant


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Amy K.’s Answer

Hi Angela, this is an excellent question. I have practiced as a physician assistant for almost 7 years now. While some patients do prefer seeing an MD over a PA, it is rare that I feel negative bias toward physician assistants from my patients. Patients are correct that MDs have more training, education, and in most specialties more expertise than PAs, but that does not mean PAs provide inferior patient care. The part I love about being a physician assistant is that my supervising physician and I function as a team! I provide excellent care to my patients, but I also know when to ask for help - this is a very important part of being a physician assistant. I work in orthopedics, and if a patient requires a surgical decision, I leave that up to the SURGEON. The MD went to school for years longer than I did, and I defer to his decision when it comes to surgery. But when the MD is in the operating room, I am able to see our patients in followup and manage their care outside of the surgical setting. I can use all the tools of labs, imaging, exam, and patient history to figure out the best course of action for the patient, and if that means they need surgery, then they get to have a conversation with the MD who will be operating on them. It's a fantastic dynamic, and the surgeon I work for trusts me to take care of our patients in his absence. I also know that when I need his help, I can call/text/or see him when I need to. To be honest, when a patient says they don't want to see the physician assistant, I always let them see the MD. They may have their reasons to not want to see a PA, but if I get the chance to treat them one day, I hope to change their mind and let them know what great care physician assistants can and do provide!

Amy K. recommends the following next steps:

Shadow an MD and a physician assistant to get an idea of their different practice styles and responsibilities.

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Rachel’s Answer

Well, MD's do have more experience and expertise than most PA's. They go to school for a minimum of 7 years after college vs. 2 years of PA school.

However, many PA's offer excellent care in their area of practice. I frequently take my children to see a pediatric PA who works under their pediatrician. Honestly, there is enough healthcare business to go around. If a patient does have reservations about seeing a PA, there will be a line of patients following him/her that are very appreciative of a PA's expertise and care.

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Estelle’s Answer

The bias might arise from misunderstanding of roles in patient care. Most patients are happy to see PA's knowing that they will be communicating with the supervising physician. They often get sooner appointments and a little more time with the PA. There is definitely a need for PA's, and patients are appreciative of their care.

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Richard’s Answer

In my radiology group there have been a few times that a patient has requested to have an MD perform their procedure. However most patients are perfectly happy to see our PAs and a few even request the PA by name!

As the person who makes the schedule for our group, I have been asked by some of our rural hospitals to please send the PA rather than the radiologist as well.

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