BLS training – training in the basic life support medical techniques that can help stabilize (and potentially save the lives of) individuals with life-threatening illness or injury until full medical care is available – is valuable for everyone, everywhere. A medical emergency can happen in the workplace, at church, during an outing to a baseball game, or at a family gathering.
But for some individuals, taking BLS training not only equips them with an important skill set, it also introduces them to the world of medical care delivery, and a possible new career path as a physician assistant.
What physician assistants do
There are approximately 74,500 physician assistants (PAs) currently practicing medicine under the supervision of physicians and surgeons. Their training prepares them to provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive healthcare services, as directed by a physician. Working as members of a healthcare team, they may take medical histories, examine and treat patients, order and interpret laboratory tests and x rays, and make diagnoses.
The specific tasks performed by a PA will vary depending on the practice requirements mandated by each state. At a minimum, however, PAs are educated in areas of basic medical science, clinical disciplines and discipline-specific problem solving, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics, gynecology, surgery, and psychiatry/behavioral medicine. PAs practice in ambulatory, emergency, inpatient, and long-term care settings.
A PA's responsibilities typically include recording patient progress notes, instructing and counseling patients, ordering or carrying out therapy programs and prescribing medications to patients. In some medical environments, PAs may also be responsible for management duties, such as ordering medical supplies or equipment and supervising medical technicians and assistants.
Some PAs function as the care providers in rural or inner-city clinics where a physician may be available onsite for only one or two days per week. In this role, PAs work closely with their supervising physicians as needed (and as required by law) to deliver the appropriate care. PAs also may make house calls or go to hospitals and nursing care facilities to check on patients, after which they report back to the physician.
Training to become a physician assistant
Although your BLS training may introduce you to a type of medical experience, in order to become a physician assistant you’ll need to complete an accredited education program (usually a two-year commitment for full-time students) and pass a national exam in order to obtain a license. Keep in mind that although requirements for admission to training programs vary, most applicants have a college degree and some health-related work experience. In fact, many applicants have worked previously as registered nurses, EMTs, and paramedics.
There are more than 140 accredited PA programs, offered by such organizations as schools of allied health, academic health centers, medical schools, four-year colleges, community colleges, branches of the military, and hospitals. Programs are accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant.
In addition to completing the training program, you must also pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). This exam is open only to graduates of accredited PA education programs.
Beyond training: Is a PA career for you?
Physician assistants must comfortably combine two characteristics: a willingness to take direction from a supervising physician, and a genuine interest in using their medical knowledge and “people skills” to help patients with their health issues. They must also have strong self-management skills and attention to detail. A good bedside manner (i.e., communication skills, ability to listen, empathy, and tact), emotional stability, and the ability to make decisions in emergencies are also important.
In addition, many PAs have pointed out the value of an enthusiasm for lifelong learning, because your eligibility to practice depends on continuing education to update skills for the duration of your career!
As a PA, you're most likely to work in a hospital (38 percent), a group practice (33 percent), a solo practice (10 percent), or a community health center (8 percent). PAs can also work in outpatient care centers, which are generally run by a health maintenance organization, the federal government, a university, a college or a professional school.
Start With Your BLS Training, Then….
If your BLS training piques your interest in pursuing a career in the healthcare field, you may want to think about becoming a physician assistant. It’s an area of growing opportunity, good job stability, and tremendous personal reward.
Health Education Solutions offers BLS certification online.
Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistants
American Academy of Physician Assistants Information Center
National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants
The information included in this article is based on the 2005 guidelines for CPR, first aid and advanced cardiovascular care. Read more about how the 2010 guidelines impact BLS classes.