For many years, physician assistants (PAs) have worked closely with physicians in a number of disciplines across the field of medicine to optimize the care children receive. According to Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAPA), physician assistants play an invaluable and meaningful role in the provision of healthcare for infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.
According to the AAPA, pediatricians and physician assistants share a special affinity, as each profession emphasizes patient education and advocacy, and each recognizes the social and environmental factors that shape children’s health.
The AAPA also reports that there has been significant interest in the structure and organization of care delivery for children involving physician assistants. The AAPA expects that by the year 2020, there will be an increased reliance on physician assistants providing primary care to our nation’s children, including hospitalized children, both in supervised intensive care settings and general pediatric inpatient units.
During the last 10 years, the scope of practice of physician assistants in pediatrics has expanded, due in part to the continuing regional shortages of physicians and efforts to reduce the cost of healthcare.
Physician Assistants in Pediatrics: What They Do and Where They Work
Physician assistants in pediatrics are typically employed either outside the hospital setting and have privileges to provide inpatient care, or they are employed as house staff in a pediatric or neonatal unit.
Within a pediatric hospital setting, physician assistants perform the following duties:
- Take patient histories
- Perform physical examinations
- Diagnose and treat illnesses
- Assist in surgery
- Oversee the care of patients within an intensive or transient pediatric setting
In outpatient settings, physician assistants generally handle routine pediatric complaints, thus enabling physicians to spend more time on complex cases. According to the AAPA, numerous studies show that PAs enhance patient satisfaction levels, increase practice productivity, and decrease physician stress in outpatient settings.
Their job duties in outpatient settings often include:
- Diagnosing and treating minor acute illnesses
- Providing well visits
- Providing medically informed follow-up care
- Providing family health counseling
- Taking calls
Physician assistants in pediatric outpatient settings help regulate the flow of patients. They help patients and parents understand illnesses and treatment options. Their focus on patient education ensures compliance with prescribed treatments and promotes patient wellness.
How to Become a PA Specialized in Pediatrics: Education and Training Requirements
A physician assistant’s formal education starts with a bachelor’s degree (usually in a behavioral or biological science) and concludes with a physician assistant program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant.
Physician assistant programs, which are usually about 26 months in duration and culminate in a master’s degree, provide students with a comprehensive education that includes at least 2,000 hours of clinical rotations. A clinical rotation in pediatrics is an essential component of a PA program.
To practice as a physician assistant in the United States, graduates of accredited PA programs must take and pass the national certifying examination administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and apply for state licensure with the state in which they plan to practice.
Post-Graduate Physician Assistant Programs
Although not required for licensure as a physician assistant, post-graduate physician assistant programs (often called fellowships) allow new graduates to pursue an intensive course of training in a specific medical specialty, such as pediatrics, pediatric urgent care, pediatric emergency medicine, neonatology, pediatric psychiatry, and pediatric surgery.
The Association of Postgraduate PA Programs maintains a list of physician assistant postgraduate fellowships.
Professional Certification Options for Physician Assistants Specialized in Pediatrics
Professional certification is an excellent way for physician assistants to set themselves apart from others in their profession and display a commitment to their craft. The NCCPA offers the certificate of added qualifications (CAQ) program in pediatrics.
To qualify for the Pediatric CAQ, candidates must possess a PA-C certification and be licensed to practice as a physician assistant in at least one U.S. jurisdiction. Qualified candidates must also possess the following in order to qualify to take the Pediatric Specialty Exam and earn the Pediatric CAQ designation:
- At least 150 credits of Category I CME focused on pediatric practice; at least 50 of those credits must have been earned within the last two years
- At least 4,000 hours of experience (the equivalent to two years of full-time practice) working as a PA in pediatrics
- Attestation from a supervising physician who can indicate that the candidate has performed patient management relevant to pediatrics or has an understanding of how and when to apply the appropriate techniques and methods; this includes:
- History taking and physical examination for infants, children, and adolescents
- Preventive health counseling
- Pre-operative management
- Post-operative management
- Intravenous medication administration
- Lumbar puncture
- Endotracheal intubation
- Central line insertion
- Peripheral intravenous catheter placement
- Incision and drainage of an abscess
- Simple laceration repair
- Bladder catheterization
- Foreign body removal
- Hearing and vision screening
- Adolescent medicine
- Wound and burn care
Resources for Physician Assistants in Pediatrics
One of the ways physician assistants in pediatrics advance in the profession is by staying abreast of changes in medicine and networking with other physician assistants who specialize in pediatrics. Membership organizations relevant to physician assistants specialized in pediatrics include:
- Society of Physician Assistants in Pediatrics
- American Academy of Pediatrics
- American Pediatric Society