zd-pixel What's in a Name? For Physician Assistants, It's Plenty

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What’s in a Name? For Physician Assistants, It’s Plenty

By Stephanie Stephens On Aug 3, 2021

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It didn’t make the same headlines as the last presidential election, but for America’s physician assistants (PAs), it might be just as important. On May 24, the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) House of Delegates passed a resolution, 198 to 68, that affirmed “physician associate” as the new official title for the more than 107,000 professionals exceedingly proud to work in that healthcare career.

Even now, PAs can’t exactly run out and print new business cards, because legal and regulatory details must be attended to first. This was no snap decision, but was preceded by the academy’s Title Change investigation completed by late 2019. More than 21,000 PAs and 6,000 students weighed in on more 150 title options, said AAPA.

[ Read: Physician Assistants: Negotiating Salary as a New Grad ]

The academy worked with independent brand consulting and design group WPP/Landor, after the house requested it during a May 2018 meeting. AAPA estimates the cost for the final report is $21.6 million, and also predicts a 5-year timeline to get all of this accomplished.

It was undertaken to boost PAs’ relevance and impact among stakeholders, especially patients, the academy said. The governing body also reiterated that it’s not making a statement about “independence” but that PAs “remain deeply committed to team-based care with physicians and other providers.”

Not Everyone Supports Name Change

As might be expected, other organizations have already voiced opinions about the impending name change.

The American Medical Association said the change “will only serve to further confuse patients about who is providing their care.” The American College of Radiology also said “no,” because “Any change would lead to confusion among patients as they make important healthcare choices.”

In addition, the American Dermatology Association said it opposes the change, because “The change will exacerbate patient confusion about who is providing care and his/her role in the healthcare system. The name change will not reflect the difference in education and training as compared to the training of a board-certified dermatologist.”

[ Read: How to Launch Your Physician Assistant Career ]

Sister organization The American Society of Dermatologic Surgery also joined in to say “no.”

The American Osteopathic Association didn’t shout “yes” or “no” directly, but said, “We are calling on our peers in the healthcare community to join together with policymakers to support policies that recognize the importance of the physician-led medical team model.”

The name change discussion is yet another round of words between physician assistants and both MDs and DOs about PA autonomy. The AAPA responded formally on June 4 by saying: “We believe that our common interest—to best serve the needs of patients—unites us and presents collaborative opportunities to strengthen the fabric of America’s healthcare system.”

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