BRYAN, Texas — This week is National PA Week, which celebrates and recognizes the physician assistant profession. PAs have stepped up greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic and have proven they are essential.
Danielle Kutzenberger, PA-C and Ellen Sugarek, PA-C are both physician assistants at CHI St. Joseph Health Regional Hospital. Neither of them set out to become PAs when they were in school, but both experienced something that made them want to pursue their career.
“I underwent a knee surgery and the PA that worked along the orthopedic surgeon really intrigued me," said Kutzenberger.
“It was shorter education, I got to work faster and join the medical field quicker," said Sugarek.
While it might be a quicker route to working in a hospital, PAs must have thousands of hours of medical training to perform their job. A PA program is modeled after the curriculum of a medical school.
“I went to school with medical students and we do 15 months of what is called a didactic program of education and 12-15 months of over 2,000 hours in clinical," Sugarek said.
Physician assistants have numerous roles around the hospital, like working closely with a physician and assisting in surgery, performing procedures, developing treatment plans and so much more.
"It just increases the capability to provide a high quality of care," said Kia Parsi, MD, the chief medical officer at CHI St. Joseph Health.
The need for PAs across the country is great. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the profession will increase by 31 percent in the next eight years.
“It’s growing and there’s more programs being created," Sugarek said.
For PAs, like Kutzenberger and Sugarek, one of their favorite parts of the job is working with the patients.
“When the doctors take off and they have to go to surgeries, we often get to spend more time with the patients rounding or in a clinic," said Kutzenberger.
Especially now with COVID-19 not allowing a lot of patients friends and families in hospitals that support PAs can give is tremendous.
“I’d say my patients become family," Sugarek said. "We can bridge that gap and fill in where we’re needed.”
Even though PAs may have had to put in extra work to care for patients the past several months, they say its all worth it.
National PA Week is celebrated from Oct. 6-12.