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What is a Physician Assistant?
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A Physician Assistant (PA) is a nationally certified and state-licensed medical professional who is trained in a format similar to physicians. The role of the PA was first implemented by Dr. Eugene Stead Jr. of Duke University Medical Center to help alleviate a shortage of primary care physicians. Dr. Stead assembled the first PA class in 1965 choosing four Navy Hospital Corpsmen who had received considerable medical training during their military service. The curriculum was based upon Stead’s knowledge of the fast-track training doctors received during World War II. The first PA class graduated from Duke University on October 6th, 1967. Today, there are 229 accredited PA programs nationally. The average time it takes to complete both the classroom and supervised clinical work is 28 months after receiving a bachelor’s degree.

Legislation is expanding the roles of the PA which enables patients more timely access to care than has previously been available. There are nearly 88,500 physician assistants in practice today.1 This number is expected to double by 2030.2 With this model, the physician can see more new patients, work-up complicated cases, perform surgeries and take calls while ensuring their clinics run efficiently for routine follow-ups and acute care issues.

As a Certified Physician Assistant at Arizona Oncology, my role includes routine exams, follow-ups, and treatment related appointments for hematology and oncology patients under the supervision of Bruce W. Porterfield, MD, PhD. I assist in managing chemotherapy-related symptoms and toxicities, assessing acute care issues, writing prescriptions, ordering diagnostic tests and providing patient education. Specific to oncology, my role in caring for patients is a rewarding one; I’m able to work with a patient, and their family, throughout the duration of their journey, from the time of diagnosis, through various treatments, follow-ups, long term care planning, and even those difficult conversations around end of life and comfort care. Building relationships with these patients and helping them navigate this road is one of my favorite aspects of this occupation.

1Kaiser Family Foundation, 2017

2Association of American Medical Colleges, 2017


Author: Molly Grassman, PA-C is a Physician Assistant in Arizona Oncology’s Green Valley office. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience, and went on to earn her master’s degree in physician assistant studies from Midwestern University in Phoenix.

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