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It used to be that the titles of the medical staff at a hospital were fairly easy to comprehend.  There was our doctor and a nurse assistant.  Times have changed.  There are so many demands on a physician’s time that he or she must necessarily delegate many of his or her follow-up duties, as well as administrative services, to others in the office.

Doctors usually have Registered Nurses on staff as well as Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants.  I’m not 100% certain where they all line up, but it seems that the Registered Nurse’s emphasis is on patient-centered medicine and the Nurse Practitioner is a hybrid between Registered Nurses and Physician Assistants, the latter focusing more on disease-centered medicine. The Physician Assistant position requires a few years of healthcare experience in order to qualify for enrollment in a PA program.

Why is this important?  Well, it certainly is to the physician who can rely on staff specially trained to discharge duties that previously fell into his or her responsibility basket.  But the importance of these positions is much more evident on the patient side.  

I recently had cause to experience this first-hand. My doctor and the hospital selected for the procedures were the best around, in my opinion. However, multiply my case by the dozens of cases that the same doctor and hospital deal with every day.  And, once the hospital stay is over, the roles of these other positions become more relevant and important. Every patient has questions about medicines, pain levels, after effects, etc. following surgery.  It would be nearly impossible for the doctor to address the dozens of questions from each of his patients without the assistance of staff.  

In my particular case, we dealt with our doctor’s Physician’s Assistant, who not only answered all questions clearly and thoroughly, but when a minor complication arose after discharge, she undertook the responsibility to personally drive to the emergency room, inform the ER doctors about my situation prior to my arrival, and made certain that a path to relief had been prepared and not given to chance. I honestly did not anticipate this level of personal intervention on my behalf,  especially on a weekend.

So, the next time you need to select a doctor for some medical reason, it would be prudent to inquire about his or her office back-up because, even if the doctor wanted to, they would not have the time to respond to each and every patient.

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