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This article was published 30/11/2015 (2149 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Surgeons at Brandon Regional Health Centre have a few extra hands available in the operating room, thanks to the hospital’s recent recruitment of two new physician assistants.
The new hires are both 2015 graduates of the University of Manitoba’s masters of physician assistant studies program — which was established in 2008 and is the only course of its kind in Canada.
The program was a perfect fit for Troy Smook, who knew he wanted to work in medicine but didn’t love the idea of having a doctor’s lifestyle.
"My job right now is Monday to Friday so I can still go home at the end of the day and see my family, and not have to worry about being paged in the middle of the night — unless I’m on call," Smook said, adding that he feels well-equipped for his role in BRHC’s orthopedic surgery program after taking the intensive two-year course.
Smook started at the hospital in September and his daily responsibilities include: assisting in the operating room during surgeries, managing the surgical ward, monitoring patients’ post-op recovery as well as admitting and discharging patients.
"I pretty much do everything," he said. "I’m a very hands-on person, so it was a perfect fit, I get to do the surgery part and the medicine part on the ward as well."
The 27-year-old physician assistant is originally from Vita and says he was looking forward to returning to rural Manitoba after graduating in August.
"That was a huge draw for me, I’m not a huge fan of big cities … I got a place just outside of Brandon so it’s in the country and reminds me of home," Smook said.
This year, all 12 of the program’s graduating physician assistants found work within Manitoba.
There are now six physician assistants working in Prairie Mountain Health, with five in surgical programs in Brandon and Dauphin and one in primary care in both Melita and Deloraine.
Michelle McKay, PMH’s director of medical services administration, says physician assistants can be particularly helpful in providing better access to primary care for rural residents.
"They provide a role similar to a physician or a nurse practitioner, where they see patients independently, diagnose and treat, prescribe medication and do diagnostic testing," McKay said.
Physician assistants are often referred too as "physician extenders" and can only work under the supervision of a licensed doctor. Because of this, the model doesn’t always translate well in rural areas that are already experiencing doctor shortages.
"It’s making sure you have the physician resources for them to work under," McKay said. "We have had some challenges where physician assistants work with a solo practitioner (in a rural community) and then when they’re away it limits the assistant’s ability to provide care."
McKay says that while physician assistants are relatively new in PMH, the health region has seen improved access and efficiency in health centres where they are employed.
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