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Physician assistant encouraging provincial government approval

With emergency rooms in Port Hardy continuing to be closed overnight, a physician assistant is calling for a change from the province.

Lisa Stewart is the B.C. director of the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants in addition to being a physician assistant herself. Stewart says the definition of a physician assistant is they are academically prepared and educated in the medical field to aid physicians.

“We are physician extenders, we practice closely with the supervision of a physician in a team to provide healthcare,” said Stewart. “We are a doctor’s extra set of hands, eyes and ears in a key-based model.”

Stewart adds that can look very different depending on the area where the assistant is working. Physician assistants have been practicing in the military for almost 50 years, according to Stewart, and have been working in the civilian realm for about 25 years.

However, they are currently not able to work in B.C. and in order to do that, they require permission from the provincial health minister.

“We’ve formally talked to Adrian Dix and his ministry of healthcare team about [physician assistants] and how British Columbians can benefit from our services,” said Stewart. “The answer has always been ‘this has not been a priority at this time.’”

Stewart says with the healthcare crisis it is an all-hands-on-deck situation and feels some of the reluctance is because of a lack of understanding of their role.

The Ministry of Health says they recognize the contributions of physician assistants and how they can help as physician extenders but adds they cannot move too quickly when implementing new positions.

“We continue to monitor [physician assistant] implementation in other provinces and are actively exploring the potential for their inclusion as a new classification of healthcare worker in British Columbia,” said the ministry in a statement.

“With that said, introducing a new health profession requires careful consideration, management and significant resources to properly understand and address the inevitable team function issues that emerge from overlapping scopes of practice.”

The province adds they recently introduced associate physicians to the field, who they say operate in a similar capacity to physician assistants. They add it supports international medical graduates who are not otherwise eligible for licensure as independent medical practitioners.

Stewart adds Dr. Alex Nataros in Port Hardy, who will be facing a further loss of physicians this year, says he sees a physician assistant being able to give him the ability to sleep and come in to work when he is needed.

Port Hardy mayor Pat Corbett-Labatt says the community is “stunned and in shock” about the healthcare situation in the area.

Corbett-Labatt adds the community needs around seven physicians and after presentations from Dr. Nataros and Stewart, she feels the assistants could help to lighten the burden of healthcare in the district.

Corbett-Labatt is encouraging others to come and move to the community, especially doctors.

“We would welcome you to come here,” said Corbett-Labatt. “We need seven emergency room nurses and then there is more sustainability with the emergency room open.

“Our lifestyle is great up here. I love this community and many other people do too.”

As a physician assistant herself, Stewart adds they also want to see the relatively young profession continue to grow in Canada.

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