Physician’s assistants: a workforce solution for Australia?
Significant medical workforce shortages, particularly in rural and remote locations, have prompted a range of responses in Australia at both state and Commonwealth levels. One such response was a pilot project to test the suitability of the Physician Assistant (PA) role in the Australian context. Five US-trained and accredited PAs were employed by Queensland Health and deployed in urban, rural and remote settings across Queensland. A concurrent mixed-method evaluation was conducted by Urbis, an independent research firm. The evaluation found that the PAs provided quality, safe clinical care under the supervision of local medical officers. The majority of nurses and doctors who worked with the PAs believed that the PAs made a positive contribution to the health care team by increasing capacity to meet patient needs; reducing on-call requirements for doctors; liaising with other clinical team members; streamlining procedures for efficient patient throughput; and providing continuity during periods of doctor changeover. The Pilot demonstrated that a delegated PA role can provide safe, quality health care by augmenting an established healthcare team. The PA role has the potential to benefit the community by increasing the capacity of the health care system, and to improve recruitment and retention by providing an additional professional pathway. The small size of the Pilot limits the ability to generalise regarding the future efficacy of the PA role in Australia. Further research is required to test training and deployment of PAs in a wider range of Australian clinical settings, including general practice and rural health clinics.
Additional keywords:health workforce, Queensland, rural and remote health.
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