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Working everywhere from hospitals to urgent care centers to outpatient offices and clinics, physician assistants are one of the fastest-growing professions in America. As the demand for healthcare services has for years been rising across the country, physician assistants have been meeting that need by providing compassionate, high-quality and cost-efficient care to patients.

“Physician assistants are among the most adaptable and flexible healthcare professionals,” explains Dr. Ilaria Gadalla, South University’s Physician Assistant Department Chair and Program Director for the Master of Science in Physician Assistant program at our West Palm Beach campus.

In every medical discipline, physician assistants (also known as PAs)

  • Elicit medical histories and examine patients
  • Order and interpret diagnostic tests
  • Diagnose injuries and illnesses
  • Treat patients, including providing acute, chronic, preventative and emergency care
  • Counsel or educate patients and families on treatment plans
  • Prescribe medical treatment and refer patients for specialty care

PAs regularly serve on healthcare teams, where they collaborate with and work alongside physicians, nurses and other healthcare professionals, including first-assisting in surgery. PAs may also act as a patient’s primary care provider (especially in medically underserved areas), coordinating with physicians as the situation and state law permits. With such a wide range of responsibilities for people in this role, PA programs cover comprehensive medical disease states and a variety of clinical procedures, including on-site training in family, internal, emergency and pediatric medicine. Beyond these areas, the PA master’s program at South University has clinical rotations that encompass women’s health, general surgery and behavioral medicine.

“PAs are prepared to take care of patients from birth and infancy all the way up to geriatric medicine and hospice care,” says Dr. Gadalla. As the COVID-19 pandemic has driven high demand for critical care providers, having this broad-based, generalist background has enabled PAs to step up and do their part to meet this vital need.

“Because we’re so adaptable, we can fill the gap in any type of healthcare. For example, in the New York area, with the increased number of patients in the ICU, PAs who maybe had been working in surgery or orthopedics were able to easily pivot and go into the ICU to help critical care patients,” Dr. Gadalla explains. In addition to her roles at South University, Dr. Gadalla has been a physician assistant for 12 years and currently practices in hospitalist medicine. She too has seen the demand for her critical care skills and experience rise, with many hospitals in the Palm Beach and Treasure Coast area requesting that she serve as a backup for their current critical and intensive care staff. “PAs have been really leaned upon for that critical care and intensivist patient management experience during the pandemic,” she says.

Beyond monitoring and caring for COVID patients, physician assistants have also been pivotal in setting up and assisting with COVID screening locations at urgent care clinics, ERs and even drive through settings.

Throughout it all, PAs – like so many other healthcare providers – continue to bravely prioritize their patients’ needs above all else. “We are giving everything in terms of time, energy and exposing our own families to the risk of the virus while providing medical care at all levels,” says Gadalla. “We stand together as medical colleagues, and the importance and force of working as a team is unparalleled right now.”