When the rubber hits the road — on rain-slicked streets … on icy roadways … or when a child chases after a ball into oncoming traffic — tires may provide a driver’s first line of defense against serious injury.
But what if there is an injury or illness? Who is providing oversight to the health care providers even before a patient steps in the door? How do you know that your provider meets a standard level of skills and qualifications to care for you? How do you make certain that your provider is practicing at the top of his/her practice?
The Board of Directors of the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) is passionate about public health. NCCPA certifies physician assistants (PAs) who practice medicine on health care teams with physicians. Board members determine mission, purpose and policy for the organization, and have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure adequate resources and that they are managed effectively.
As public board members, we specifically have a responsibility to serve the public interest by providing certification programs that assess a baseline of standards for clinical knowledge, clinical reasoning, and other medical skills and professional behaviors. We join 15 clinician board members as the voice of the patient — focusing on patient safety to guide NCCPA policy decisions.
Patients expect to be treated by clinical providers who pass a certain standard of qualifications and are up-to-date on the latest medical knowledge. Being “up –to- date” is a key term here since according to one study, medical knowledge has doubled every 3.5 years since 2010 and could double every 73 days by 2020.
The Public’s View
The public is largely unaware of the independent certification community, including who they are or what they do. Although some may be aware that a test is given to PA candidates for initial certification, most do not realize that PAs and most physicians have to continue taking written assessments every 10 years. Yet, the public does want assurances that when they visit a health care facility and speak with a health care professional that their concerns will be appropriately diagnosed and addressed by a well-qualified practitioner.
That is why the education and ongoing certification maintenance of your health care provider is important.
PAs graduate from master’s degree programs that average 1,000 classroom hours and 2,000 hours of clinical rotations working on health care teams.
Like physicians, they are educated in the medical model which includes curricula in medical science and behavioral and mental health.
Also, like physicians, PAs maintain rigorous certification standards that include substantial continuing education and passing assessments throughout their careers. When a PA passes the assessment, they can use the PA-C designation after a name, indicating they are certified.
How PAs Help Address Health Care Access and Affordability
In a 2013 op-ed in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said: “A testament to the increasingly important role that PAs play in our nation’s health care system is that it’s hard to imagine our hospitals, clinics and medical practices without them…PAs are playing an essential role in keeping America healthy.”
PAs play an important role on health care teams in many ways, including improving affordability and access. Currently, more than 123,000 PAs are practicing in every U.S. state and territory, increasing access for patients in all specialties, not only in primary care but also in emergency medicine, cardiac and orthopaedic surgery, psychiatry and hospital medicine. They are cost effective providers whom you may encounter in any clinical setting- from urban health centers to rural clinics, delivering quality health care to our veterans, active military and civilian populations.
Importance of Public Protection
As board members we also represent our own families and friends when we represent the public trust. Together with our clinician colleagues, we are united in the goal of patient safety being foremost in NCCPA’s certification programs. The importance of the process cannot be minimized because certification is a measure that many trust and rely on as a demonstration of preparation for clinical practice—including state licensing boards, hospitals, academic institutions, physicians and patients.
Collectively, we are all linked by a desire to access affordable, quality health care whenever we need it. Each year Certified PAs treat over 8.5 million patients, and that number continues to grow as about 8,000 new PAs graduate every year.
It is a distinct privilege to serve on NCCPA’s Board of Directors. As public members, our role and perspectives provide a valuable compliment to the Board clinicians during policy deliberations. Together, our collective activities are all linked by a common thread, to put safety first and instill public confidence.
So, when the rubber hits the road, NCCPA certification is one of the first lines of assurance that PAs objectively demonstrate critical competencies to provide quality care. The success of this profession, which is now over 50 years old, proves that you can count on Certified PAs for your care as they have impacted millions of lives, one patient at a time.
About the Authors
Beverly L. Black was elected as a Public Director at Large to the NCCPA Board of Directors in January 2018. An association consultant, she has over 20 years of managerial experience with national, statewide and community-based programs in nonprofit, health-related and educational associations and organizations. She has been certified as an Association Executive since 1998. Read more.
Zeno W. St. Cyr, II, is a retired health care executive who was elected as a Public Director at Large to the NCCPA Board of Directors in 2017. St. Cyr retired from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2015. His most recent position as director for legislative coordination and senior legislative advisor capped a 35-year career in public health. He also serves on the nccPA Health Foundation PA Mental Health Steering Committee. Read more.