A rural healthcare advocacy group is asking for BC medical assistants

A network of rural health care advocates in BC says allowing physician assistants could help with staffing issues.  (Shutterstock – photo credit)

A network of rural health care advocates in BC says allowing physician assistants could help with staffing issues. (Shutterstock – photo credit)

An advocacy group dedicated to rural health care in BC is adding its voice to a growing chorus calling for the province to hire physician assistants to ease the burden on the health care system.

After a year of emergency room closures, particularly in rural BC, the province is reeling from staff shortages caused by waves of sick leave and more ongoing staff retention issues, as well as the spread of COVID-19 and high levels of respiratory illness.

Physician assistants, who work in several other provinces, have been suggested as a way to quickly increase BC’s healthcare workforce.

As medical assistants, medical assistants can conduct patient consultations and examinations, issue prescriptions and assist with operations. Unlike nurses, they do not practice independently.

Paul Adams, executive director of advocacy group Rural Health Network, says they would fit well into a team-based approach to health care, which he says would solve many of the problems plaguing rural communities.

“We’ve noticed a reluctance to admit physician assistants, and we’re looking for clarity as to why that is,” he told CBC News. “It appears that there is strong support for many organizations that would work with physician assistants in this area.”

Adams says the series of healthcare workforce initiatives announced in the last budget is welcome, but he hopes the province would increase its workforce by adding physician assistants.

Maggie McPherson/CBC

Maggie McPherson/CBC

He also says many of the human resources initiatives — including a commitment to license more foreign-trained doctors and nurses — are long-term.

With medical assistants having a reduced training period of two years, Adams says the province has an opportunity to hire more workers.

“It’s a very difficult situation. If a doctor leaves a team … the entire department has to close,” he said. “We simply see more resources and immediately available resources as appropriate in an emergency situation.”

Doctors, other parties for support

Both opposition parties in BC – the BC Green Party and the Liberals – support the concept.

According to Adams, several members of the Rural Health Network — rural residents and aldermen from Fort Nelson, Elkford and New Denver — have expressed an interest in having physician assistants work in their communities.

BC’s Department of Health has previously said it is overseeing the introduction of physician assistants in other provinces.

“Enabling the practice of a new group of healthcare professionals will require careful thought, management and significant resources to properly understand and address the team function issues that may arise,” a department spokesman said in a statement.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons said in an emailed statement that it would fully support the government if it decided to introduce female physician assistants to BC


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