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I’m Still a Physician Assistant, Even at 32,000 Feet

By Cindi O’Boyle, PA-C, EM-CAQ, APC-Director, TeamHealth Emergency Medicine, Northeast Group

Seatbelt fastened, take off complete, settled in my chair and ready to finish the last 60 pages of the book that I haven’t been able to put down all weekend; it was the perfect end to a relaxing weekend away. Then the announcement comes on that no one ever wants to hear. “Attention: are there any medical personnel on the plane?” Suddenly, the relaxing end to my Nantucket getaway has switched gears and my “day off” suddenly became just another “shift,” but this time it was at 32,000 feet in the air.

You would think that being a physician assistant for 18 years in the emergency department would prepare you for just about anything, but I knew this would be a day like no other. I have always been humbled by the work that I do and how I have grown professionally over my career. I wholeheartedly believe that my contribution to the healthcare team plays an instrumental role in improved patient outcomes. That couldn’t have been truer than on that day 32,000 feet above the closest ER.

There was no hesitation on my end to react. I hit my call bell and “went to work.” As I came upon the near syncopal patient I quickly identified myself and became a part of the in-flight medical team. The team was made up of a physician, a nurse and me. The physician was a hospitalist with limited recent clinical practice, so my experience and role suddenly became even more instrumental. Thankfully, the physician was accustomed to working with PAs so we immediately started stabilizing the patient; we worked as a seamless team. It was truly remarkable to immediately mesh with someone who you’ve never even worked with before. She looked at me for advice and insight, she even handed me the IV to place, and let me tell you, I have a whole new sense of gratitude for nurses, because you can’t imagine how hard it is to get an IV on a near syncopal patient while wedged in the aisle of an airplane.

As I reflect on the history of the physician assistant profession, I can’t help but be in awe of the advancements we have made through the years. In all of this, no one asked “what is a PA?” or “are you qualified?” or say “let the doctor handle this.” Instead, they said, “Great! You’re here to help!” The profession has a more than 50-year history, but just 18 short years ago, I would have endless discussions with patients on what exactly a PA is. I was always amazed by how little knowledge they had of our profession that had been in existence for almost 30 years at that time. Times have certainly changed and physician assistants are certainly thriving. I am proud to say that I have seen an amazing evolution of the way others perceive physician assistants and it came to true light on this day.

After a short flight, but one that at times felt like an eternity, we landed safely and I am happy to report that the patient is recovering well. He and his wife were most grateful for the work of their “in-flight medical team.” The airline and fellow passengers praised the work that we all did, but as I said then and as I say now, it is just what physician assistants do.

For over 50 years, the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) has promoted this important profession and the positive impact PAs have in delivering compassionate, quality care to patients and families in need. As we celebrate National Physician Assistant Week and look forward to the next five decades of excellent patient care, TeamHealth wants you to know how much we appreciate you! Happy #PAWeek from TeamHealth!

Are you an APC interested in providing the highest quality patient care? Explore our open opportunities!

originally posted on October 9, 2018