NYSSA (AP) — The number of physician assistants has more than doubled in Malheur County over the past five years, helping to fill a gap in medical care for a rural county at the edge of Eastern Oregon that has trouble attracting doctors.
The county has one primary care physician for every 1,958 residents, but, statewide, the number is one primary care physician per 1,134 residents, the Ontario Argus Observer reported.
Picking up the slack are physician assistants, who can perform many of the duties of doctors, such as interviewing patients, ordering tests and writing prescriptions.
“There’s a need for the personnel, for one,” said Haley Halleman, a physician assistant at Malheur Memorial Health Clinic in Nyssa. “Second, in my opinion, is there’s not as many physicians willing to move to a rural area and move their families.”
The number of licensed PA’s in Malheur County jumped from 16 in 2007 to 41 by the end of 2012. There are more statewide, as well, though not so dramatically, up 32 percent in the five years ending in 2012.
Physicians have to complete four years of medical school after they get their undergraduate degree and then spend three or more years in residency.
Physician assistants must receive a four-year undergraduate degree and then complete a two-year master’s program, with the first year spent in the classroom and the second doing clinical rotations before becoming licensed.
“So it’s a more accessible career, I think,” Halleman said.
Because of the need for rural health care providers, new physician assistants who start out in rural areas and work for specified times can see most of their student loans forgiven by the National Health Service Corps, said Malheur Memorial Health Clinic Administrator Nikki Jasper.
Most of the PAs at the clinic stay after they complete their time, some having chosen the area because they grew in in a rural area, she said.
Argus Observer, http://www.argusobserver.com