Growing number of medical professionals aren't MD's - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Growing number of medical professionals aren't MD's

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MARSHFIELD (WAOW) -- At some point in our lives, all of us go to the doctor's office. But a growing rate of medical professionals aren't MD's anymore. Newsline 9 took a look at the growing trend of physician assistants.

They work side-by-side with other MD's, performing surgeries and doing routine family check ups. The main difference between physician assistants and a doctor? A few extra years of school.

"I wanted to provide patient care," said Katie Lee, who started working as a PA two months ago. "I wanted to do something in the medical field but I maybe didn't want to go to school as long as some of the doctors do."

After the initial four years of college, doctors usually have at least another seven years of school left, usually with a fellowship after that. A PA can start in the medical field as soon as six years after their first day of class.

"This is the first time in 20 years of my life that I'm not a student and it feels kind of good," said Lee.

Medical experts said by 2016, they expect to see the number of physician assistants grow by about 30%. Health leaders said PA's aren't replacing doctors, but they do help out while doctors are busy making rounds.

"There's more and more specialties utilizing PA's and they found out that are cost-effective," said Bill Zirnhelt, who has been working as a PA for 41 years. "They're beneficial and the need is still there so we're expanding all the time."

Zirnhelt was the third PA hired at Marshfield Clinic back in 1973. 41 years later, he said some of the young doctors ask him for advice. PA's and doctors said they work as a team, so there's not animosity between the two groups.

"The longer you do something and the more you do it, the better you get at it," said Zirnhelt. "Although things change, The basic things of good history and good physical are still the basis for everything."

PA's said they enjoy facing different challenges every day. Even if they're logging marathon hours in the ER, bringing that extra something to the hospital makes it all worth it.

"We can fill in some of the gaps if physicians are bogged down," said Lee. "We're able to answer those questions efficiently and provide good quality care to patients who need it."

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