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Governor declares Arkansas Physician Assistant Day

 Gov. Asa Hutchinson holds a proclamation declaring Arkansas Physician Assistant Day, joined by members of the Arkansas Academy of Physician Assistants.
Daniel Breen
Gov. Asa Hutchinson holds a proclamation declaring Arkansas Physician Assistant Day, joined by members of the Arkansas Academy of Physician Assistants.

Physician assistants are being celebrated for their contribution to the healthcare field in Arkansas.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson proclaimed Friday as Physician Assistant Day in the state, coinciding with National PA Week running until Oct. 12.

Speaking at the state Capitol, Hutchinson said he supports expanding the number of schools training new PAs in the state.

“I know there’s a great need out there, simply because that’s what’s driving costs up… and if we are able to expand the pool, then that in and of itself will help level out some of the [costs] perhaps,” Hutchinson said.

Currently only the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock and Harding University in Searcy have physician assistant programs, while one is expected to come online in Fort Smith in the coming year.

Anne Brown, president of the Arkansas Academy of Physician Assistants, says PAs provide a necessary service, especially in rural parts of the state where healthcare can be difficult to access.

“We provide a valuable service in that we reduce healthcare costs, increase access to care and overall tend to improve patient satisfaction. But this is about increasing awareness, so if people see a PA when they’re in the hospital or at a clinic, they know who they’re seeing and the level of training that we bring to the table and the services we can provide for them,” Brown said.

She says PAs often come from a wide variety of specialties in the healthcare field, including paramedics and respiratory therapists. While similar in practice to nurse practitioners, physician assistants are certified by the Arkansas State Medical Board and their training more closely resembles that of medical students.

Brown says a state law passed in the 2021 legislative session greatly expanded their scope of practice, allowing for greater flexibility in prescribing medication and responding to emergency situations.

“Previously, if a PA saw someone in a clinic or the ER and they needed strong pain medicine, we had to have a doctor write that pain medicine for us. Now we can write up to a five-day supply for that patient without necessarily having to get the doctor involved, so it increases the speed at which patients get access to care,” Brown said.

The law, Act 634, allows physician assistants to write prescriptions for Schedule II narcotics with certain restrictions, respond to natural disasters without a physician present, pronounce time of death and requires that one member of the Arkansas State Medical Board be a licensed and practicing physician assistant.

Brown says physician assistants are underrepresented in Arkansas compared to other states. She urges those interested in the profession to contact her organization.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.