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N.S. hiring physician assistants to reduce wait times, streamline surgery

A job posting will be going up soon for three physician assistants to be hired at the QEII hospital as a pilot project
(stock photo)

A job posting will be going up soon for three physician assistants to be hired as a pilot project with the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

"I think that everybody recognizes that we need the help," says Dr. Bill Oxner, chief of orthopedic surgery at the QEII Hospital in Halifax.

Physician assistants are a type of physician extender, similar to nurse practitioners and clinical assistants. The position has existed for several years in Ontario, Manitoba and below the border.

"The physician assistant trains with the physician assistant who they work with, it's a one-on-one thing," explains Oxner. "You learn that physician's patterns of practice and then you become an extension of that physician."

Oxner says those hired for the new positions will have an undergraduate degree as well as two years of training at a Canadian Physician Assistant school.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons has agreed to begin an accreditation program on a trial basis.

"It'll be a pilot program to prove that we can do this, to prove that we can do it safely," Oxner tells NEWS 95.7's The Todd Veinotte Show.

Once hired, the physician assistants will help with everything from prep for surgery, to helping a surgeon during surgery, to caring for them afterwards.

"The more people that interact with you as a patient, the more people that are there to help look after you and help you get through it, the better it is for you," adds Oxner.

One specific target area is to reduce the wait times for hip and knee replacement surgeries.

"We have people waiting upwards of three and four years for joint replacement," says Oxner. "We know these are good operations, we know that they work, and it's hard for people to sit around waiting on a wait list to have this surgery."

The doctor explains that although there will be a cost to hire physician assistants, it will still be significantly cheaper than training and hiring more surgeons.

"People like me are expensive to get more of, and they're hard to get more of," Oxner says.

But for Nova Scotians who are looking for good quality support and care, physician assistants will be able to provide that.

"You want me to be more efficient, you want me to be able to deliver good quality care," Oxner adds. "You don't want me rushing, you want someone to talk to, you want someone to look after you."

If the pilot program is successful, Oxner thinks we could see more physician assistants in the province.

"Classically, there might be one physician assistant for each of the physicians in the group," he says.

And for people in the health care field who have left the East Coast for better job prospects, it could mean a return to Nova Scotia is in the cards.

"Many people who want to become a physician assistant have left Nova Scotia to train and work in Ontario, work in Manitoba, work in the United States," says Oxner. "Those people have been contacting us for years hoping that we would get some of those positions so that they could come back home and work here."


Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

Victoria is's weekend editor and a Halifax-based freelancer. She is originally from Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley.
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