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What Does a Psychiatric Physician Assistant Do?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A psychiatric physician assistant works as part of a medical team to provide treatment and support to mentally ill patients. They work closely with psychiatrists to offer evaluation and treatment of mental health issues in settings like community clinics, hospitals, and psychiatric practices. In addition to direct patient care, the job includes maintaining paperwork, filing with insurance companies, and participating in other administrative tasks. Some have specialized certifications in psychiatry, while others may not have advanced mental health training.

These medical professionals can perform many of the same tasks as a doctor, but must do so under supervision. They can write prescriptions and perform minor medical procedures, for example, with approval from a supervising doctor. A psychiatric physician assistant may be assigned to a patient to perform an intake assessment, meet with family members, and determine the patient’s needs. In regular meetings with a supervising doctor, the physician assistant discusses specific situations that have developed in the practice, and how they are being handled.

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The job can include assigning diagnoses to patients and making treatment recommendations. Medication management can be a substantial part of the work for a psychiatric physician assistant, as this is where the bulk of medical training in this area tends to lie. Psychotherapy may be provided by another health care provider if it would be beneficial for the patient. As the patient goes on medication, the psychiatric physician assistant monitors doses and responses, determining when to increase the dosage and when the patient needs to try another medication.

Psychiatric medications can potentially come with severe side effects. Patients taking these drugs need to be monitored for signs of problems like liver damage, psychiatric disturbance, and neurological impairment. For example, a patient with undiagnosed bipolar disorder who is placed on an antidepressant might experience a manic episode because of the medication. An attentive psychiatric physician assistant can evaluate patients, consider risks, and monitor them as they adjust to medication to identify these issues early.

Crisis care can also be part of the job for a psychiatric physician assistant, who may work in a crisis or emergency unit to provide immediate treatment to people with acute mental health problems. When the crisis is resolved, a long-term care plan can be developed to prevent future episodes of a similar nature. As a primary point of contact with the mental health system, the psychiatric physician assistant may also help patients locate financial assistance and other services that could be beneficial.

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