An orthopedic physician's assistant is a highly trained health-care professional who works with a licensed orthopedic surgeon in a hospital setting. He or she assumes many advanced responsibilities, such as performing physical exams, making diagnoses, and assisting with clinical surgical procedures. Following treatment, the assistant can fit a patient with a cast or brace and explain home-care techniques. Many physician's assistants act as the primary caregivers to patients, helping to take much of the workload off of busy surgeons.
Orthopedics is a complex branch of medicine that focuses on problems with the musculoskeletal system. Patients who break bones, have congenital defects, or suffer from degenerative conditions such as arthritis may require surgery to repair damaged tissue. An orthopedic physician's assistant plays a vital role in determining exactly what is wrong with a patient and what types of treatment may be able to help. The assistant is highly involved in making an initial diagnosis based on x-ray results, a physical exam, and a thorough patient history. He or she usually consults with a supervising orthopedic surgeon to make sure they are on the same page about the best treatment plan.
When a person is scheduled for surgery, the orthopedic physician's assistant is usually responsible for preparing the operating room and informing the patient about the procedure. The assistant may describe the types of anesthesia to be used, the details of the operation itself, and the risks involved. During the procedure, the orthopedic surgeon depends on the assistant to have tools, screws, sutures, and any other necessary equipment at hand when they are needed.
Post-operative care is a major part of a orthopedic physician's assistant's job as well. An assistant can dress surgical wounds and apply splints and casts when needed. He or she also sets up physical rehabilitation programs and schedules follow-up visits to track the patient's recovery.
In order to become an orthopedic physician's assistant in most countries, a person needs to obtain at least a bachelor's degree with a medical focus, gain work experience in a health-care setting, and complete a licensed physician assistant program. Most programs take about two years to complete and involve both classroom studies and practical training. Students take many of the same courses as prospective doctors enrolled in medical school. After completing a school program, a person usually needs to pass a regional or national licensing exam to earn official physician's assistant credentials.
Newly accredited physician's assistants can apply for jobs at hospitals and outpatient orthopedic health centers. A new worker can expect to spend several months in training with other assistants and surgeons to learn about specific policies, procedures, and legal matters. Professionals generally earn more responsibilities as they gain experience in the field. Some assistants choose to attend medical school while working to prepare them for future careers as orthopedic surgeons.