Being a Physician Assistant #2: Being Comfortable with the Human Body

August 9, 2011 in PA Pals, Prospective PAs

Being a Physician Assistant 2: Being Comfortable with the Human Body - Physician Assistant EDThis is the second post of a series to help you learn more about the physician assistant profession. My goal? Not to merely echo what you’ve already heard, but to delve deeper, so you can truly get a taste of what it means to be a physician assistant! You can read the introduction by clicking here.

Personal feelings about Being a PA
I want to begin by expressing my feelings about being a Physician Assistant. I will soon discuss several topics that challenge the glamour of working as a healthcare practitioner. Therefore, it’s important for you to understand that I love being a PA! In spite of the discomforts and frustrations, there’s nothing as wonderful and rewarding as connecting with and helping other human beings in such a meaningful way. There are few occupations that are so challenging, that require such a broad set of skills, and I’ll emphasize, few that are able to bring to surface such an array of emotions. It is indeed a marvelous occupation, one which I am proud to be a part of!

Being Comfortable with the Human Body
If you want to be a physician assistant, you have to be comfortable with bodies and all the parts that come with them. You have to be comfortable with touching and manipulating body parts of both males and females. And not just young, healthy, and attractive bodies, but aged, unhealthy, and diseased bodies as well. You have to be comfortable with carefully examining and working with deep ulcers, oozing sores, bleeding lacerations, genitalia with herpetic lesions, abscesses that express foul smelling exudate, and thick yellow fungus-filled toenails that easily slough. You have to be comfortable placing your fingers in anuses and vaginas, handling testicles, as well as lifting and displacing pendulous breasts. You also have to be comfortable with performing maneuvers that may cause patients discomfort or pain. And you MUST do all of these things with the utmost professionalism and sensitivity, fully recognizing that it’s usually much more uncomfortable for the patient than it is for you. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying you have to enjoy all of these things, but you must be comfortable enough with and willing to properly perform an adequate exam for what each case demands. The potential repercussions of failing to do so are too enormous. So ask yourself, am I capable of doing these things? Frequently I am asked why most PA Programs require admission candidates to have hands-on patient care experience. One of the most important reasons includes making sure you know you’re comfortable with the human body, in all shapes, sizes, and conditions! For those of you who can never see yourself being able to do these things, no need to read on. For those of you who can, move on to Post #3: Genuinely Caring About and Having Compassion for Patients, by clicking here.

4 responses to Being a Physician Assistant #2: Being Comfortable with the Human Body

  1. Having just finished an ER shift last night where I saw a few very disagreeable things, I cannot agree more. You have to shift into a different “mode” where you ignore the “visceral feeling” that you get from the sights and smells, and become some kind of totally objective “observer” — otherwise, you just can’t do it.

    This is one of the least “fun” parts of the job. Everyone comes from different places and different situations — I personally find that dealing with “illness-acquired” sights and smells is easier for me than the patient who simply has dreadful personal hygiene, or is homeless and hasn’t bathed in several months and is infested with bugs and larvae — but it’s all the same thing. They are all part of the human condition, and deserve our help. In order to provide that help, you have to find a way to “transcend” the here and now, and go into “help” mode. I make it easier than it sounds :)

  2. David — this is so incredibly helpful. I wish I had had something like this to give me insight into the “real” profession. While I would have still chosen this path, it might have been a little bit easier to have known these truths up front. Thanks!

  3. Thank you for this wonderfully refreshing, honest post. As a once pre-med turned pre-PA student, I appreciate it very much. I’ve come across many fellow students who have this very idealized, “I’m going to make a lot of money approach” to medicine and they completely miss the big picture. It is about helping people…smelly, oozing sores, warts and all. Thanks David!

  4. I can say..WOW lots of things to think about! I enjoyed the insight that these sections provide. I am currently a Occupational Therapist Assistant and am researching for a possible career change. I am not making any quick decisions at this point but am glad I found this information.It gave me valuable insight!

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