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Correspondence and Brief Communications
May 1999

The Value of Physician Assistants in the Modern Surgical Setting

Arch Surg. 1999;134(5):575. doi:

Dr McMillen's comments on the value of surgical residents compared with surgical physician assistants in the October 1998 ARCHIVES1 displayed a misunderstanding of the strengths of the physician assistant profession and underestimated some of the inherent weaknesses of residency programs.

Dr McMillen points out that residents work "80 to 100 hours per week." Surgical physician assistants, on the other hand, work an average of 48.7 hours per week for their primary employer (excluding on-call hours), according to the 1998 American Academy of Physician Assistants Physician Assistant Census Survey.2 Residents may be gone in a few years; physician assistants, as staff, are there as employees. From the perspectives of a hospital interested in providing continuity of quality care, a patient interested in an alert staff, and a surgeon interested in having a team player who knows to place late-night telephone calls when a case is beyond his or her experience or education, physician assistants make sense.