A closeup of two military officials hands sitting across from each other at a desk; one of them has a stethoscope around his neck.

Photo Credit: Canva

Military Physician Assistants Could Help Close Healthcare Gaps

“I can’t put into words how frustrating it is that we are still unable to work”

If our province would let them

BC has a critical shortage of doctors.

While the government has implemented new policies to try to solve this, they’re still turning down some pretty obvious helping hands.

Trevor Stone is one of the Valley’s most highly trained healthcare professionals.

He worked as a physician assistant in the military for years, continuing on in Manitoba after retiring from the military in 2006.

During all these years, he was doing essentially everything a doctor does, from assessment to diagnosis to critical care.

Basically, he was performing as “an extra set of eyes and ears for the doctors that we work under,” he told the Comox Valley Record.

After moving to BC to be closer to his family, he found out that here, all his experience is worth zilch.

BC doesn’t consider “physician assistant” to be a real qualification in our healthcare system.

“I can’t put into words how frustrating it is that we are still unable to work,” said Stone. “There has been nothing more demoralizing for me and my colleagues … we can’t even give immunizations,” he said.

North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney, who serves as the veteran affairs critic, said this needs to change.

“These are some of the most highly trained people we have in our country, and we desperately need help in terms of our healthcare system.”

But after years of people pushing for BC to adopt the policy needed to let them practice, it still doesn’t seem to be happening.

“It’s not the rank-and-file, not the healthcare workers who don’t want us there. It’s the policy writers. That’s my theory,” said Stone.

Lisa Stewart is another Comox resident who went out of province to get her PA certification through the University of Manitoba 12 years ago.

She was practicing as a paramedic in Victoria at the time. She was aware that PA’s weren’t recognized in BC, but she was confident enough that this would change. She went ahead with the schooling anyway.

“At that time, everyone was very positive, back in 2010, that PAs would be recognized in BC…It was my hope that I would be able to move back to BC and start practising here… But it still hasn’t happened. I’ve been kind of stonewalled by my own province,” she told the Comox Valley Record.

She sits on the board of the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants, as the director for BC, and has been pushing for change for years.

“We have approached the minister of health in the past, but nothing has come to fruition,” she said. “We have been told that the physician assistant profession is just not a priority at this time.”

It seems like something that should definitely be hitting the priority list.

But the reasons why it’s not may simply be it seems like another thing to add to an ever-growing to-do list.

“Even when I was still in the military, we were hearing comments like ‘we can’t even get nurse practitioners to reach their scope of practice, and until that happens, we are not entertaining any other professions,” said Stone.

But they’ve had two decades to change this since then.

With other provinces way ahead of the game, it’s time for BC to at least put its stick on the ice.