New class of health professionals graduate

By Laura Thompson, November 19, 2010

    Ohood Elzibak, left, has been hired by Dr. Ivan Wong, right, an orthopedic surgeon at Hamilton Health Sciences.

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A new class of health professionals are working in hospitals and family practices across
the province following the completion of their training through McMaster University's
physician assistant education program.

Twenty-one graduates will receive their Bachelor of Health Sciences (Physician
Assistant) degree during convocation ceremonies on Nov. 19. The new breed of health-
care workers, who work directly under the supervision of a physician, are now
employed in range of specialties including emergency medicine, family medicine,
internal medicine, critical care and orthopedic surgery.

Physician assistants are health-care professionals who work under the supervision
of
doctors to provide care. PAs take histories, conduct physical examinations, order and
interpret tests, diagnose and treat illnesses, counsel on preventive health care and may
assist in surgery, depending on the specialty of their supervising physician. A PA's
practice may also include education, research and administration.

"Our physician assistant graduates are exceptional ambassadors of this new
profession," said John Cunnington, assistant dean of the physician assistant program.
"Through their commitment to excellence and collaborative care, they have positioned
themselves as essential members of today's interprofessional health-care teams. Their
McMaster foundation in problem-based, small-group learning will serve them well as
they move forward in their careers."

Ontario's Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Deb Matthews congratulated the
McMaster PA graduates: "The physician assistant role is one of several new roles we
have introduced as part of our government's collaborative Health Human Resources
Strategy. I'm pleased to support today's graduates and look forward to further
expanding this valuable patient care role."

Ohood Elzibak, a 23-year-old Hamiltonian and McMaster alumna, was drawn to
the PA
program out of her desire to work in a clinical setting and pioneer a new role in health
care.

"I felt very confident going down this route," she said. "I felt like this was the right
role
for me, and I knew I needed to explore that.

"It's been a phenomenal two years. You develop a really close relationship with
your
classmates, the facilitators and the staff. We were all in this together. It was a new
experience for everyone."

During her clerkship year, Elzibak discovered a passion for the intense, fast-paced
operating room environment during a two-month rotation with Dr. Ivan Wong, an
orthopedic surgeon at Hamilton Health Sciences. Elzibak was hired by Wong as the first
physician assistant member of his surgical team.

Wong, an assistant professor of surgery at McMaster, had previously worked with
PAs
during his fellowship training in the United States. Physician assistants have been part
of the U.S. health-care system since the 1960s. In Canada, the emerging health-care
workers are employed by the Canadian Forces, and through a demonstration project in
Ontario. They also train at the University of Manitoba, which graduated its own
inaugural class of physician assistants this year.

"In the future, I see just about every orthopedic surgeon working with PAs, and
sometimes multiple ones," Wong said. "In the United States, it's already been shown
many times that PAs improve the cost-effectiveness of practice, increase patient care
as well as patient satisfaction."

Launched in September 2008, McMaster's consecutive 24-month PA program was
founded upon the problem-based learning model of the Michael G. DeGroote School of
Medicine. The first year of study focuses on the clinical sciences supporting health-
care delivery. In the second year, PA students rotate through clinical placements.

The inaugural physician assistant class of 21 students was selected from a pool of
more than 250 applicants. The graduates come from diverse backgrounds including
paramedic practice, social work, genetics, epidemiology, journalism and engineering.

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