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What is the Role of a Physician Assistant in Sports Medicine?

By April 21, 2022No Comments

What is Sports Medicine?

There has been increased participation in sports at various levels in modern times, with many opportunities for sports participants to make it their profession. The increase in competition has resulted in rigorous training levels and an increased risk of injury. With the stakes of the game being high, there has been an increase in the need for professionals who can take care of sportspersons’ physical and mental health needs and bring out their best performance.

Sports Medicine is a cohesive term used to describe that branch of medicine that deals with the physical fitness of athletes and the treatment and prevention of injuries that are a common occurrence in the sports world.

Some of the common injuries that we see in Sports Medicine are:

  • Ankle sprains: The symptoms include pain, swelling, and stiffness
  • Fractures: Stress on the bone causes the bone to crack
  • Joint injuries: Symptoms include pain, swelling, and stiffness. The ligaments, tendons, or cartilage can be affected.
  • Cuts, abrasions, and bruises: Small bleeds from a blow or a fall on the field
  • Groin and hamstring strain: Symptoms include pain and swelling
  • Exercise-induced asthma
  • Heat illness and dehydration: Losing too much fluid leads to exhaustion and heat stroke.
  • Concussions: Mild reversible brain injury from a blow to the head associated with pain, dizziness, and sometimes memory loss
  • Dental damage – a blow to the jaw can crack, break, or dislodge teeth.

Who are sports medicine professionals?

The Sports Medicine Team generally includes:

  • Team Physician: The team physician gives the athlete specialized medical care that helps him to improve his health and performance
  • Orthopedic Surgeon: Orthopedic surgeons are physicians specially trained to diagnose and treat musculoskeletal problems
  • Primary Care Physicians: Primary care physicians evaluate and treat the non-operative medical problems of athletes
  • Physician Assistant: The physician associate works with a physician or surgeon specializing in this field to help athletes prevent and recover from injury
  • Physical Therapists: They rehabilitate athletes that are recovering from injuries or medical illnesses
  • Certified Athletic Trainer: Athletic trainers evaluate the physical condition of athletes, assist with establishing dietary and fitness plans, and treat minor sports-related injuries
  • Nutritionist: The nutritionist tries to bring out an optimal performance by providing the best nutrition
  • Sports Psychologist: A sports psychologist helps athletes to cope with the pressures of the sport and the negative fallout of sports injuries

The team physician and physician associate interdependence

The team physician’s duties include but are not limited to the following:

  • Pre-participation physical examinations
  • Strength training and conditioning
  • Medical coverage of athletic events
  • Injury prevention, assessment, and management
  • Order and interpret tests, such as X-rays and MRI
  • Prescribe medications
  • Return to play decisions for the injured athlete during the season

On the other hand, physician assistants are highly trained healthcare providers who work under the supervision of team physicians and orthopedic doctors. They are unable to practice independently in any state of the US.

Physician associates are trained using the medical model on the same lines as physicians. Their duties in Sports Medicine include but are not limited to:

  • Taking medical histories and conducting exams
  • Diagnosing and treating bone, joint, and muscle injuries and conditions
  • Ordering and interpreting tests, such as X-rays and MRI
  • Prescribing medications
  • Assisting doctors during surgery

While a physician assistant and team physician show an overlap in their duties, the team physician has full autonomy in decision making. Physician associates are trained to recognize when the attention of a supervising doctor or additional specialist has to be called in during the patient’s treatment.

Physician assistants perform the routine work for doctors, leaving doctors to handle the high-level decision-making. In a Capstone Project presentation, Jeremy Peabody writes, “PAs can improve cost-effectiveness both directly by the hourly compensation model compared to the physician’s fee-for-service and indirectly by freeing up the supervising physician to perform more tasks which they are more specialized in training to perform.”

Physician Assistants and Emergencies

Sports Medicine Physician Assistants are exposed to a wide variety of event coverage during their training years. They are accustomed to the potential injuries that can be sustained during these events and can easily take care of sprains, strains, cuts, and fractures. This has a direct bearing on the outcome of the injured athlete and the time needed for recovery. Healthcare workers who have completed physician assistant emergency medicine and physician assistant urgent care residences have been found to do very well in the sports medicine niche. Studies have shown that they can provide an equivalent quality of care as a physician and almost the same level of patient satisfaction.

Sports medicine physician assistants can play an important role in the life of sportspersons by providing them with a comprehensive management plan that will optimize their health and performance. They guide them towards a healthy lifestyle by advising them on physical activities and exercises. During their training years, they cover many youth or professional sports teams and are accustomed to the sports environment, and are familiar with the injuries that could be sustained during the events. This enables them to render quality healthcare under a physician’s supervision.

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