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A North Little Rock physician assistant is behind the launch of the first nationwide board-certified specialty for physician assistants.

The American Board of Dermatology Physician Assistants will assess and certify dermatology physician assistants who meet specific educational, training and professional requirements, according to Monday's announcement.

The board's founder and executive director is Matthew Reynolds, one of 10 physician assistants at Arkansas Dermatology in North Little Rock.

Reynolds said he wants to fill a void in the profession and establish a national standard of excellence for physician assistants who devote their careers to dermatology, a field he expects to grow significantly in the coming years.

The board is separate and independent from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, which is the only certifying organization for physician assistants in the United States. The commission said its certification assures the public that certified physician assistants meet "established standards of clinical knowledge and cognitive skills upon entry into their practice and throughout their careers."

The commissionalso offers physician assistants specialty certificates of added qualifications in seven medical fields. The fields include cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, emergency medicine, hospital medicine, nephrology, orthopaedic surgery, pediatrics and psychiatry.

Physician assistants certified through the American Board of Dermatology Physician Assistants must maintain their certification through the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, but Reynolds said he wanted a separate venue to recognize the dedication of physician assistants in the dermatology field.

Reynolds' organization also is independent from the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants, which is the largest specialty organization among physician assistants and offers continuing medical education for physician assistants who specialize in dermatology.

"We wanted this to be independent just like all other specialty medical boards are independent from their parent organizations," Reynolds said. "For instance, the American Board of Dermatology has board certifications for dermatologists, not the American Academy of Dermatology."

The commission also expressed little interest in establishing a specialty certification in dermatology for physician assistants, Reynolds said.

"We wanted to make sure that if we put something together for PAs [physician assistants] everywhere that we could maintain control of it," he said. "We wanted to do it separately because we wanted to make sure it became what we believed it should become, which is an elevated standard of excellence."

Physician assistants who want to be board certified will have to complete an exam with 125 multiple-choice questions. The exams, which cost $450 for first-time applicants, will be available twice a year. The next exam is scheduled in February. Board certification is good for seven years. The recertification fee is $300.

The first person to be certified by the new board is James Page, a retired U.S. Air Force physician assistant who has been in private practice since 1993. He works with Reynolds at the North Little Rock clinic.

Reynolds said the second person to be certified through the new board is Joe Monroe, a physician assistant from Oklahoma who is the founder and a former president of the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants.

Physician assistants are health-care practitioners who practice under the supervision of a physician. In addition to receiving national certifications, they have state licenses to practice. In Arkansas, they are licensed by the state Medical Board.

The field dates to the 1960s, at a time when specialization in health care was accelerating while the demand for primary care was growing, creating a need for a mid-level health practitioner who could complement the services and skills of physicians, especially in under-served locations, according to the commission.

The profession turned to Navy corpsmen discharged from service who until then didn't have the opportunity to apply their skills in civilian life. The first physician assistants program began at Duke University in 1965. Four ex-corpsmen were its first graduates.

The first physician assistants program in Arkansas was started at Harding University in Searcy in 2005. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences started its program in 2013.

In Arkansas, there are 443 licensed physician assistants, according to Tara Bruner, a physician assistant in family practice in Searcy and president of the Arkansas Academy of Physician Assistants, a voluntary organization which is helping mark National PA Week with a PA Day at the state Capitol on Wednesday.

Nationally, there are 131,000 licensed physician assistants. The profession is expected to grow 37% through 2036, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Even if you haven't been treated by a PA before, there's a good chance you will in the near future," Bruner said.

Bruner said her organization was unaware of the new board, and she expressed skepticism that it was within the profession's regulatory framework.

"ARAPA [the Arkansas Academy of Physician Assistants] is not associated with ABPDA [the American Board of Dermatology Physician Assistants]," she said in an email. "Our organization was just made aware of this, and have contacted our national office American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) regarding this organization.

"Our official take on the matter ... is that board certification is misleading which is nomenclature for physicians and National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) currently is the only accrediting organization giving specialty certification for PAs."

Reynolds said he anticipated the resistance.

"For anyone on the outside looking in, especially if you're not in dermatology, it's going to seem different," he said. "But it is different because it's never been done before. It's never been an option. It's not a requirement, but a lot of people, especially in dermatology, have openly stated there needs to be something more for them and this is that next thing for them."

Dr. Scott Dinehart, a dermatologist at Arkansas Dermatology who sits on the new certification board, said Arkansas ranks 49th in nation in the ratio of physician assistants to physicians, ahead of only Mississippi.

But Arkansas Dermatology has 10 physician assistants to three physicians, a model that is more prevalent in other parts of the United States but will soon become more common in Arkansas, he said.

Patients want information on their health-care providers, whether they're physicians or physician's assistants, he said, and certification often serves as a signal of competency.

"I think people have a little more confidence in someone who is board certified," Dinehart said. " You know they've been through a course of study, you know they've taken a test in their field."

Business on 10/08/2019

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