Opinion: Support for Senate Bill 115: Modernizing PA practice in Alaska

As a dedicated member of the PA community and a medical practitioner deeply invested in the health and well-being of Alaskans, I am writing to express my strong support for Senate Bill 115, which advocates for independent practice for Physician Assistants (PAs) in our state. For the past four years, the PA community has tirelessly sought collaboration with physician leaders to modernize our practice laws, only to be met with resistance. Senate Bill 115 is a necessary step toward improving health care access and quality for all Alaskans.

Health care today is rapidly evolving, with advancements in technology and treatment options demanding a more flexible and responsive health care system. PAs have become essential members of the health care team, working alongside physicians to provide high-quality care. However, the current restrictions on PA practice limit our ability to meet the growing needs of our patients, particularly in underserved and rural areas.

Opponents of Senate Bill 115 argue that independent PA practice raises concerns about patient safety and quality of care. These arguments overlook the extensive training and education PAs undergo, as well as our proven track record of delivering safe and effective care. Studies have shown that PAs provide care that is comparable to that of physicians, and in many cases, improve access to care without compromising quality.

The differences in training between PAs and physicians are often cited as a reason for maintaining the status quo. While physicians complete more years of education and training, PAs are highly skilled and capable practitioners who undergo rigorous training and continuous professional development. Unlike paralegals, who support lawyers, PAs often serve as the sole health care provider for their patients, particularly in areas with limited access to medical professionals. This unique role underscores the need for greater practice autonomy for PAs to better serve our communities.

Senate Bill 115 addresses these concerns by proposing that PAs achieve independence after completing 4,000 hours of supervised clinical practice. This ensures that PAs have substantial experience and are well-prepared to provide independent care while maintaining high standards of patient safety and quality.

The argument that PAs should pursue additional training through medical school if they wish to practice independently is impractical and ignores the distinct and essential role that PAs play in the health care system. Our training and experience equip us to handle a wide range of medical conditions and to provide comprehensive care to our patients.

The PA community has repeatedly reached out to physician leaders to discuss and address these issues, but our efforts have been met with resistance. It is time to acknowledge that the current system is not working and that reform is needed. Senate Bill 115 offers a practical solution that will enhance health care delivery in Alaska by allowing PAs to practice to the full extent of their training and capabilities.

I urge the Alaska legislature to pass Senate Bill 115. This bill is not only a step toward modernizing PA practice, but it is also a critical move towards ensuring that all Alaskans have access to the health care they need and deserve. I also call on the community to support this bill and advocate for its passage by contacting their legislators and expressing their support. It is time to listen to the voices of PAs and support this important legislation.

Christopher Dietrich is a certified physician assistant from Palmer. He serves as the medical director at Orion Behavioral Health Network and is one of the lead providers for substance use treatment at Banyan Alaska in Wasilla, primarily serving veterans.