“Nancy has been on the job here at the St. Lawrence Clinic exactly one week,” laughed Dr. Paul Coolican. “We threw her in at the deep end on her first day, and she has done marvelously. We are very lucky to have Nancy with us.”
Nancy Bonaparte, a 21 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, is the newest member of the Clinic health care team. She is a physician assistant, a highly trained individual, who will help optimize patient care in this area.
“There are a little over 500 PAs in Canada at the moment,” Nancy Bonaparte explained, “including in the military. We are generalists, whose role is that of physician extender. We are experienced in many fields of medicine and patient care from ear, nose and throat care to chronic diseases, like diabetes, care. We are also trained in obstetrics, gynecology, pediatrics, geriatrics and trauma medicine.”
PA Bonaparte will be joining other allied health care professionals at the Clinic. A part time social worker will soon be hired as well as a mental health counsellor.
“The majority of our funding for these new personnel comes from a program set up by the Minister of Health,” Dr. Coolican said. “We competed with 140 groups for this funding and we were only one of 13 in the province who received it. It is a great boost, and allows us to provide extended services. And with the bigger offices in the new facilities in Morrisburg and Iroquois, we now have the space for allied health care people.”
The physician assistant is a relatively new field in civilian health care. PAs originated in the Canadian Forces where they were introduced as mid-level clinicians.
Bonaparte retired from the military as a PA in 2007. Her goal was to take part in the civilian PA pilot project being introduced in Ontario. A key goal of that project is to cut down on wait times in Emergency services, long term care facilities, community health services and hospitals.
Physician assistants perform vital services for medical professionals and for patients alike. Some of their functions include conducting physical exams, diagnosing and treating illness, ordering and interpreting tests, then developing treatment plans, counseling preventative care, assisting in surgery and writing prescriptions.
“We always work under a doctor’s supervision,” Bonaparte said. “The doctor is either working side by side with us, or on the phone. We do have a scope of practice within which to work. If a patient situation is outside our scope, or very complex, we can confer directly with the doctor, who can then intervene or advise us immediately on what steps to take.”
Physician assistants must be rigorously trained academically and formally educated. Bonaparte holds an MPAS, a Masters in Physician Assistant in her specialty, geriatrics. She served four and a half years in Kingston in a pilot project which included long term care.
“Long term care has always been an interest of mine,” she explained. “But when I was fully exposed to it, well, I fell in love with this aspect of medicine.”
“Nancy has a lot of experience in long term care,” Dr. Coolican said. “It is always a challenge for any physician to get to long term care facilities on a consistent, regular basis. Nancy will provide continuity for patients at facilities like Woodland Villa, where she is already working almost half her day. Having a PA on site makes patients feel listened to and well cared for in a place where they already feel comfortable.”
Dr. Coolican explained that PAs like Nancy are a “wonderful” back up support to doctors. “A PA can often cut emergency runs for patients in long term care, and her presence permits treatments to begin immediately.”
He also pointed out that having Nancy on staff will allow the clinic to cope with “same days”, or patients who must be seen right away, and not in a few days.
PA Bonaparte is commuting from Kanata. She is tremendously excited to be getting back into long term care. “People in this area are really welcoming and helpful,” she said. “It’s nice to be working where people are excited that you’re here. It is great for me to be in at the launch of a new program.”
“I think the PA program is going to be a growing area of health care,” said Dr. Coolican. “We are very fortunate that Nancy Bonaparte has chosen to come to our community to work.”