New physician assistants to join emergency departments in Bridgewater and Dartmouth

Michelle Thompson is Nova Scotia's minister of health and wellness. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)
Michelle Thompson is Nova Scotia's minister of health and wellness. (Tom Ayers/CBC - image credit)

The hiring of at least four physician assistants for the emergency department at Dartmouth General Hospital is imminent and Nova Scotia's health minister says four more will soon be hired to work in the emergency department in Bridgewater.

Michelle Thompson told reporters on Thursday that the current complement of health-care workers need to be used to their full scope of practice and in teams to help meet demands on the system — but the stress the health-care system is under also means new roles must be explored and introduced in the province.

"We want to be innovative, we want to test and try, but we want to make sure that we provide, you know, really safe care to Nova Scotians," she said.

"I know it's difficult on the front lines and I know it's difficult for Nova Scotians, but it is an exciting opportunity for us to be able to expand."

A physician assistant, or PA, fills a similar function to a medical resident. They have the ability to take on basic and straightforward cases and prescribe some medications under the supervision of a doctor, freeing up the doctor to deal with more complex cases.

The new hires in Dartmouth and in Bridgewater at South Shore Regional Hospital will join ranks that already include three PAs who have been part of a three-year pilot program working in the orthopedics division in Halifax. That pilot was temporarily put on hold and the PAs reassigned at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to help with strain on the system while elective procedures were paused.

Although the role has only recently been introduced in Nova Scotia, its use is well-documented in Manitoba, Ontario, the Canadian military and in the United States, particularly in emergency departments.