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Convocation: U of T's first class of Physician Assistants

Sharona Kanofsky, academic coordinator, Physician Assistant Professional Degree Program (centre) with first cohort graduates Dhiral Kot (right) and Tracy Wanyama (photo by Caz Zyvatkauskas)

The first day of convocation ceremonies at the University of Toronto saw the very first Physician Assistants cross the stage at Convocation Hall to receive their degrees, marking a Faculty of Medicine milestone.

“Physician Assistants are a key component of successful health care delivery in Ontario and our 17 graduates are already making a difference in clinics, hospitals and care sites,” says Dr. Maureen Gottesman, Medical Director of the program. “As a logical extension of the other health care professions, they’re helping to ease pressure on doctors and improving patient care.”

The inaugural class began their journey two years ago when the Department of Family and Community Medicine introduced the Physician Assistant program in partnership with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM) and The Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences. The program, which was recently accredited by the Canadian Medical Association, signals a continuing trend towards integrated health care delivery in Ontario.

Physician Assistants were formally introduced into Ontario’s health care system in 2007 with the goal of extending physicians’ capacities in order to reduce wait times and to allow physicians to focus on the most complex medical cases. A Physician Assistant isn’t a doctor, but can perform many routine procedures that a doctor would perform, such as creating a treatment plan for an illness, conducting patient interviews, writing prescriptions and removing stitches. They also often serve as a bridge between different health care professionals in a team setting, providing a link between doctors and nurses or other team members.

All of U of T’s inaugural graduating class of Physician Assistants are currently working in their field in Ontario, at sites ranging from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto to the St. Joseph’s Care Group in Thunder Bay.

“My patients trust the quality of care that I provide them,” says Tracy Wanyama, a graduate of the program who is working in a health care team at the Markham Stouffville Hospital. “They especially appreciate not having to wait for extended periods because I am willing and able to attend to them.”