Nova Scotia

NDP want to open the doors to physician assistants

Members of Nova Scotia’s New Democratic Party say three years is far too long a time to evaluate whether physician assistants are a good fit in this province’s health-care system.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill says 3-year pilot program too cautious an approach

The Nova Scotia Health Authority recently received permission for a three-year pilot program using three physician assistants. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Members of Nova Scotia's New Democratic Party say three years is far too long a time to evaluate whether physician assistants are a good fit in this province's health-care system.

Physician assistants are supervised by doctors and help free up their time by taking on work delegated by their supervisor, such as writing prescriptions, ordering and interpreting tests, conducting physical examinations and assisting in surgery.

While the role is used widely in the Canadian military and throughout America, as well as in New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, until now it has not been in Nova Scotia. Last month, the Nova Scotia Health Authority was given approval for a three-year pilot project using three physician assistants to work in the hip and knee orthopedic program.

But NDP Leader Gary Burrill said given how well-established the role is elsewhere and the need here for physician support, the province should be moving much more quickly.

"I don't think it's the moment for pilot projects," Burrill said Wednesday in an interview at Province House where his party tabled a bill that would see the role permitted throughout Nova Scotia.

"I think it's the moment for opening the doors to new partnerships and a widened scope."

NDP Leader Gary Burrill says the government must move must faster on introducing physician assistants into the health-care system. (Pat Callaghan/CBC)

Burrill said he sees physician assistants as having similar potential to help the system as what happened when an expanded role was created for advanced care paramedics in Nova Scotia's emergency departments and collaborative emergency centres.

"We think it's the right time and a good idea," he said.

Health Minister Randy Delorey said the approach being used is guided by recommendations from front-line health-care workers.

"We want to take the lessons we learn from that and then inform further expansion," he said.

Health Minister Randy Delorey says the pilot project is part of a broader program to reduce orthopedic wait times. (CBC)

Delorey said any time changes are made to the system it affects many other aspects of health care and so officials must make sure everything becomes integrated before making broader changes.

"The worst thing to happen is if you implement a new program that has the potential for success and it doesn't go well," he said. "We want to make sure that we give all the health-care providers the opportunity to see the success and build on that success."

The minister said the length of the pilot project is because it's part of a broader program to reduce orthopedic wait times.


Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at


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