Emilie Thornhill Davis, PA-C, is the assistant vice president for advanced practice providers at Ochsner Health System in New Orleans. She is the former chair of SHM’s Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant (NP/PA) Committee, and has spoken multiple times at the SHM Annual Conference.
In honor of the inaugural National Hospitalist Day, to be held on Thursday, March 7, 2019, The Hospitalist spoke with Ms. Davis about the unique contributions of NP and PA hospitalists to the specialty of hospital medicine.
Where did you get your education?
I got my undergraduate degree from Mercer University and then went on to get my prerequisites for PA school, and worked clinically for a year prior to starting graduate school in Savannah, Georgia, at South University.
Was your intention always to be a PA?
During my sophomore year of college, Mercer was starting a PA program. Having been taken care of by PAs for most of my life, I realized that this was a profession I was very interested in. I shadowed a lot of PAs and found that they had extremely high levels of satisfaction. I saw the versatility to do so many types of medicine as a PA.
How did you become interested in hospital medicine?
When I was in PA school, we had small groups that were led by a PA who practiced clinically. The PA who was my small group leader was a hospitalist and was a fantastic role model. I did a clinical rotation with her team, and then went on to do my elective with her team in hospital medicine. When I graduated, I got my first job with the hospital medicine group that I had done those clinical rotations with in Savannah. And then in 2013, after about a year and a half, life brought me to New Orleans and I started working at Ochsner in the department of hospital medicine. I was one of the first two PAs that this group had employed.
What is your current role and title at Ochsner?
From 2013 to 2018, I worked in the department of hospital medicine, and for the last 2 years I functioned as the system lead for advanced practice providers in the department of hospital medicine. In September of 2018, I accepted the role of assistant vice president of advanced practice providers for Ochsner Health System.
What are your areas of interest or research?
I’ve had the opportunity to speak at the annual Society of Hospital Medicine Conference for 3 years in a row on innovative models of care, and nurse practitioner and PA utilization in hospital medicine. I was the chair for the NP/PA committee, and during that time we developed a toolkit aimed at providing a resource to hospital medicine groups around nurse practitioner and PA integration to practice in full utilization.
What has your experience taught you about how NPs and PAs can best fit into hospital medicine groups?
Nurse practitioners and PAs are perfectly set up to integrate into practice in hospital medicine. Training for PAs specifically is based on the medicine model, where you have a year of didactic and a year of clinical work in all the major disciplines of medicine. And so in a clinical year as a PA, I would rotate through primary care, internal medicine, general surgery, ob.gyn., psychiatry, emergency medicine, pediatrics. When I come out of school, I’m generalist trained, and depending on where your emphasis was during clinical rotations, that could include a lot of inpatient experience.
I transitioned very smoothly into my first role in hospital medicine as a PA, because I had gained that experience while I was a student on clinical rotations. PAs and nurse practitioners are – when they’re utilized appropriately and at the top of their experience and training – able to provide services to patients that can improve quality outcomes, enhance throughput, decrease length of stay, and improve all the different areas that we focus on as hospitalists.
What roles can a PA occupy in relation to physicians and nurse practitioners in hospital medicine?
When you’re looking at a PA versus a nurse practitioner in hospital medicine, you’ll notice that there are differences in the way that PAs and nurse practitioners are trained. All PAs are trained on a medical model and have a very similar kind of generalist background, whereas a nurse practitioner is typically schooled with nursing training that includes bedside experience that you can’t always guarantee with PAs. But once we enter into practice, our scope and the way that we take care of patients over time becomes very similar. So a PA and a nurse practitioner for the most part can function in very similar capacities in hospital medicine.
The only thing that creates a difference for PAs and NPs are federal and state rules and regulations, as well as hospital policies that might create “scope of practice” barriers. For instance, when I first moved to Louisiana, PAs were not able to prescribe Schedule II medications. That created a barrier whenever I was discharging patients who needed prescriptions for Schedule II. That has since changed in the state of Louisiana; now both PAs and NPs have full prescriptive authority in the state.
I would compare the work of PAs and NPs to that of physicians like this: Once you have NPs or PAs who are trained and have experience in the specialty that they are working in, they are able to provide services that would otherwise be provided by physicians.
How does a hospitalist PA work differently from a PA in other care settings?
The scope of practice for a PA is defined by the physician they’re working with. So my day-to-day work as a PA in hospital medicine looked very similar to a physician’s day-to-day work in hospital medicine. In cardiology, for example, the same would likely hold true, but with tasks unique to that specialty.