Exploring the Role of a Physician Assistant: Kaitlyn Rahtelli, PA-C
If you’re thinking of becoming a Physician Assistant (PA) in the field of medical aesthetics, take a peek into the busy schedule of Kaitlyn Rahtelli, PA-C¹. This board-certified Physician Assistant has worked with a dermatology practice since 2019, after completing her undergraduate education and earning a master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies.
Rahtelli first chose to specialize in Medical Aesthetics after seeing how neurotoxin treatments helped patients achieve their aesthetic goals. “Once I saw what I'd be able to do as a Physician Assistant in Aesthetics, how I'd be able to help patients address their facial concerns, I was instantly hooked,” she says.
Now, having been personally trained by a board-certified Dermatologist, and having received product training from various aesthetic and dermatology industry companies, Rahtelli can share some helpful insights on how the job of PA differs from those of physician and nurse practitioner, how to get started as a PA in medical aesthetics, and how to stay on top of your game in a field that’s always changing.
Know your role: Physician Assistant vs. Medical Doctor (MD).
A board-certified aesthetic PA performs cosmetic treatments ranging from chemical peels, lasers, and injectables to PDO threads (a non-surgical face lift using medical-grade suture threads), according to Rahtelli. To become a physician assistant, you complete a 2-year accredited PA program² after college and then pass your boards. Physicians, by contrast, go to medical school after college; then complete a 3- to 7-year residency, after which they have to pass their boards as well. “So physicians have longer and more in-depth training,” Rahtelli says. “They then specialize in a specific field, and can practice independently, whereas PAs practice in collaboration with physicians, and we can practice within any specialty.”
Physician Assistant vs. Nurse Practitioner (NP):
It boils down to training. “They're very similar, but a PA is trained in the medical model, and NPs are trained in the nursing model,” Rahtelli explains. The medical model focuses on reacting to symptoms and diseases, whereas the nursing model emphasizes preventive care. “We both triage, diagnose, interpret labs, interpret imaging, prescribe medications, and ultimately treat patients,” Rahtelli says. And though the rules vary by state, PAs work collaboratively with physicians whereas NPs may be able to work independently.
Go beyond the classroom.
“Definitely immerse yourself in the field, doing whatever you can to soak up as much knowledge as you can—signing up for webinars, going to conferences, subscribing to journals,” Rahtelli says. Her favorite journals: The Journal of Drugs in Dermatology, The Journal of Dermatology PAs, and Practical Dermatology. Rahtelli recommends checking out professional societies such as the Society of Dermatology PAs and also the new Spark site for everything from certification and licensing information to facial anatomy. She also believes strongly in the benefits of using social media. “Following Physician Assistants on Instagram really helps,” Rahtelli says. “Not only can you stay up to date on treatment news and see what patients are interested in, but it may help show future employers how passionate you really are about the field.”
Get exposure any way you can.
Rahtelli was able to take advantage of her PA program’s six-week rotation in dermatology in which she shadowed a nurse practitioner. “Seeing how she talked to patients, how she counseled them, how she assessed the patients, that kind of thing was really helpful,” she says. If your program doesn’t offer elective rotations in dermatology or medical aesthetics, consider seeking out independent training. “Call different aesthetic offices to find out if you can shadow them—even just to get your foot in the door,” Rahtelli says.
Look into getting licensed ASAP.
The licensing process can take time, so once you finish your PA program and pass your boards, go to the website of the state in which you plan to practice to learn what’s needed. “For example, in Connecticut, I finished my undergrad program, completed my PA program, passed my boards, and then completed a certain number of hours of pharmacology coursework, which was included in PA school,” Rahtelli explains. “Once I submitted all that, on the back end it took a while, so I suggest submitting as soon as possible.”
Seek out jobs that offer continued training.
When scrolling through job descriptions, look for teams willing to train new graduates. In interviews, Rahtelli adds, ask what the training process looks like and what resources are available to you. “My training period was officially three months but really I'm still learning, and I've been in [at my current practice] for over a year,” she says. “The supervising physician is always looking for new techniques, they're always learning, so you want to make sure they’re willing to then teach you what they’re learning.” It’s also important when interviewing for a role to find out what the practice and specifically the dermatologist expects of you. “An important part of my role is building and maintaining my own schedule, which requires an entrepreneurial spirit,” Rahtelli says.
See continuing education as part of your job.
Rahtelli regularly participates in advanced injectable trainings to learn different techniques and make sure her skills are current. “The biggest thing with this field is that it’s always evolving—there are always new injection techniques and new technologies coming out, so you want to make sure that you're up to date on best practices and new innovations,” she says. “Patients are always going to be asking you about the new hot thing, and you want to make sure you know.”
Even slow days are busy.
Rahtelli works under a board-certified dermatologist but has a lot of autonomy, staffing her second location while the dermatologist remains at the first location. Rahtelli will come into the office early and spend the first 20 minutes calling cosmetic patients from the previous day to check in on them. She’ll then review any new biopsy culture and bloodwork reports. Next she checks her schedule and begins patient consults. That usually involves going over a patient’s current skincare routine and their skincare goals and discussing treatment options, including creating a timeline. She may then administer a treatment—such as a neurotoxin or micro-needling—and then review post care, making sure the patient has their next appointment set up before they leave. If she has time between patients, Rahtelli completes appointment notes, updates treatment records and answers emails. She may also spend time thinking about ways to market different treatments, bring more patients in, and consider new treatments that patients are asking about or would benefit from. “Even if it looks like a slower day, it's always a busy day,” she says.
http://www.advanced-dermatology.com/what-is-a-pa-c.html. PA-C is a physician assistant who is certified by the National Commission of Certification of PAs. To keep that certification, physician assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and re-take the certification exam every six years.
https://www.physicianassistantedu.org/accredited-physician-assistant-programs. PA programs range between 2 and 4 years.