Credentials and Roles
It is pretty difficult to verify credentials at a disaster site, though it is certainly in the best interests of the afflicted to receive care from legitimate, competent clinicians.
Most medical relief workers participate via non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMATs) through the U.S. National Disaster Medical System (NDMS), or through other teams organized by charities or state and local governments.
Volunteering through established emergency response organizations helps to ensure verification of all responders’ credentials in advance. In addition, all workers should carry copies of their license and certification so they can present them when needed.
Response teams often include health care providers who have not trained together and are not familiar with everyone else´s background, skills, and scope of practice. They also may find themselves in very challenging conditions with few medical resources available.
Team members must explain their training and skills to one another and talk about how they will share responsibilities before work begins. For example, a physician who has never worked with PAs could be leading a group that includes an experienced PA from an emergency department trauma team. The PA needs to be sure the doctor understands physician/PA team practice. The physician and PA should talk about their respective disaster roles and who will supply what levels of emergency care. For instance, who is best prepared to suture lacerations or set a broken arm?
There will be situations when PAs are the most qualified health care providers available to serve as medical officers in an area affected by disaster. Rather than declining the assignment, PAs should make the most of the fact their skills and abilities are recognized and needed. Seek out additional medical resources and consult qualified physicians whenever possible.
Ill-Prepared Relief Workers
Research substantiates that there are two categories of resource problems that typically arise during disaster response: needs that are a direct result of the disaster, and demands on resources by relief workers.
Ill-prepared relief workers compound disaster by increasing demands on available resources. They may be in desperate need water, food, and shelter; have incompatible radio systems that complicate communications, and be unwilling to accept unexpected assignments as necessary.
These problems are expected, to some degree. But these responder-generated demands can certainly be somewhat alleviated with foresight, preparedness courses, and individual preparation for role variation.
Relief workers participating in multi-organizational efforts often find themselves in situations ranging from “overload” to “prepare and wait.” PA relief workers need to prepare themselves for the possibility of non-medical assignments and remain flexible in the midst of chaos.
That chaos may come in the form of unanticipated roles, non-medical assignments, or a real lack of law and order. PA relief workers should assess the safety issues of a given area and check to see if the agencies they are working with have adequate security personnel. Those traveling into non-secure arenas must be aware of the presence of danger and the availability or lack of assistance just in case things go wrong.
Given all of the problems that unprepared relief workers can create, the American Academy of Physician Assistants endorses the following principles of professionalism for physician assistants participating in disaster response:
PAs should prepare in advance of disasters. Effective disaster response requires training and preparation for austere practice conditions and unanticipated assignments.
Preparation should be taken care of through an established relief organization. It should address both the health care and non-health care aspects of disaster response.
PAs should participate in disaster relief through established channels.
Research shows that unprepared relief workers increase demands on the local infrastructure. This can disrupt emergency response. Qualified response organizations should be capable of doing all the necessary verifications and preparation to get PAs all set up.
Physician assistants should be prepared to document their qualifications at any disaster site by carrying credentials with them.
While credentialing assessment may not exist in a disaster-stricken area, PAs should maintain a commitment to represent themselves professionally. In addition, as patient advocates, PAs should not hesitate to ask for and confirm the credentials of other health care responders, including physicians, to ensure the safety of all.
Physician assistants should maintain a high degree of cultural and religious sensitivity when working with populations of varying ethnicities, religions, and nationalities.
Aid should not be predicated upon religious values or cultural beliefs: it should be truly humanitarian.
So, ready to take the next step? Or perhaps you are considering further study before making your way into this area. If so, please don´t hesitate to get in touch if we can help you with a compelling statement of purpose or other admission materials.
Disaster response isn´t the only way you can get involved in doing humanitarian work, but it can bring you challenges that take your skills to the next level and help others in beautiful ways.