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Tiny VA Island a Case Study on the Value of PAs

Pay a visit to the Tangier, Virginia health clinic these days and you will likely hear just as much talk about the COVID-19 pandemic as you would anywhere else in the state. COVID-19 dominates the discussion. But peel away that veneer and you discover something else about Tangier Island: it is the consummate case study on the value of physician assistants (PAs).

Tangier Island is so small that it doesn’t have its own hospital. It doesn’t even have a full-time doctor. Primary care is provided by a single PA who runs the local health clinic. Anything serious enough to require advanced tests or hospitalization is handled on the mainland. And yet, the residents of Tangier are perfectly happy with the arrangement.

Small and Isolated

As of May 5, Tangier hadn’t reported a single case of COVID-19. Locals attribute that to the fact that the island is isolated from the rest of Virginia. However, that is true only in the sense that the town exists on a Chesapeake Bay island that is just over half a square mile in total area. It is not isolated in the sense that islanders do come into contact with other people.

Many of Tangier’s residents frequently go to the mainland to shop. Many of them work on tugboats that operate up and down Virginia’s coast. A mail boat visits the island six days a week, and those who make their living by fishing go to the mainland every day to sell their catches.

In many ways, Tangier is no different than small and isolated farming communities in rural America. Tangier is separated from the rest of Virginia by water; rural communities are separated by farmer’s fields and country roads. Residents of both kinds of communities rely on local health clinics for primary care and big-city hospitals for more serious needs.

PAs Get the Job Done

The lesson in all of this is that PAs are more than capable of getting the job done in smaller, isolated communities. Where there is no need for a full-blown hospital and clinical staff, a PA can provide high-quality primary care at a lower cost and with greater efficiency.

Long before COVID-19 was even a thing, Tangier’s lone PA was seeing patients every day. Those patients were being cared for through common colds, broken bones, and even the flu. In fact, there was apparently a flu outbreak earlier this year. But they managed with a small clinic and a dedicated PA whose work rarely goes unnoticed.

A Great Way to Practice

Take a look at the Health Jobs Nationwide website and you will find that PAs are needed in nearly every state. PAs fill a vital role in providing primary care to millions of patients. In towns like Tangier, they are the main provider of primary care.

Small town living obviously isn’t right for everyone. But for those who appreciate the benefits of living in a community of just over 700, Tangier also offers a terrific way to practice medicine. Being the town’s PA is an opportunity to practice medicine in one of its simplest, purest forms.

If anyone wants to know the value of PAs in providing primary care, one need look no further than Tangier. A quaint island community that prides itself in its small town feel and congenial personality is happy to have a PA and a local health clinic to meet their primary care needs. Couldn’t the same thing work in larger communities well? Yes, it could. PAs are more than qualified to provide primary care just about anywhere.

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