The PA Title Change

I’ve debated back and forth on posting my opinion of the PA title change. Some days I care about it. But to be honest, most days I don’t. That is until the Title Change Survey came out last fall. We’ll get to that…

It’s not that I’m in love with our title; I loathe the word “assistant” just like the next PA. It’s a terrible title and doesn’t accurately reflect our education, level of autonomy, or clinical role. I want to poke my eyeballs out every time a well-meaning patient asks, “So when will you be a doctor?”

You can imagine the agony I experienced just 3 weeks ago when my 8-year-old asked me what PA actually stood for (I know, I’m not sure how I dropped the ball on that one), and after I answered he responded, “So you’re like a doctor’s assistant?”

That’s right… in my own home.

I’ve been a certified PA for almost 9 years. Early in my career, I would have been a staunch advocate for a title change. But the longer I’m in practice, the more confident I am and the less I really care about other’s opinions. I just want to treat my patients well and do my job. We can change our name to whatever we want, there will still be physicians and others who will only look at us as “not doctors.” There will always be patients who ask “So what exactly is a ____?” No title change will abolish that completely. It also feels like the public is becoming much more familiar with PAs and our scope of practice.

Because for years a title change was nothing more than wishful thinking, I simply moved on. But in July 2018, AAPA announced they were moving forward with a Title Change Investigation Advisory Council and designated an initial $1 million towards the project. Hello! So this is happening…

AAPA didn’t play around either. They hired WPP, the best of the best research and branding firms, to conduct the PA title change investigation. WPP was charged with answering the following:

  1. Is there a need to evolve the PA brand based on an objective, well-informed, data and analysis-driven view of where it stands today?
  2. And if so, how do we redefine how the PA profession is positioned, how its value is conveyed, and how it is titled to meet the requirements of tomorrow’s healthcare landscape?

WPP presented their initial findings at AAPA 2019 in Denver, Colorado last May and I was there to listen. And I have to say, I was impressed. Not necessarily with the findings (shocker, they determined we have a bad title). But I was impressed with the research. I was impressed with the researchers and the presentation. If AAPA was actually going to move forward with this, after all these years, I felt confident in how they were going about it.

I actually started to get excited about a title change and what this top tier company was going to come up with.

In November, many PAs and PA students anxiously checked our inboxes for the PA Title Change Survey we were told was coming in hopes of getting a glimpse of some of the options.

Prior to opening the survey, I heard some buzz on social media about the options. It wasn’t good. I sat down one night to open mine.

Oy vey.

It was asked that we not publically discuss or post the four title change options. And since I’m a professional, I suppose I’m not going to do it here. You can probably Google it by this point and find them. To say I was disappointed was an understatement. In fact, disappointment was the least of my concerning emotions. I began to worry about my future because if some of these ended up being a finalist, I was going to have to find another career. It was that bad. Two of the names were made up words for crying out loud! One of them too closely sounds like female genitalia or an STI. Just no.

Maybe I needed an outside perspective. I asked my husband who works in advertising and marketing. Nope. He thought they were terrible, too. Literally anyone I asked thought they were terrible. I have still yet to find a single person who is happy about the options.

WPPs portfolio is impressive. They work with multi-million dollar brands and AAPA didn’t cut corners in this process. But, between the two of them, the mark was missed.

I was honestly angry about it for a while. The more I thought about the options, the angrier it made me. I was perfectly content not caring about our terrible name, but now I was invested and this was the return.

I’m aware this is just a survey to collect more information and the investigation is still ongoing. But the tone seems clear: these are the likely choices. Again, I could be wrong, and I hope I am. We will hear next from WPP at AAPA 2020 this Spring. Between now and then, legal counsel will attempt to identify any potential conflicts with these titles, and the financial implications of making a formal title change will be determined.

Because I have four kids, a career, friends, and a million other things that actually matter, I eventually stopped thinking about this title change nonsense and returned to my former attitude of “I don’t really care what I’m called, I’m just going to do my job well.”

That is until AAPA released “Your Top Questions About the Title Change Survey Answered.

The entire response was just so condescending.

“We recognize there were strong reactions to the names presented in the survey. This was expected. We read your comments on social media and on Huddle. We remained silent when the survey was in the field so as not to influence the responses. Now that it has closed, we want to address some of the questions and comments from PAs and PA students.”

This was followed by an unorganized attempt to politely say Thanks for taking the survey, we understand everyone hated all the choices, but we know what we’re doing here so just back off. Paraphrased of course.

They want us to know how extensive the process is. How hard it was to come up with names. That although we complained, none of us came up with any better names. (Side note, for $1 million I will come up with a great name. I’ll take a vacation and brainstorm something amazing while sipping fruity drinks on a private beach. You won’t be disappointed. Call me.)

Speaking of $1 million, they also mentioned we shouldn’t be complaining about the price tag of the investigation because it includes more than just coming up with four title options. So much scolding in one post.

My favorite response, however, was in regards to the made-up names which clearly drew a lot of negative feedback:

“There were invented titles for a reason. There is a reason “Verizon” became “Verizon” and not “Multinational Telecommunications Company” in order to distinguish itself in the marketplace.”

AAPA, can you hear me now? (see what I did there…) We are healthcare providers. We are professionals. Yes, PA is a brand, but we are not a phone company or a product. You cannot treat us as such. We’re already the red-headed stepchild of healthcare providers, can you please not make us the laughing stock of the entire industry?

I’m a member of AAPA. I feel a responsibility to support our profession. I like to think most of the people doing the work are really trying to do what’s best. But if you’re going to ask our opinion, please listen. Don’t send a condescending reply saying Thanks but no thanks, we actually didn’t really care what you thought.

You heard us. Now for the love, please come up with some better names.

Crossing my fingers, but not holding my breath, for the report coming out at AAPA 2020.

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