Physician Assistant heads national association

By Lin Lofley

James Delaney, a Physician Assistant in Orthopaedic Surgery, has been in his chosen profession for 37 years and knows its ins and outs. As recently elected president of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), he has come to leadership at a crucial time for the organization.

James Delaney
James Delaney

“Forbes listed our profession this year as the top master’s degree profession for finding a job,” Mr. Delaney said, “and in 2010, CNN Money listed our job as the second best in America, behind being a software developer.”

The AAPA, he said, is always trying to define itself. During this time of great change in the delivery of health care, physician assistants enjoy more autonomy than ever. There are even some in the PA ranks who think it’s time to rename the profession. One suggestion is that PAs change their titles to physician associates.

“There is a push for change,” said Mr. Delaney, who received membership card No. 4,402 when he joined the AAPA years ago. Now, the organization represents more than 100,000 physician assistants nationwide.

“Many of us think of the physician assistant as a brand. Patients and physicians know us and trust us,” Mr. Delaney said. “Physician assistants have worked hard to earn the trust and respect of both the physicians we practice with and the patients we treat in virtually every medical specialty and in every clinical setting, rural and urban. We are an essential part of health care delivery.

“There is a valid concern that if we change our name, then we will have to educate patients and physicians alike as to who we are.”

After spending 35 years with Kaiser Permanente in California as both a clinician and administrator, Mr. Delaney joined UT Southwestern three years ago. The 1975 graduate of the University of Southern California also earned a master’s degree in psychology at California State University-San Bernardino. 

As president of the AAPA, Mr. Delaney is called on to attend events across the nation, especially in Washington, D.C. 

 “There is a lot of travel involved” in leading the AAPA, he said. “I’m on the road a bit every month for the foreseeable future, but it’s for a good cause. I believe in what we do, and I think that what we do will become even more important in the changing health care landscape.”