Physician Assistant Spotlight: Orthopaedic Surgery

In just two years, one in two Americans over the age of 50 will be at risk for fractures from osteoporosis. Although osteoporosis starts when bones lose density and can led to debilitating fractures, pain, spinal problems, and even death; many at-risk seniors have little to no knowledge about the disease, according to a study conducted by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

May is Osteoporosis Month, a time dedicated to educating those who are at-risk or are dealing with osteoporosis. As one who works year-round in orthopaedics, and specifically in orthopaedic surgery, Deanna (Reynolds) Alan, MMS ’09, PA-C, has seen first-hand what osteoporosis can do.

It was in high school when Alan first shadowed an orthopaedic surgeon – and was hooked. The shadowing, together with playing sports and cheerleading, lead to a strong interest of human anatomy and the musculoskeletal system.

PA Program - Deanna ReynoldsWhile attending the Physician Assistant Studies program at Salus University, Alan had an elective in orthopaedic surgery in which she observed a team of physician assistants between hospital and office settings. She was particularly interested in all of the procedures involved with orthopaedics as well as emergency medicine.

Now in her sixth year of orthopaedics, Alan recently earned a specialty credential, the Certificate of Added Qualifications (CAQ) in Orthopaedic Surgery from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). The CAQ is a voluntary credential beyond certification that can be earned by certified Physician Assistants (PA) in seven specialties, one of which is orthopaedic surgery. She is one of only six PAs in Pennsylvania to earn a CAQ in Orthopaedic Surgery, since the program’s inception in 2011.

From a young age, Alan had been interested in medicine and now can’t imagine doing anything else. “There are many exciting challenges within the profession; a lot of room for personal and professional growth,” she said.

If not maintained, those with osteoporosis can require orthopaedic procedures such as knee replacements and hip replacements; and can have a greater risk of intra-operative or post-operative fractures.

Once bone density has been lost, damage is irreversible, which is why it’s important to maintain existing bone density and prevent further bone loss with some simple steps such as getting enough calcium, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, limiting alcohol, quitting smoking, and taking medications as prescribed. 

While it’s best to avoid getting to the point of needing orthopaedic surgery, Alan appreciates the modern advances in the field. “I find satisfaction in being able to treat patients who come in with an injury or chronic pain, and improve their pain, motion, function and overall quality of life,” she said.