MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) — A lot has changed in healthcare in the last two decades, including technology and customer service, but one element that’s stayed the same is the requirement for a physician assistant to work under a doctor’s supervision. However, there’s a push to change that.

Seth Weathersby, who has practiced medicine for 21 years and treated 175,000 patients, is the owner-operator of Gateway Urgent Care in Murfreesboro. Since he’s a physician assistant, though, the law says he must work under a physician.  

“We’re practicing under protocols that were last updated in 1999, basically a quarter of a century ago,” said Weathersby.

The current rules state a physician must review 20% of a physician assistant’s charts, check in on a monthly basis, and make in-person visits twice a year. According to Weathersby, these rules are contributing to the primary care shortage in this state.

“As physician assistants, we have a very legitimate answer and a very legitimate solution to helping to solve this problem in real time,” he said.

Weathersby said he would like to see physician assistants with a decade of training have a pathway to practicing medicine independent of doctors, with each hospital, urgent care and clinic setting its own rules of the road when it comes to the physician/physician assistant relationship.

“All we’re saying is we would like for the rules to be determined by the individuals and not by the state,” Weathersby explained.

However, some doctors would call that dangerous.

“We’re about evidence-based approaches, and there’s no evidence that this is in the best interest of the patient,” said Dr. Kevin Smith.

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Smith, a former president of the Tennessee Medical Association and an assistant professor of clinical medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said that doctors and physician assistants can work as teams, but should not separate.

“It’s a much different ask to say that now we have the license and the ability to practice medicine without having to go to medical school,” he explained. “Physicians have to know what to do when nobody knows what to do. They have to make decisions, nd those decisions are based on the experience that they get in medical school and residency training.”

Legislation to give physician assistants independence is in committee, so News 2 will track it during the next legislative session.