If you’ve been to a medical appointment recently, you have likely experienced firsthand how integral certified Physician Assistants (PAs) are in the healthcare workplace. Certified PAs now see more than 9.1 million patients weekly with a variety of health concerns from broken bones and poorly controlled diabetes to cancer screenings and everything in between.
Certified PAs’ contributions to healthcare are clear in the robust data presented in the 2018 Statistical Report of Certified Physician Assistants. For the sixth year in a row, the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) compiled data obtained from more than 100,000 PAs to produce the most comprehensive, nationwide report of physician assistant practice.
Here are three key insights from the most recent report:
Certified PAs are addressing the provider shortage
The Association of American Medical Colleges reports that physician demand continues to increase faster than supply, resulting in a projected total physician shortage of up to 121,900 doctors by 2032. This is especially prevalent in rural America, where 93 rural hospitals closed across 26 states in 2018, according to research by the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program. Despite the shortfall, patients (rightfully) expect timely care, and are unwilling to wait months for an appointment.
Certified PAs are stepping up to meet that growing need. The PA profession grew 37.2 percent over five years, reaching 131,152 Certified PAs by the end of 2018.
Certified PAs are changing the landscape of care
As Certified PAs began addressing the growing needs of a healthcare system at capacity, it was more common to see PAs practicing in a doctor’s office or a specialized clinic. However, for the first time in six years, more Certified PAs are practicing in a hospital setting than an office-based private practice. This has supported an increased workload for Certified PAs, who accrue an average of 40.4 hours a week in their primary position.
The areas of specialization have changed alongside the location of care. In the past, most Certified PAs worked in primary care disciplines including family practice, general internal medicine and general pediatrics. Today, we see noticeable growth in PAs working in disciplines like general surgery/surgical subspecialties, emergency medicine and dermatology. The increased demand for patient care in specialized medical and surgical disciplines have influenced earning potential, with the median Certified PA in these fields earning five percent above the professional average.
PAs have emerged as a desirable career choice among students
The utilization of Certified PAs continues to gain traction on the national healthcare scene, and students interested in the medical fields have taken notice. Physician assistant is consistently ranked as one of the top healthcare jobs in America, most recently by U.S. News and World Report as #1 in the Best Healthcare Jobs of 2019. This can be attributed to high professional satisfaction, practice flexibility and an increase in annual earnings. In 2018, the average total income of Certified PAs was $110,567, and the median salary was $115,000. The average salary has increased 15.7 percent in the last six years.
Educational opportunities for Certified PAs have increased to meet demand, with the PA workforce expected to continue its growth into the future as the number of active PA programs increased from 180 in 2013 to 238 in 2018. This will sustain the growth of Certified PAs into the future as healthcare demands increase with the growing and aging population.
With a variety of practice-settings and a populous desperately needing dutiful care, Certified PAs are well-positioned to fill the gaps in the American healthcare system. PAs are educated in the medical model, completing a rigorous certification process upon starting the profession. As part of continuing education, each PA also maintains certification through an objective medical knowledge assessment every 10 years. This pattern of ongoing learning facilitates a Certified PA’s ability to care for patients across all specialties.
Working in collaboration with physicians, Certified PAs provide a continued and expanded commitment to team-based practice in medicine that ensures everyone receives the prompt, fair and accurate treatment and care they deserve.
Dawn Morton-Rias, Ed.D., PA-C, is President and CEO of the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.