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Celebrating 50 years of the PA Profession


As National PA Week approaches (Oct. 6-12), it's time to reflect on how far the profession has come in 50 years.

Over the past few years, the construct of healthcare teams has adjusted to meet the escalating medical demands for an increasing number of aging and newly-insured Americans. Certified PAs have been critical to this evolution, bringing their skills and expertise to healthcare teams and collaborating with physicians to deliver high quality care.

As a Certified PA for many years, I've been a part of the profession's growth and witnessed its indelible impact on the healthcare landscape in all disciplines and settings. Today, Certified PAs stand at the threshold of enhanced visibility and great expectation to provide what every American deserves: access to quality medical care without facing the prospect of financial devastation.

The nation's 115,500 PAs, prepared through advanced education and rigorous certification, are already helping to fulfill this mandate, working as clinicians and increasingly as hospital administrators, medical researchers and academic leaders.

In the past year, the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) reports that the profession grew by almost 6.5 percent, and greater growth is projected over the next few years. According to a 2017 U.S. News and World Reportranking, PAs are the third most in-demand professionals, offering rewards and benefits that edge out careers both in and outside of healthcare. According to the same report, by 2024, the field will grow at a rate of 30 percent, which is much faster than the average for all professions and will yield 28,700 new jobs for PAs.

While we still face challenges to increase diversity within the profession and to reach more underserved areas, the profession commemorates its 50th anniversary this year with marked achievements and milestones worth noting.

Some achievements include:

•High demand from employers: More than 75 percent of PAs who were certified last year had two or more job offers, more than 25 percent had four or more offers, and more than 10 percent had five or more job offers.

•A workforce for today and the future: More than half of PAs are under the age of 40. This workforce will be available and ready as many older providers retire.

•Communicating with patients in their language: The states with the top percentage of PAs who communicate with patients in a language other than English are California-53 percent, New Mexico-39 percent, and Texas-37 percent.

•High penetration in specialties: Over 70 percent of PAs work in specialties outside primary care, including highly technical surgical specialties, complex medical specialties like critical/acute care, hospital medicine and nephrology, and disciplines focused on older populations such as hospice and palliative medicine.

•Changing demographics: The PA profession has experienced a dramatic shift from its early years when the population of former military medics was all male to a population of Certified PAs that is now 67 percent female.

•Coverage in rural health clinics: Certified PAs are often sole providers in remote areas and isolated communities. Three of the top five states with the largest number of PAs per capita are in Alaska, South Dakota, and Montana.

Certified PAs are making meaningful advances to improve healthcare delivery and adapt to an interconnected healthcare market, as cost-effective providers currently treating more than 8 million patients each week.

It's an exciting time for the profession, but more importantly it's a time of promising news for patients. With healthy PA workforce gains each year, patients can be sure they will continue to have greater access to care from highly-qualified medical providers. Moreover, our partners in the medical community can be sure that we'll continue to adapt to an ever-evolving healthcare market and focus on patient-centered care.

Dawn Morton-Rias, Ed.D, PA-C, joined NCCPA as president/CEO in June 2014. Before assuming that position, she served as dean of the College of Health-Related Professions and professor at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. She has been a Certified PA for over 30 years, largely working in primary care. 

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