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Future Looks Great for Physician Assistants


As I plan for my retirement, I look at the next generation of physician assistants and what the future looks like for them.

As I approach the end of my fifth decade, it seems natural to start contemplating, “What is next?” Targeted online marketing widgets remind me of my original desire to retire in my 50s, as they present me with deals on Viagra while reading my professional journals.

However, my plans were laid by the wayside by a couple of market crashes, as it was for many of us. I have always taken preparations for retirement seriously, and had the opportunity to sit down with my financial planner this past week to discuss what retirement looks like for me in nine years. It got me to thinking about what retirement means to the human resources that deliver healthcare in America.

Physician Assistants are different from physicians in a lot of ways, not the least of which is that we trace our lineage only back to the 1960s. We were born out of the Vietnam War, and the human resource needs of a prediction that the system would be very short of primary-care providers. The profession was young then in more ways than one, mostly male and military centric.

Yet as this generation of PAs enters retirement, I look at what the future holds for the profession. There is a great volume of PAs entering the workforce each year from the 164 programs in the country. More than 6,000 new PAs enter the workforce to practice medicine with physicians in nearly every setting and specialty. There are more and more programs coming online each year, and workforce analysts estimate that by 2025, there will be 189 PA programs and more than 127,000 PAs in the healthcare workforce.

The profession today is mostly comprised of women, more than 60 percent according to industry analysts, and 75 percent of PA students are women.

As my generation grays and enters retirement, the PA profession is ready to see a tremendous growth - in both numbers and in how they practice medicine.

These PAs have so many freedoms with their practice now that I never was able to enjoy so quickly in my career, as healthcare reforms and the Affordable Care Act increased the demand for PAs. They expect to come into a practice or hospital and prescribe medicine, order a wide battery of tests, and coordinate care with a good degree of autonomy from their physician team leaders.

I believe that the value of PAs on the healthcare team will only grow, as many physicians that enter the workforce these days have trained with PAs during medical school.

So, for me, my plan is to retire in nine years, along with my surgeon partner, and we are both committed to sticking it out and building our retirement nest eggs together. I have given some serious thought to what retirement looks like for me, and it doesn’t revolve around golf and hanging out at home.

I really like what I do as a PA and a healthcare provider, and how many professionals can say that after 31 years of service? My role in the healthcare system is infinitely stimulating and always intellectually challenging, and my only real limitations at this point are physical. I work in a physically demanding surgical specialty and would like to work less hard. Soon.

So, whatever retirement brings for me, I hope to continue to contribute to the health and well-being of my community and world as long as I’m able. This will mean less long hours of OP clinic and OR, and more humanitarian work here and abroad as long as I’m able to contribute. And I will play more golf, and likely deal with more targeted marketing efforts from Pfizer.

Find out more about Stephen Hanson and our other Practice Notes bloggers.

This blog was provided in partnership with the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

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