What will PAs be Doing in 2018?

December 19, 2017
Dawn Morton-Rias, Ed.D, PA-C

This year the PA profession celebrated its 50th anniversary. Much has changed, but the future of the profession remains bright.

While December can be a time for reminiscing, at NCCPA we are keenly focused on the future of the PA profession. There is no doubt - based on our first 50 years - that PAs will be increasingly present in every specialty and clinical setting, making a difference in the health care industry and most importantly, in the lives of patients. Our profession's accomplishments in 2018 and beyond will continue to be noteworthy and newsworthy.

Here are the principal trends I see moving forward:

PAs Practicing at the Highest Levels of Licensure: State legislatures will continue to expand scope of practice for PAs to take full advantage of our high-level of education and our rigorous certification and certification maintenance processes. Those states that have already granted wider latitude for delivering medical services have facilitated greater patient access to quality care.

Expanding Care of Mental Health Issues: More than 111 million Americans live in areas with a shortage of mental health professionals. PAs will help bridge those gaps. The NCCPA Health Foundation is leading a new effort to engage and equip all PAs to provide greater access to care for patients' mental health and substance use disorders. PAs will increasingly help in this critical area by being aware of symptoms, treating what they can and then referring those who need ongoing help to community resources. 

Number of PAs Growing in Leadership Positions: PAs will continue to have a larger voice in policy creation and administration. PAs are serving in advanced practice provider leadership roles. Those who want to use their leadership abilities are stepping up to create environments that recognize the value of PAs and ensure they have an effective orientation plan; mentors who can help them be successful; and a career ladder to support retention. In addition, PAs are increasingly weighing in on operations to streamline and improve processes that improve patient care and bolster the financial viability of the office or hospital.

Incorporation of Additional Technologies: Patient's today want 24/7 access to their health records and a way to contact their provider directly. Patient portals are becoming part of the patient experience. Patient engagement strategies including telehealth and video visits are rapidly expanding, particularly in remote areas and outside regular business hours. Used frequently by major hospital systems, these technologies will be more available in the small-to-medium practice setting. The median age of PAs is only 39 - an age group that embraces new technologies. PAs in your office will be comfortable using and explaining a full range of healthcare technology resources.

PAs Prioritizing Patient Engagement: PAs are educated in communication skills and prevention. We know that patient engagement is critical to outcomes, and we help patients understand that they are the key member of their healthcare team. PAs know how to ask open-ended questions, connect patients to their treatment plan, and how to educate not just patients, but their families. We also value the part that prevention and wellness plays in long-term health, and we build that in to patient discussions. As recognition of how critical this is to the long-term success of individual patients, practices and the overarching health care system, PAs and other providers will invest more time in prevention and patient education.

Diversity Will Improve and Offer Alternatives: The first three PAs were white males, yet today the profession is over 65 percent female. The racial and ethnic diversity of the PA profession continues to slowly expand as does its proficiency in languages other than English. Although we still have a way to go, patients are increasingly able to choose well prepared, and proven providers with whom they can relate.

What started 50 years ago with three former military medics graduating from Duke is now a profession of over 115,000 Certified PAs treating over eight million patients each week.  Demand for those that are newly-certified is high, as over three-fourths of them have multiple job offers. Today there are 229 accredited PA programs, and 48 new programs have applied for accreditation.

Though the demand is high, the number of new graduates will grow as programs are approved. Now more than ever, Certified PAs make sense to expand your practice capabilities, solve problems and better meet patient needs.

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.