Physician Assistant Workforce Critical to Expanding Healthcare Access in Crowded U.S. Marketplace


As the Affordable Care Act floodgates open, fast-growing PA profession recognizes National PA Week, Oct. 6–12

Alexandria, Va. — As millions of Americans sign up for health coverage, the nation’s fast-growing physician assistant (PA) workforce is already on the frontlines practicing medicine and increasing access to high-quality, patient-centered healthcare.  Because of their critical role in meeting the demand for care, PAs are named one of three primary care providers in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

“Currently, there are more than 93,000 PAs throughout the U.S. whose education in general medicine prepares them to be extremely nimble, positioning  them very well to address an influx of 20 million new patients entering the healthcare system,” said Lawrence Herman, MPA, PA-C, DFAAPA and president of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA).

In light of a projected physician shortage—estimated at 90,000 by 2020, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges—PAs have the training, flexibility and agility to respond immediately to the healthcare needs of millions of previously uninsured patients. In fact, PAs practice medicine and in surgery across all settings and specialties including family medicine, primary care, emergency medicine, surgery, oncology, psychiatry, radiology and pediatrics.

“PAs can perform up to 85 percent of the duties of physicians, including prescribing medicine, which allows us to pivot easily in diverse practice settings, bridge gaps in care and solve patient problems in this new era of healthcare,” said Herman. “Now, more than ever, America needs PAs.”

Increased access to care is especially important in critical health arenas such as primary care and underserved areas. Nearly 1 in 3 PAs (32 percent) practice in primary care and 37 percent of PAs work in medically underserved counties of the U.S.

Results of AAPA’s annual survey of the PA profession exemplify the specific ways that PAs are meeting patients’ healthcare needs. According to the survey, the top clinical procedures performed by PAs include: writing prescriptions (82 percent), acute care management (80 percent), chronic disease management (64 percent), follow-up patient calls (63 percent), care coordination (58 percent), clinical consultations (55 percent), minor surgical procedures (52 percent), clinical preventive services (49 percent), first assisting in surgery (24 percent), phone triage (23 percent) and end-of-life care (14 percent).

Since 2006, the PA profession has grown 34 percent and is expected to continue growing. According to the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), more than 7,000 new PAs graduate annually from 173ARC-PA accredited programs throughout the U.S. The profession has nearly doubled in size in the last 10 years.

A PA is a graduate of an accredited PA educational program who is nationally certified and state-licensed to practice medicine. PA master’s degree programs take about two and a half years to complete and are modeled on the medical school curriculum, a combination of classroom education and more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations. All 50 states and the District of Columbia allow PAs to practice and prescribe medicine.

The profession will honor PAs’ invaluable role in transforming healthcare during National PA Week. Held every year from Oct. 6 – 12, PA Week is a time when PAs and PA students celebrate their profession through local and national events designed to increase awareness of the value PAs bring to today’s healthcare team.

Source:  American Academy of Physician Assistants