The Rise of Physician Assistants

The number of physician assistants rose by 219 percent between 2003 and 2013, and health care reform continues to spur growth. A survey of more than 76,000 PAs from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) offers insights into the growth of the PA sector.

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Employment Boom Employment Boom

The nation had 95,583 certified PAs at the end of 2013, although 475 were living abroad, according to the commission. NCCPA estimates the nation will have more than 125,000 PAs by the end of 2017. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant projects the 180 education programs available today will rise to 250 by 2018.

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Where PAs Practice Where PAs Practice

Sixteen states had the highest concentration of PAs with more than 40 per 100,000 residents. They are Alaska, Connecticut, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. Six states had the lowest concentration of PAs with less than 20 per 100,000 residents: Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi and Missouri.

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Demographics Demographics

Female PAs comprise 66 percent of the workforce and are generally younger than male counterparts. Sixty-two percent of female PAs are under age 40, compared with 38 percent of males. The median age of certified PAs in 2013 was 38. Of the 72,821 surveyed PAs that answered questions about race, 85.6 percent were Caucasian. More than 22 percent of PAs can communicate with patients in a language other than English; the vast majority of communication being in Spanish. The rate of those speaking at least one of eight other languages is less than 1 percent for each language. Nearly 3.5 percent of PAs speak two or more languages other than English.

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Practice Area Practice Area

Nearly 28 percent of surveyed PAs work in primary care, with the highest state percentage being 36.5 percent in North Dakota and the lowest at 14.9 percent in Ohio. Forty percent of all surveyed PAs work in an office-based private practice and 36.5 percent work in a hospital. The remainder are split between federal health facilities, community health centers, rural clinics, and public health or community clinics. Less than one percent work in each of several other sectors: schools, work places, extended care, ambulatory surgical center, behavioral health, rehabilitation, free clinic, home health and hospice. The average number of patients seen per week is 70 and the average hours worked per week is 40.57.

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 Education Status Education Status

Sixty-six percent of surveyed PAs have a Masterís Degree and 26.5 percent have a Bachelorís Degree. PA education programs, which on average are about 26 months long, have been trending toward a Masterís Degree for some time. By 2020, all must offer at least a Masterís Degree level program.

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Job Prospects Job Prospects

This year, Forbes called the Masterís Degree in Physician Assistant Studies the top degree for jobs and the NCCPA survey results back up a market in demand. Seventy-eight percent of recent graduates had multiple job offers; 53 percent had three or more. The survey did not ask PA respondents about their compensation. However, among those who accepted employment in a non-clinical position, such as working in a PA educational program, another health position that does not utilize clinical skills or outside of healthcare, insufficient compensation was very low on the reasons for taking another position. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for PAs in 2012 was $90,930. Complete survey results are here.

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The number of physician assistants rose by 219 percent between 2003 and 2013, and health care reform continues to spur growth. A survey of more than 76,000 PAs from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) offers insights into the growth of the PA sector.

 

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