Career Outlook For Physician Assistants

November 6, 2010 in Current PAs, PA Educators, PA Pals, PA Students, Prospective PAs

The PA profession began at Duke University in 1967 with the first graduating class of Physician Assistants.  Today there are more than 79,000 PAs from 154+ accredited programs.  Graduates of the first program went into primary care or surgical positions, and that focus persisted for the next twenty years. Since the early 1990s, there has been rapid expansion in the areas in which PAs practice with a shift from primary medicine to specialty areas, and even subspecialty areas within tertiary medical centers.

Likewise, a similar shift has been occurring over the past decade in the settings in which PAs practice, creating a number of jobs in areas outside the traditional clinic-based settings, including: institutional settings such as hospitals, academic medical centers, federally qualified health clinics, and in the US prison system. PAs are now being used in teaching capacities both in the expanding numbers of PA programs as well as assisting academic medical staff in medical schools and academic inpatient hospital settings.  Medical resident rules limiting the number of hours physician residents are permitted to work has produced a new need for PAs as hospitalists in direct patient care.

PAs provide high quality, cost effective healthcare and are productive members of the health care team. Physicians and hospitals/clinics are expected to employ more PAs to provide primary care and to assist with medical and surgical procedures. Telemedicine—technology used to allow consultations between PAs in rural or remote settings and physician supervisors—will expand the use of physician assistants.

Over the years the scope of practice for PAs has progressively broadened, allowing PAs to fully utilize the skills gained from their rigorous training.  Prescriptive privileges, now allowed in all states, have improved PAs abilities to contribute more effectively in patient care.  Residents who have recently graduated from medical school now gain experience working on teams that include PAs as both students and certified clinicians, so that past confusion about a PA's scope of practice is rapidly diminishing. Job prospects, therefore, have increased in all specialty and subspecialty areas.

Job opportunities for PAs are predicted to be excellent, particularly in rural and inner-city clinics, settings in which there is difficulty attracting physicians. Job openings will result both from employment growth and from the need to replace physician assistants who retire or leave the occupation permanently. Opportunities will be best in states that allow PAs a wider scope of practice.

Job Demand Forecast

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistic, employment of physician assistants is expected to grow by 39 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. ranks PA as the second best job in America and projects it to be the third hottest (fastest growing) occupation over the next decade.  The most recent Money magazine article states that with the continuing shortage of physicians willing to work in primary care medicine and in remote and underserved areas of the country, the PA profession has proven to be virtually recession-proof.  This is proving true as unemployment rates in the country continue to rise while job prospects for PAs continue to improve.  A shortage of physicians projected to be as high as 13% over the next ten years, coupled with an aging population with higher than ever before life expectancy, will result in abounding opportunities for physician assistants.  Finally, with the expected increases in insured patients due to the Healthcare Reform Bill, there will be even more demand for primary care practitioners, a role in which Physician Assistants excel!

6 responses to Career Outlook For Physician Assistants

  1. More good news for those interested in becoming a Physician Assistant. Forbes recently released their “Best and Worst Master’s Degrees for Jobs” list and for the second year in a row, PA takes the top spot! I drafted a short post on the topic:

  2. Starting my education for PA at 55 years old. Would you consider this to late to start?

  3. I’m a Chemistry BS senior and I recently find out the career path of PA. I don’t particular interested in medical field before but the money is so attractive comparing with he time input. However, I need couple years to take some classes in order to fulfill the prerequisites and medical experience. I think I would become a medical technologist first as well (1 year program). By the time I am ready to apply, it would be at least 5 years from now. Do you think PA would be still in demand with well pay in 5 years and 40-50 years from now?

  4. It sounds to me that you should be looking at a career in a research-focused area. If you don’t have a BURNING DESIRE to be a PA, it is probably not for you.

    It is NOT about the money in work — it is truly not. If you hate what you do, if you find no reward in it but the paycheck, then you may as well do some kind of work that pays a large amount of money and skip all the additional tuition.

    I can not, with a clear conscience, recommend PA or physician to anyone who says that they are not particularly interested in the medical field until they found out about the salary. We don’t make enough money for the ridiculous amount of hours and the working conditions for most of us. I work in the ER — I certainly don’t do these hours and this brutal schedule with the patients I see for the money — I do it for an undying love for medicine.

  5. Hi Jackie,

    I am new here and I read a few of your posts, but this one hit home with me.

    I am a post bach student, recently graduated with my BA in HR and Public Health. I don’t find either field rewarding as much as I wanted it to be. Anyway, I want to make sure my time and effort is worth it. With PA school becoming so popular, competition is high and it makes very much sense that a good base in the sciences is needed to make PA School doable, once accepted.

    My question to you, is how did you find your undying love for medicine? Was it something you had in you, like a mindset that you wanted to be in the medical field, and then it built on as you shadowed MD’s and other health professionals, or was is that you were good at sciences and found x,y, z opportunities?

    I am asking, because I always wanted to be a in the medical field, I wanted to be an MD, then I screwed up in undergrad, immaturity and everything else, and now I feel my eyes are open and I need to get it together. I tried working in HR and Public Health as well, but I didn’t find it, dare I say it, challenging enough. Maybe it’s a psychological thing, that I just need to pass these science courses and prove to myself that I can do it, that I am capable of doing it. It certainly is not the money, but there is just something about medicine and figuring out what really went wrong in the body that makes it so addicting. When I kind of gave up on my whole pre-med track, I told myself I will never look back, because it hurt inside. It hurt to say to myself that I didn’t do it. I would compare it to the pain you have when you realize you have to let someone go, and you just don’t want to look back because it’s too painful. And now, my love affair is back on, I am trying to mend the pieces and make this relationship work! Only con is, I have a very low chance. But hey! Law of attraction right?

    So please, if you could answer that, maybe it would help me figure things out, before it’s too late and too much money and time and effort as well as mental stress and emotional roller coaster rides, I have to go through and then realize that I won’t even get a look at the application.

    Reality is cruel, but it is, what it is.


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