The Who, What, When, Where, and Why of Physician Assistants

We keep hearing about the physician shortage plaguing the healthcare industry. The solution just might be physician assistants (PAs). PAs are young, assiduous, and well-educated, and at the start of 2017, there were 114,547 certified PAs practicing in the United States. They are certified to treat patients and prescribe medications, yet patients and pharma have so far been hesitant to embrace them. Here's a crash course on PAs.


Who PAs Are

According to the American Academy of PAs (AAPA), a PA is a nationally certified medical professional who practices medicine under the supervision of a physician; however, physicians and PAs share many of the same duties. And a study conducted by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) shows that PAs tend to be female (68%), Caucasian (87%), and young (55% are under age 40).


What PAs Do

PAs treat patients, prescribe medications, interpret lab results, and play pivotal roles throughout the healthcare industry. According to the NCCPA survey, 88% of PAs said they conduct physical examinations and obtain medical histories; 82% said they prescribe medications for acute and chronic illnesses; and 81% indicated that they order, perform, and interpret lab tests, X-rays, EKGs, and other diagnostic studies.


When PAs Work

Fun fact: According to the AAPA, the idea for the physician assistant role originated with Eugene A. Stead Jr., MD, of the Duke University Medical Center, in 1965 as a way to meet the high demand for physicians. The first class of PAs enrolled at Duke University in 1965 and graduated two years later.


Today, PAs play an invaluable role in providing healthcare throughout the US. They work an average of 41 hours per week, and 35% are on call at some point during the week. They meet with an average of 74 patients per week, during which time they diagnose, treat, and manage illnesses.


Where PAs Practice

Much to the joy of Dr. Stead, PAs are filling healthcare gaps in rural states such as Alaska, Idaho, and Montana, where PA-to-patient ratios are higher than in most states. Northeastern states such as New York and those comprising the New England region also are among the states with the most PAs per capita.


The NCCPA survey showed that 22% of PAs are certified in primary and family medicine, which means that a whopping 78% are practicing in specialized areas. PAs practice in 69 distinct specialties, and the first PAs certified in pain management and hospice and palliative medicine started practicing in 2016. Moreover, nearly 19% of PAs practice in surgical subspecialties.


Why PAs Practice

One big perk to being a PA is the ability to practice across specialties. Another is good pay: Average salaries are quickly increasing, and have crept past $100,000 per year. PAs also enjoy working with patients, practicing in a collaborative setting, and working with a physician who provides consulting and guidance. These perks and benefits aren’t going unnoticed, either: 6,900 new PA graduates entered the workforce in 2016.


The NCCPA stated in a press release that it believes PAs are a long-term solution to the physician shortage in the United States and that PAs’ responsibilities and impact on the healthcare industry will only continue to grow. These beliefs are supported by figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which estimates that the number of PAs will grow by 30% by 2024. So, what’s stopping you from addressing them in your marketing plan?


If you're interested in learning more about how PAs fit into the healthcare landscape, you can request our white paper about nurse practitioners and PAs.


Contact us to learn how you can reach PAs across the Lippincott content network through print and online advertising, email, and custom projects.

Lippincott can help you reach PAs. Contact us to learn more about our custom marketing solutions.

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