October 6 - 12 is Physician Assistants Week.
In a down economy, physician assistants are looking up It might be the worst job market on recent record, but one career path is bucking trends in growth, pay and job security—the physician assistant.
With the passing of health care reform ushering in 32 million new patients, PAs are positioned to step up and fill the widening health care provider gap. PAs are licensed health care providers who practice medicine with physician supervision in all general and specialty practice settings. They conduct physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery and write prescriptions. PAs also may work in related areas like education, research and administrative services.
According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), PAs are quickly becoming the “backbone” of the nation’s health care system as they fill gaps left by doctor shortages in places like hospitals, private practice offices, nursing homes, correctional institutions and homes. The number of PAs has doubled in the past decade and tripled in the past 15 years. In 2009, there were more than 74,000 physician assistants in the United States who served patients on nearly 260 million visits. These numbers are expected to increase.
“The current economic recession has forced a lot of people to reconsider their careers and education, and many are discovering the physician assistant career path as a rewarding choice,” said Debra Munsell DHSc, PA-C Associate Professor in Physician Assistant Studies at UTMB Health. “Not only do they get to earn a good, stable income—averaging $89,000 per year across all specialties—but they get to make a positive difference in people’s lives, especially those in most need.” Debra is not alone in her assessment. U.S. News and World Report, Money Magazine, Kiplinger, Yahoo! and CNN all have cited the PA profession as a “top job” or “recession-proof.”
Even more telling is what PAs have to say about their own work. According to a recent AAPA survey, 89 percent of those asked whether they would become a physician assistant if they could do it again said “yes.”
PAs must undergo rigorous training that involves both clinical and classroom components. The average length of a PA program is 27 months, and PA students complete, on average, more than 2,000 hours of supervised clinical practice prior to graduation. There are more opportunities to join this profession than ever before, with 150 accredited PA educational programs located at academic medical centers, colleges and universities, and most of these programs offer a master’s degree. To learn more about becoming a PA, visit www.aapa.org.