Rising numbers of women in higher education and a growing desire among healthcare workers for work/life balance are fueling physician assistant job growth. But the head of a PA industry group says the lack of diversity among PAs is “disturbing.”

A first-of-its-kind statistical profile of the nation’s certified physician assistants shows that they are in high demand everywhere across the nation, with many recent graduates having three or more job offers.

The more than 76,000 responses to the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants survey, the group represent 80% of the more than 95,500 PAs working in the nation, also showed that 66% of PAs are women, and 86% of PAs are white.

Dawn Morton-Rias, president/CEO of the NCCPA, says a lack of diversity for PAs is a problem shared by many professions. For example, the most-recent data from the Association of American Medical Colleges for 2008 showed that 75% of physicians were male and white.

“This is a statistic that is disturbing across the board. Certainly as America becomes more diversified we want to have a much more diverse profession as well,” she says. “We certainly are interested in partnering with the educational institutions and others to promote diversity within the profession.”

“It’s not that we are OK with it. It is what it is and this is what the data are showing. But we are attentive to the social demands that healthcare faces and we are interested in partnering to the best extent possible to recruitment and retention and certification of diverse PAs.”

Morton-Rias says the predominance of women in the PA workforce has been gradual. “That hasn’t always been the case. It’s been in transition over the last several years to see more women in the profession,” she says.

As for why, Morton-Rias says: “There are more women in higher education and seeking careers across the board. So that plays a part. And as people choose career paths they want work/life balance and the PA profession does that as well.”

The survey also found that:

Morton-Rias says the data on job offers support the perception that PAs have seen “phenomenal growth” in the last decade.

  • The median age of certified PAs was 38 in 2013
  • PAs, in their principal clinical setting, see an average of 70 patients per week
  • Over 75% of PAs practice in an office-based private practice or hospital setting
  • Over 52% of recent graduates have three or more job offers

“There is high demand for PAs. They are utilized and integrated into the healthcare sector across all disciplines and settings and in all 50 states,” she says. “Every state has legislation enabling physician assistants to acquire licensure. Evidence suggests that there is a continued demand for healthcare providers as implementation of the Affordable Care Act continues and growth in PA programs continue and we continue to see good employment across the United States.”

The job prospects outlined in the survey are consistent with those of other sources. Physician and advanced practitioner search firm Merritt Hawkins says it received fewer than 10 requests to recruit PAs and NPs four years ago. Over the last two years requests grew by over 300% and the firm conducted close to 200 PA and NP searches last year.

“PAs and NPs are joining the ranks of primary physicians in the sense that they can pretty much point at a spot on a map and work there if they so choose,” Merritt Hawkins President Mark Smith said. “It is not a feeding frenzy yet, but it is getting there.”

For the time being, Morton-Rias says the nation’s PA educational programs are trying to keep up with demand. “We currently have 187 programs, each of which graduates about 35–40 per year. Those numbers are not striking, but there is steady growth between 40–75 new PA programs in the pipeline,” she says.

“We expect that the numbers of PAs will continue to climb. As is the case in healthcare across the board, the distribution challenge [is] to see where PA s go and where they choose to work.”

“The programs are doing the best they can and the certification components that we are responsible for are meeting the needs of the current population and we are prepared to expand that as the number of certifications and recertifications continues to climb.”

From HealthLeaders Media, by John Commins, August 19, 2014