Number of PAs Grows in High-Demand Specialties

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A new practice specialty report, representing data from over 93% of the 108,500 certified physician assistants (PAs) in the United States, shows that more than 70% now work in non-primary care specialties, according to a press release from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).

The report confirms that PAs in all specialties fulfill an important role in improving health care access for patients on Medicaid and Medicare.

There are 103 certified PAs for every 1,000 physicians in the U.S., with notably higher ratios in surgical subspecialties (374 PAs for every 1,000 physicians), emergency medicine (291 PAs per 1,000 physicians), and dermatology (275 PAs per 1,000 physicians), the press release notes.

The median percentage of patients treated by certified PAs in all specialties includes:

  • 30% Medicare patients. PAs in cardiothoracic and vascular surgery see the most Medicare patients (50%) followed by oncology and urology (40%).
  • 20% Medicaid patients. PAs in general pediatrics have the highest percent of Medicaid patients (55%), followed by psychiatry (40%) and obstetrics and gynecology (35%).
  • 10% of patients who do not pay. PAs in emergency medicine provide the most uncompensated care — to 15% of patients.

Certified PAs in all specialties work an average of 41 hours a week, and over 35% also take call, with the highest call hours in the surgical subspecialties. This corresponds with higher numbers of hours worked in these subspecialties. For example, over 49% of cardiothoracic and vascular surgery PAs work more than 10 hours a week on call and have an average workweek of 47 hours.

For most of their patients, over 80% of all PAs order, perform and interpret lab tests, x-rays, EKGs and other diagnostic studies; over 81% prescribe medication; and over 78% counsel and educate patients and families.

While physicians in many specialty areas are nearing retirement age, the median age of certified PAs is 38. As a young profession, only 0.6% plan to retire in 2016.

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