More than half a century after the first physician assistant class graduated in 1967, the profession is showing no signs of slowing down.
The latest Statistical Profile of Recently Certified Physician Assistants, published by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, indicates that 9,287 physician assistants were certified for the first time in 2018, a 26.5% increase from 2013.
Slightly more than 72% of the cohort are under 30 years old, making it the youngest group of certified PAs yet.
The annual report also reveals the profession is showing some progress in the area of diversity -- 14.4% of newly certified PAs identify as non-white and 7.6% indicate that they are of Hispanic, Latino(a) or Spanish origin. Like the larger PA workforce, women made up the majority of newly certified PAs, at 73.9%.
WHAT'S THE IMPACT
The data shows encouraging employment opportunities for this group of PAs. More than 74% of newly certified PAs who accepted a job received two or more offers, and a similar number, almost 72%, said they faced no challenges when conducting their job search.
Sixty-seven percent were offered incentives ranging from professional development to continuing medical education. And the median salary is $95,000 per year.
Among the other findings are that 24% of newly certified PAs who have accepted a job are working in primary care, with the highest percentage in family medicine/general practice, surgical subspecialties and emergency medicine; 62.2% have a total educational debt of more than $100,000; and 22.1% said they communicate with patients in a language other than English.
Physician assistant is consistently ranked as one of the top jobs in America, most recently by U.S. News and World Report as No. 1 in the Best Health Care Jobs of 2019.
THE LARGER TREND
Physician assistants are poised to become an even more important cog in the healthcare machinery as the U.S. is in the midst of an ongoing physician shortage. Shortages of primary care physicians in particular are already gripping parts of the country -- which is especially alarming given that access to PCPs has been shown to prolong patients' lives.
In early 2018, Congress passed a change to Medicare allowing physician assistants to manage and provide hospice care to terminally ill Medicare patients. PAs are also allowed to supervise cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation programs under the Medicare program.