The physician assistant is trained to take medical histories, perform physical examinations, diagnose common illnesses, order laboratory tests and determine treatment including prescribing appropriate medication, as well as counseling and educating patients concerning their medical problems.
The trends in health care demonstrate the need for primary care practitioners. As the population is aging and living longer, as limited access to health care persists, particularly in rural areas, and as we become a multicultural nation, skilled practitioners are essential. PAs are a cost effective and important part of the health care delivery system. Historically, PAs were one potential solution to the inaccessibility of health care, particularly in rural areas, and PAs still tend to fill the rural gap where physician shortages are more prevalent. Today, PAs not only provide access to care in these areas but also allow the health care team to function as a more efficient unit. With the Obama Administration’s current efforts at reforming the health care system in the United States so as to increase access to health care services while decreasing costs, the PA profession is well‐suited to help accomplish both goals.
Upon graduation, the 2010 AAPA census data show that a new PA graduate working a minimum of 32 hours per week has a median salary of $80,000. Sixty‐five percent of PAs work outside of primary care. Physician assistants are capable of changing specialties over the course of their working careers, which compares favorably to medical doctors (MDs) who are typically postgraduate trained for a specialty and remain in that specialty. Nurse practitioners and advance practice nurses are also specialty trained as well. Virtually all respondents to the PA census in 2009 reported at least one specialty change in their careers. In the state of Ohio, the mean salary for practicing PAs is $86,766.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that "[PA] employment is expected to grow much faster than the average as health care establishments increasingly use physician assistants to contain costs. Job opportunities for PAs should be good, particularly in rural and inner city clinics, as these settings typically have difficulty attracting physicians." There will be an estimated 39% increase in jobs for physician assistants (2008‐2018). Additionally, Forbes.com ranked the PA’s Master’s degree number 1 on its list of "best master’s degrees for jobs." CNNMoney.com ranks the profession as the second most popular job in America .
Physician assistants are licensed or registered in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Prescribing privileges for PAs are authorized for these locations as well. Australia, Canada and Great Britain have enacted laws enabling PA practice. Employment opportunities exist throughout the United States, particularly in the state of Ohio and into the contiguous states of Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
The physician assistant profession began in the 1960s with the vision of Eugene Stead, MD at Duke University in North Carolina. At the time, there was a concern regarding physician shortages, workloads, and lack of primary care practitioners. The continued growth of the profession is driven by those same problems today. Physician assistants are productive, cost effective, primary care educated practitioners with the skills to perform medical and surgical procedures. Additionally, due to the limitations of the 80‐hour work week rules now in place for medical residents, PAs have become instrumental in filling a need in patient care.