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Physician Assistants: From Pipeline to Practice

Glicken, Anita Duhl MSW; Miller, Anthony A. MEd, PA-C

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000009

For over four decades, physician assistants (PAs) have demonstrated that they are effective partners in a changing health care environment, readily adaptable to the needs of an evolving delivery system. With increased expectations of physician shortages, especially in primary care, PAs will be called on to fill provider gaps and new roles in interprofessional team-based delivery systems. There are over 90,000 certified PAs in the workforce and 173 accredited programs yielding an estimated 6,545 graduates annually, with an estimated 65 new programs seeking provisional accreditation by the end of 2016. New data on the PA pipeline and practice provide key information about the potential of this workforce; however, the overall impact of the PA pipeline on projected shortages remains unclear. Barriers exist to optimal deployment, including faculty shortages, scope-of-practice regulations, and a lack of clinical placement sites.

This article brings together data from the Physician Assistant Education Association and the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants and its supporting organization, the nccPA Health Foundation. Primary sources include PA candidates, educational programs, students, and certified PAs. Collectively, these data provide a comprehensive picture of PAs’ contributions to the health care workforce. Armed with pipeline and graduate practice data, policy makers and workforce planners will be equipped to design new models of practice that maximize the potential contributions of this growing PA workforce on health care teams.

Ms. Glicken is president/CEO, nccPA Health Foundation, Johns Creek, Georgia, and associate dean and professor emerita, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, Colorado.

Mr. Miller is senior director of education policy and strategy, Physician Assistant Education Association, Alexandria, Virginia, and distinguished professor, Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Shenandoah University, Winchester, Virginia.

Funding/Support: The nccPA Health Foundation’s workforce efforts were supported by funding from the Health Resources Services Administration Minimum Dataset Project, Bureau of Health Professions, National Center for Health Workforce Analysis.

Other disclosures: None.

Ethical approval: Not applicable.

Correspondence should be addressed to Ms. Glicken, nccPA Health Foundation, 12000 Findley Rd., Ste. 100, Johns Creek, GA 30097; telephone: (678) 417-8100; fax: (678) 417-8175; e-mail:

© 2013 by the Association of American Medical Colleges