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.