National PA (physician assistant) Week is from Oct. 6 through Oct. 12 every year. In addition to recognizing the important work that PAs do every day, this week also gives the healthcare community a chance to look at the growth of the PA profession.
As we celebrate PAs, it’s important to recognize some of the biggest milestones from the past year, while looking ahead at what the future may hold.
Increasing Autonomy in North Dakota and Other States
Carrie Munk, Vice President of Communications for the American Academy of PAs (AAPA), explains that the passage of H.B. 1175 in North Dakota is the biggest milestone for the profession in the last year. Signed into law on April 5, H.B. 1175 gives PAs more freedom to practice, while increasing patients’ access to care.
“This year, North Dakota became the first state to enable nearly all PAs in the state to practice without a specific relationship with a physician,” Munk tells Florence Health.
H.B. 1175 eliminated the requirement that PAs must have written agreements with physicians, and it got rid of physicians being responsible for the care that PAs provide. In addition, the law now allows PAs to have their own approved practices.
Munk believes that other states will likely follow North Dakota’s lead in making the necessary changes to improve healthcare delivery and give PAs more autonomy.
Some states, like West Virginia, have already moved in that direction this year. The governor of West Virginia signed SB 668 in March, which removed the requirement that PAs working in hospitals must have agreements with specific physicians.
Providing a Solution for Primary Care Shortages
Many of the changes in the PA profession focus on improving the team-based patient care equation and providing a solution for primary care shortages across the country. According to a report from the UnitedHealth Group, 44 million Americans live in an area with a primary care shortage, meaning there’s less than one primary care physician for 2,000 people.
“PAs are seeking to enhance team practice and at the same time, patient care, as fully capable healthcare providers and a ready solution to primary care shortages,” Munk says.
The Indian Health Service (IHS), which is a federal health program for American Indians and Alaska Natives, is also facing serious healthcare staff shortages with a vacancy rate of 25 percent. The IHS has recognized the value of the PA profession in helping eliminate these shortages this year.
“At the federal level, the Indian Health Service, an operating division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, also acknowledged the benefits to more progressive PA practice policies, updating its manual to make it easier for PAs to provide care to patients,” Munk adds.
The IHS now recognizes PAs as full members of the medical team. It has eliminated the need for supervision or physician co-signature requirements on prescriptions written by PAs.
Growth in PA Wages and Job Opportunities
In August, the AAPA released its 2019 AAPA salary report, as well as compensation numbers for the profession nationwide. The salary report showed the median base salary for PAs went up 1 percent, increasing from $105,000 in 2017 to $106,000 in 2018. Munk points out that the salary is outpacing inflation.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) also has a positive outlook on the PA profession’s future. The BLS expects PA employment to grow by 37 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average. It also predicts an additional 37,000 new jobs during this time period.
In addition, this year, U.S. News & World Report ranked the PA profession number one in best healthcare jobs. It ranked higher than dentist, orthodontist, nurse anesthetist and nurse practitioner.
A Bright Future as Valued Team Members
“The future is bright for PAs. Employers are increasingly recognizing the value the PA workforce brings to healthcare teams,” Munk says, adding that employers gain a lot of value from PAs for multiple reasons.
First, despite being one of the highest paying healthcare jobs, PAs cost less to employ than physicians. Second, PAs improve efficiencies in the workplace, especially when they can practice to the full extent of their education, training and experience.
Healthcare providers, too, are noticing the benefits of working with PAs. In 2017, the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) reported that 78 percent of better-performing practices employ APPs (advanced practice providers), including PAs. Last year, the MGMA found that primary care practices that employ more PAs and other APPs have greater healthcare revenue and productivity than those that don’t.
As we celebrate National PA week, make sure you thank the PAs in your life for everything they do. PAs are a vital part of the healthcare system, and they play a crucial role in improving patients’ health.
Indian Health Service: Agency Faces Ongoing Challenges Filling Provider Vacancies, GAO U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The Most Comprehensive PA Salary Resource, American Academy of Physician Assistants.
U.S. News Announces the 2019 Best Jobs, U.S. News & World Report.