As physician assistants increase, some schools expand programs

The growing physician assistant (PA) field has led some medical schools to expand their PA programs in order to offset the looming physician shortage.

Northern Arizona University will use a recent $1.5 million grant to expand teaching space for its program, according to the Arizona Daily Sun. Demand was already high for the program, according to Richard W. Dehn, founding chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies. "This year, I think we had about 800 applications for 50 spots," Dehn told the Sun. "There's a lot of applicants."

Meanwhile, Lynchburg College in Virginia will launch a PA master's degree program next summer, with the help of a $250,000 investment from Centra Health, Lynchburg's largest provider, according to WDBJ7. "The gift from Centra will go a long way toward allowing our program to have state-of-the-art task trainers and technology for the training of our students as we move forward with the program," Jeremy Welsh, M.D., department chair and program director for the college's Master of Physician Assistant Medicine program, told the news outlet.

The number of certified PAs increased steeply in the last decade, according to the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants' (NCCPA) 2013 Statistical Profile of Physician Assistants. Between 2003 and 2013, the profession saw a 219 percent increase, according to NCCPA research. Approximately two-thirds of PAs are women, most of whom are under 40 years old, according to the NCCPA, and about the same percentage have master's degrees, according to the survey.

Many PAs already fill gaps in the healthcare system. Some provide care such as counseling and tests in areas where physicians are few and far between, FierceHealthcare previously reported. A bill this year in Florida proposed increasing the number of PAs under a physician's supervision from four to eight.

To learn more:
- read the Daily Sun article
- here's the WDBJ7 article
- check out the NCCPA survey (.pdf)