Survey: PAs flip quickly between specialties

Physician assistants (PAs) tend to be much more flexible in changing specialties, MedPageToday reports.

PAs who have practiced for at least 10 years are likely to have switched specialties at least twice, according to the article. This data comes from a survey of 16,000 American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) members conducted last year. The full results will be published in March.

This flexibility suggests PAs could be key to easing the doctor shortage, as they do not need any additional certification to switch specialties, according to the article.

"When an individual [physician] is trained as a dermatologist and that's what they're boarded in, it is impossible for them to go into women's health or family practice," Larry Herman, a certified PA and AAPA president, told MedPageToday. "PAs with a generalist training are able to flip back and forth based upon need. We can pivot very, very quickly." 

For example, Herman began his career in emergency medicine before switching to family practice and eventually teaching at the New York Institute of Technology, according to the article.

Moreover, the PA field is growing, the article states. The workforce has grown 34 percent in the past seven years, and nearly 100,000 PAs are currently practicing. The real challenge, Herman said, is incentivizing PAs to switch to specialties affected by the shortage. "It's tough to force people to go into particular fields," he said. "You can encourage them through things like loan repayment, salary [and] quality-of-life issues."

Nearly one-third of PAs practice in primary care, the survey found, and 37 percent practice in medically underserved areas. In those areas, PAs have stepped up to provide services like counseling and testing, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

In December, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) began allowing PAs and their collaborating physicians to determine PAs' autonomy, and nursing groups are now lobbying for advanced practice nurses to be given similar leeway.

To learn more:
- read the article