Percentage of physician assistants who work in primary care is declining

February 19, 2013

The nation's looming shortage of primary care physicians has been well-documented and much-debated, but what about a shortage of physician assistants in primary care?

The nation's looming shortage of primary care physicians (PCPs) has been well-documented and much-debated, but what about a shortage of physician assistants in primary care?

The percentage of physician assistants (PAs) working in primary care fell to 31% in 2010 from 51% in 1996, according to a study published in the January/February edition of The Annals of Family Medicine.

The trend of PAs choosing careers in specialties over primary care mirrors what's been happening with doctors in recent years, the researchers note. From the physicians' perspective, careers in primary care are often less desirable because they're perceived as providing poorer work-life balance and lower compensation than specialities.

The researchers behind the PA study said their goal for undertaking the project involved identifying the demographic characteristics associated with PAs who are more likely to chose primary care. Doing so could help boost efforts designed to attract more PAs to primary care, the researchers said.

"Our findings support prior research that indicates that women, older clinicians, and Hispanics are more likely to practice in primary care," the researchers wrote.

So how do the researchers recommend solving the problem of fewer PAs choosing primary care? They note that the same types of actions that are likely to increase the percentage of PCPs are also the best bet for boosting the percentage of PAs in primary care. That means hiking primary care reimbursement, offering loan repayment assistance, and expanding state and federal programs aimed at increasing the primary care workforce.

The study defines primary care as family medicine, general internal medicine, and general pediatrics.

The researchers obtained data for the study from the American Academy of Physician Assistants' 2009 annual census survey.

 

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