By David Pittman
Physician assistants (PAs) who have practiced for more than 10 years tend to have switched specialties at least twice, making them more nimble than physicians in easing provider shortages, new data show.
“It is common, very common, for PAs to change their specialty multiple times during their careers,” Larry Herman, RPA-C, MPA, president of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), told MedPage Today.
Herman, for example, first practiced in emergency medicine before moving to family practice, and is now teaching at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, N.Y.
Results showing that it is not unusual for PAs to switch specialties come from a survey of AAPA members given last year. More than 16,000 PAs responded to the question, “How many times did you change specialties since completing your PA training program?”
“Results from their answers show that a PA that has been in practice 10 years or more tends to have switched specialties at least two times,” an AAPA spokesman said.
Full results from the survey will be released in March.
The results suggest that PAs, who don’t need any additional certification to switch specialties, could be a better tool for addressing shortages of specialty providers.
“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,” Herman said. “PAs with a generalist training are able to flip back and forth based upon need. We can pivot very, very quickly.”
However, getting PAs to practice in fields where more providers may be needed is another problem.
“The first thing any healthcare workforce expert would say is it’s tough to force people to go into particular fields,” Herman said. “You can encourage them through things like loan repayment, salary, quality-of-life issues.”
The AAPA survey also found that 37 percent of PAs work in medically underserved counties. Nearly a third (32 percent) practice in primary care.
Since 2006, the PA workforce has grown 34 percent with more than 95,000 practicing today, the AAPA said.
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