Physician Assistant Workforce – A Noted Shift in Gender Demographics

Written by on December 31, 2012 in Practice tips - No comments

A 2011 article published in HealthLeaders Media comments on the Physician Assistant workforce experiencing a 100% increase in the last 10 years.   I am often fond of saying that PAs are like type O blood – we can practice in every specialty and in every medical practice setting.  It is not surprising that practices and health care systems are utilizing us more to deliver high quality, cost effective medical care.

One of the largest trends I have seen over my career is the change in demographics.  According to the AAPA, female PAs outnumber male PAs by nearly 20,000 and this is evidenced in the student applicant pool as well.  Factors including lifestyle, flexibility, and family planning have all contributed to this shift.

My colleague, L. Gail Curtis, MPAS, PA-C, DFAAPA, published a recent article entitled, From “old boys” to “all girls”: Changing PA demographics, highlighting and chronicling the gender shift in PAs since the onset of the profession.  Job satisfaction remains high for Physician Assistants.  A recent article ranked PAs in the top 7% of all jobs for job satisfaction.

Another recent article published in July of 2012 declares that the average female primary care physician would be better off financially if she had become a physician assistant.  When examining and comparing the earnings of male and female physicians, male physicians earn more per hour relative to male PAs than female physicians earn relative to female PAs. The significant difference comes from an hours gap. The vast majority of male physicians under the age of 55 work substantially more than the standard 40 hour work week. In contrast, most female physicians work between 2 to 10 hours fewer than this per week.  Even though both male and female physicians both earn higher wages than their PA counterparts, most female doctors don’t work enough hours at those wages to financially justify the costs of doctoral training.

My prediction is that the PA profession will continue with another 100% doubling in the next 10 years.  Health reform initiatives will increase the number of patients that need care.  The only way the US healthcare system can absorb the huge changes we have been talking about is through more efficient utilization of all resources – and when it comes to the actual delivery of care by providers it will have to be through more efficient teams. The growth in the number and size of PA training programs has been substantial, with more than 5,300 graduates projected in 2010, and although the number of PAs in clinical practice could reach 110,000 by 2015, this remains less than one PA for every five medical and surgical specialists.


By Lisa P. Shock, MHS, PA-C
President/CEO Utilization Solutions in Healthcare, Inc.

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