Unlike physicians in primary care, the number of physician assistants and nurse practitioners are on the rise. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, there were 74,100 physician assistants in practice in 2008, the most recent census available. It's projected to be the second-fastest-growing health profession, after home health aides, in the coming decade. As of 2010, there are 135,000 practicing nurse practitioners, according to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, with an additional 8,000 being added to the ranks each year.
And nowhere are they needed more than in rural areas. According to the policy journal Health Affairs, 21 percent of the nation's population lives in rural America, but only 10 percent of the doctors practice there.