A high employment rate, an acceptable student debt-to-salary ratio, and the evolution toward value-based and retail-based care delivery models suggest that the PA profession is on the rise.
The median salary for physician assistants across the United States is about $95,000 a year, and they're shouldering a median $112,500 in educational debt, according to a new state-by-state survey from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.
Dawn Morton-Rias, PA-C, president and CEO of NCCPA, calls that debt-to-salary ratio acceptable.
"We remain concerned. You worry about the cost, and the cost is higher than it was 20 years ago, as everything has increased," Morton-Rias says.
"Fortunately, the employability and salary range upon graduation still makes that ratio manageable. There is a good return on investment, in terms of employability, salary, transferring across the disciplines and across the nation to work in a lot of areas. It is still a very good investment of time and money."
Morton-Rias says the nation's 108,500 physician assistants are on average about 38 years old, and they're poised to fill the gaps created with the expected "gray tsunami" retirement of Baby Boomer clinicians.
"We are seeing a huge growth in the profession, now having 199 PA programs throughout the United States and a growing number of institutions looking to develop educational programs," she says. "The high employment rate, and the early transitions into employment upon graduation of new graduates suggest that this is a profession that is on the rise and is continuing to be well respected. Back in the day when I became a PA my dad asked if I was able to get a job with this. I only wish he could see the profession now to see how it has taken off."
Morton-Rias says PAs are well-placed to take advantage of the sea change of transitions in healthcare delivery that include the evolution toward value-based and retail-based care delivery models.
"One of the most important assets in an industry such as healthcare that is changing rapidly is to be nimble, to be able to have a core solid knowledge and skill base upon which to draw, and the ability to meet needs," she says.
"That comes from a broad-based high-level and intense educational background, a rigorous clinical training and certification process and re-certifications processes that keep you on your toes and require that you maintain a deep and active fount of knowledge. It is a rigorous process, [requiring] lifelong learning."
John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.