Just like doctors, physician assistants can assess and treat patients. While PAs frequently work in collaboration with physicians, they bring many unique advantages to a practice.
In 2015, there were nearly 110,000 physician assistants employed across the country. This profession is growing in popularity, and it is estimated that the market will increase by 30% in less than a decade. These individuals can work across a range of practice areas, from family medicine and dermatology to surgery and other hospital settings. Just like doctors, PAs can use their broad spectrum of knowledge alongside a general practitioner, or they can choose to specialize in a particular area, such as women’s health, primary care, cardiology or orthopedics.
Physicians and PAs also share the function of patient assessment and treatment; both can diagnose illnesses and prescribe a recommended course of care, including medications. While physicians and PAs simulate one another and even collaborate on a variety of levels, there are some distinct advantages that PAs bring to the table.
1. They Are Highly Qualified In Half The Time
Despite the difference in pay between PAs and physicians, they are both highly educated in their respective fields. Typically, PAs undergo approximately 3 years of educational instruction through a certified physician assistant program. Before they can even apply, however, they must possess certain academic prerequisites that are similar to a pre-medical program for doctors. Additionally, there is a requirement for hands-on experience, which means that many PAs have years of training in the medical field, including everything from EMTs to lab assistants.
While the training requirement is shorter than that of a typical medical degree, PAs have the advantage of beginning their careers more quickly than doctors. This has helped ease the burden of healthcare organizations that are in competition when it comes to hiring physicians. So, while some may question the difference in quality of care, many studies have shown that PAs bring excellent clinical outcomes and high patient satisfaction to any healthcare organization.
2. They Are Flexible
Nearly any area of practice that hires physicians can also employ a physician assistant. While PAs have traditionally been engaged in primary care, this trend is changing. Now the vast majority of individuals in this profession are choosing to specialize in a particular field. Even organizations in the most delicate practice areas, such as vascular surgery, are now hiring physician assistants to help round out their firms.
Additionally, PAs are trained to work both independently and as a part of a team. Not only can they examine and diagnose clients without supervision but they also can collaborate with doctors, nurses, and the healthcare organization as a whole. They can provide help where it is needed the most, whether that means working directly with a physician or being an extension of his or her services.
3. They Reduce Costs
Though they can both examine patients and prescribe treatment plans, physician assistants cost less than hiring a physician. A physician who practices family medicine makes an average of $195,000 per year. This number increases to nearly $285,000 for doctors who specialize in a particular field. Comparatively, according to the United States Department of Labor, physician assistants make a median of about $98,000 per year. As such, by hiring a PA, employers will receive many of the same benefits as hiring a physician but for less than half of the cost.
Healthcare organizations that would like to see the benefits of hiring a physician assistant without the long-term commitment are encouraged to consider Locum Tenens work. Additionally, physician assistants who are looking to gain experience in a particular specialty could also benefit from seeking Locum Tenens work. To get started, please contact the National Association of Locum Tenens Organizations, or a NALTO member.