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J Allied Health. 2007 Fall;36(3):121-30.

Growth and change in the physician assistant workforce in the United States, 1967-2000.

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MEDEX Northwest, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


The physician assistant (PA) profession grew rapidly in the 1970s and 1990s. As acceptance of PAs in the health care system increased, roles for PAs in specialty care took shape and the scope of PA practice became more clearly defined. This report describes key elements of change in the demography and distribution of the PA population between 1967 and 2000, as well as the spread of PA training programs. Individual-level data from the American Academy of Physician Assistants, supplemented with county-level aggregate data from the Area Resource File, were used to describe the emergence of the PA profession between 1967 and 2000. Data on 49,641 PAs who had completed training by 2000 were analyzed. More than half (52.4%) of PAs active in 2000 were women. PA participation in the rural workforce remains high, with more than 18% of PAs practicing in rural settings, compared with about 20% in 1980. Primary care participation appears to have stabilized at about 47% among active PAs for whom specialty is known. By 2000, 51.5% of practicing PAs had been trained in the states where they worked. The profession has grown rapidly; 56% of all PAs were trained between 1991 and 2000. In 2000, more than 42% of accredited PA programs offered a master's degree, compared to master's degree programs in 1986. Although many critical issues of scope of practice and patient and physician acceptance of PAs have been resolved, the PA profession remains young and continues to evolve. Whether the historical contribution of PAs to primary care for rural and underserved populations can be sustained in the face of increasing specialization and higher-level academic credentialing is not clear.

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