Which Medical Specialty Continues to Grow?

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PES-thumb5In the past year, the idea of physician extenders being given more autonomy and responsibility within healthcare systems has gained great momentum, and they have become integral to the future of the American healthcare delivery system. We’ve noted before that extenders are expected to help ease the burden of the physician-shortage crisis and to relieve physicians from some of the responsibilities under which they’re burdened right now.

Perhaps no state in the country is more representative of this trend than North Carolina. In 2009, writes Dwight Davis in The Dispatch, there were only 3,500 physician assistants in the state. Now, there are over 5,000, and the North Carolina Medical Board sees no end in sight for this rapid growth in PA jobs either.

“The NCMB expects the growth of PAs will continue, along with the much larger physician licensee population, which has grown about 10 percent over the past five years,” Davis reports.

Why such impressive growth in North Carolina? There are several reasons, but chief among them is the “more flexible lifestyle and dynamic workplace” that simply doesn’t exist for most physicians, as the increasing demand among newly graduated medical students for a better work-life balance shows.

Jennifer Chapman, who is employed as a PA at North Davidson Center for Family Health, can attest to this fact after seeing what her physician husband endured in his field.

“Quite honestly, I saw what my husband was going through in medical school,” she said. “I wanted the best of both worlds. That’s the beauty of the profession.”

This growth in North Carolina PA jobs is due in no small part to the state housing some of the top PA training programs in the country.

“In fact,” writes Davis, “the NCMB lists four in-state PA programs among the top five in the country: Wake Forest School of Medicine; Duke University School of Medicine; East Carolina University; Methodist College.”

Furthermore, the laws and regulations in North Carolina are very welcoming to PAs. As a result, most PAs in the state work in metropolitan areas. Very few are found in rural areas.

According to Reamer Bushardt, professor chairman of the department of physician studies at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, “PA students generally tend to settle and begin practice in the regions in which they are trained, and most are trained in the metro areas. That’s the primary reason there are few PAs in rural areas.”

He said, “PAs can be used to extend the reach and access for patients by teaming up with physicians who are in areas of critical need, underserved communities.”

Bushardt also expects the demands of the Affordable Care Act, the influx of newly insured patients, and the physician-shortage crisis to continue contributing to this growth in the PA job market in North Carolina.

How has the role of the physician extender been expanded within your organization as reform has been implemented? Are you looking to recruit more physician assistants and nurse practitioners to your organization? What are some of the greatest benefits that extenders bring to your program?

-by Pete Fernbaugh

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