Physician Assistants are health care professionals licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of physicians. Physician assistants are referred to as physician extenders and midlevel practitioners. Their practice includes all elements of patient care including taking medical histories, completing examinations, ordering diagnostic tests, and providing medical care including the prescription of medications. Physician assistants may care for a wide variety of patients, assist in surgery, or specialize in one of a wide variety of practice areas in conjunction with their supervising physician.
The American Association of Medical College Center (AAMC) for Workforce Studies reports the demand for physician services is increasing rapidly as the nation's population continues to age, grow, live longer and have more chronic illnesses that require increased medical attention. Physician assistants are part of the solution to help alleviate shortages in states where the distribution of physician providers is problematic.
In 2011 Forbes Magazine gave the physician assistant graduate degree a first-place ranking for the "best long-term opportunity" master's degree based on salary and employment outlook, citing, in part, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projection of a 39.7 percent increase in positions for PAs by 2018. According to a 2009 American Academy of Physician Assistants job survey, the mean salary for PAs working at least 32 hours per week was $93,100.
- In 2008, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projected a 39.7% increase in positions for physician assistants by 2018 due to the expansion of the health care industry and cost containment.
- The AAMC projects a shortage of 124,000 physicians in 2025 with the greatest shortages in general primary care and surgical specialties.
- One in three physicians in the United States is 55 years or older and nearing retirement age. In addition, younger physicians and female physicians are working fewer hours than men to accommodate their work-life choices.
- Much of the demand in Iowa is to help meet the need in the primary care workforce as 72 counties are considered underserved as of January 2012.
- According to a 2007 task force established by the University of Iowa's Health Care leaders, the aging population in the state of Iowa will alter the demand for physician services. The five specialties perceived to be in greatest need included internal medicine, orthopedic surgery, cardiology, psychiatry and neurosurgery. These are all areas where physician assistants provide support.
- Physician assistants may also help alleviate shortages in states where the distribution of physician providers is problematic. The state of Illinois is "in danger of being unable to meet even the most pressing healthcare needs" according to the 2010 Illinois Physician Workforce report by the Illinois Hospital Association, Illinois State Medical Society, and Northwestern University's Fienberg School of Medicine. The report indicates that one-half of graduating Illinois medical residents and fellows are leaving the state and that only 1.5% of the residents planned to practice in rural settings.