Job opportunities for physician assistants (PAs) are increasing for both medical and surgical subspecialties by 47%, suggesting that these clinicians are expanding into areas other than primary care, according to a study published in American Academy of Physician Assistants.1

Job posting data for PAs was supplied by Burning Glass Technologies; the research team then coded this data to identify practice specialty. Postings open to both nurse practitioners (NPs) and PAs were included, but postings in Guam and Puerto Rico, non-clinical positions, temporary positions, and positions for which researchers could not determine a specialty were excluded.

The primary outcome was the proportion of job postings in primary care in both 2014 and 2016 compared with job postings for PAs in a specialty. Researchers evaluated 32,539 postings in 2014 and approximately 48,000 postings in 2016.  Specialties were broken down into medical subspecialties, surgical subspecialties, emergency/urgent care, setting-specific specialty, and other, which consisted of pediatric medical and surgical subspecialties, pathology, and public health.

The study authors found that 18% of job postings for PAs in 2014 advertised jobs in primary care, but the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) reported that 27% of PAs worked in primary care in 2014.2 Similarly, in 2016, the NCCPA reported that 28% of PAs occupied jobs in primary care, while the study authors found that only 19% of postings were for primary care positions.


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Surgical and medical subspecialties made up >50% of postings in both 2014 and 2016. One of the fastest growing medical subspecialties for PAs as of 2016 was psychiatry; for every existing position, more than 2 PAs were sought. Postings for PAs in psychology doubled from 3% of all PA job postings in 2014 to 6% in 2016.

Hospital medicine and cardiology made up a large portion of medical subspecialty opportunities for PAs but did not experience the same growth as psychiatry. In 2016, there were 0.8 postings for every filled PA position in hospital medicine and 0.6 postings for every filled position in cardiology.

The study authors noted that this knowledge may be helpful to PAs seeking to change jobs or plan their careers, educators guiding students, and employers looking to make competitive offers.

“Strong demand in some specialties, such as psychiatry and hospital medicine, reflects wider trends in the healthcare environment and in society,” concluded the authors. “Future work should analyze trends in specialty distribution of online job postings,” researchers said.

References

  1. Rana R, Blazar M, Jones Q, Butterfield R, Everett C, Morgan P. PA job availability in primary care during 2014 and 2016. JAAPA. 2020;33(7):38-43.
  2. National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. 2017 Statistical Profile of Certified Physician Assistants. https://prodcmsstoragesa.blob.core.windows.net/uploads/files/2017StatisticalProfileofCertifiedPhysicianAssistants%206.27.pdf. Published 2018. Accessed July 13, 2020