The evolution of the physician assistant

don't hesitate to consider this career choice

The first physician assistant program debuted at Duke University in 1965. Since that time, these professional roles have evolved considerably, with physician assistants taking on more responsibility and expanding their practice duties. The United States recognized the need for more health care providers, especially in primary care, and that problem continues to exist. As demand for health care services grows, physician assistants may become more critical to patient care.

Increasing Autonomy

Over time, physician assistants, or PAs, have assumed more responsibilities in medical settings. They exercise greater autonomy as they work with their physician partners, and they can make decisions that rely on their medical training and experience.

For example, physician assistants can now prescribe medications, issue diagnoses, and consult patients by themselves. Most states require them to work under a licensed physician's supervision, but doctors don't stand over their shoulders while they treat patients. Additionally, in some states, physician assistants can create medical orders without a physician's co-signature.

Opportunities to Specialize

Originally, physician assistants worked in rural areas or in primary care facilities due to the demand for health care professionals in those settings. Today, however, these professionals can specialize in more specific health care pursuits. If you're interested in treating children, you can work as a pediatric PA to fulfill your career goals.

Some of the most lucrative specialties for PAs include dermatology, emergency medicine, and orthopedics. You can earn more than $100,000 per year in these positions, which puts you on par with many doctors' salaries. Plus, you'll gain specialized experience that can help you in your future endeavors.

Greater Educational Opportunities

Most physician assistants increase their salaries with experience. However, you can also get an income boost if you pursue continuing education opportunities. You'll have to devote several hours to continuing medical education, or CME, based on your state's requirements, but going above and beyond these requirements can increase your salary potential.

The American Academy of Physician Assistants recommends federal initiatives, such as those dealing with oral health, diabetes leadership, and care for veterans. Gaining this education might open up opportunities in specialized fields while increasing your value to a clinical practice.

Increased Demand

The aging population has increased the demand for primary care and emergency care physician assistants. Baby boomers have reached retirement age, and they need more care as their lists of prescribed medications grow and they experience serious health issues.

Additionally, President Obama's health care law has given more people access to health insurance. As a result, more people are flooding doctors' offices and hospitals in search of treatment where, before, they would have stayed home to avoid the costs. As the demand grows, physician assistants play an increasingly intimate role in patient care, often fulfilling the same duties as their physician supervisors.

If you're a physician assistant or considering this career choice, don't hesitate. You won't have to endure as many years of education as physicians, but you'll still work in one-on-one interactions with patients to resolve their health issues and improve their quality of life.