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4 Problems Facing Physician Assistants that Prevent the Profession from Advancing

These problems prevent both individual PAs from advancing their careers and limit the growth of the profession as a whole.

Physician assistants (PAs) comprise one of the fastest-growing professions in the U.S.; every day, more young people choose to pursue this career. However, as with many healthcare professions, the path upward for PAs isn’t always clear-cut. Researchers at the Annual Health Workforce Research Conference (hosted by the Association of American Medical Colleges) addressed some of the challenges PAs face as individuals seeking to advance their careers and the profession as a whole.

Educational Limitations

Research has identified that PA students are often deterred by a lack of diversity when choosing a PA program to attend, especially female students and students from underrepresented minorities. Programs that fail to implement and prioritize a diverse student body limit themselves and the educational options for PAs, ultimately impeding the creation of a more equitable workforce overall. 

Practice Locations

Additional research found that PAs approaching retirement were much more likely than new PAs to work as primary care practitioners in rural/non-metro areas. Unfortunately, this means that younger PAs who relegate themselves to cities miss opportunities to take on more responsibility in healthcare settings.


Interestingly, younger PAs have higher rates of burnout than those approaching retirement. One explanation is that young people prefer to practice in cities, where the work could be draining. Regardless, keeping burnout at bay for younger care providers is crucial to maintaining a healthy workforce. Even with a hectic PA schedule, changes in one’s daily routine can add a layer of protection against burnout. Employers should be mindful of their staff’s work-life balance and keep benefits and compensation competitive.

Switching Employers and Telemedicine Limitations

Further research found that PAs increasingly change their employer on an annual basis. This equates to about 12% of PAs overall and 6% in specialty practice. In addition, after switching jobs, PAs tended to report higher levels of satisfaction, often due to better pay and benefits. Meanwhile, changing specialties can offer better work-life balance, preventing burnout while expanding skill sets and helping PAs find their passion in medicine.

Since the pandemic, the use of telemedicine has boomed. Unfortunately, only 8% of certified PAs use telemedicine, and most of this group does so less than 10 hours weekly. Living in an isolated, rural setting was a predicting factor for telemedicine use, which indicated that PAs in other areas aren’t considering the benefits of telemedicine. These benefits include a more efficient workflow, higher patient satisfaction, more revenue, and the ability to reach more patients.

That said, there’s so much career potential for PAs. A recent survey by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants found PA salaries have increased by 15% over the past six years alone. The increasing demand for PAs only means more opportunities for you to leave your professional mark.

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