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Physician assistants could be the cure to doctor shortage

Lana Bandoim's picture
Physician assistants

The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that there will be a shortage of 90,000 doctors by 2020. The combination of aging doctors who are getting closer to retirement and a higher demand for their services is creating a problem. However, physician assistants offer an alternative that can help the shortage.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has found more than 5,000 primary care health professional shortage areas around the country. Rural and underprivileged areas have greater shortages that can make getting care a nightmare for local residents. However, physician assistants may be the key to fixing the shortage while providing care to neglected parts of the country. According to ephysicianassistants.com, the profession is expected to grow 30 percent by 2020.

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The shortage is already affecting hospitals and clinics, and the Garfield County Hospital in Pomeroy is a perfect example. The Union-Bulletin reports that the hospital has a serious staffing shortage that has forced it to cut down on emergency room hours. The rural area is having a difficult time attracting doctors, so the hospital plans to hire physician assistants. Meanwhile, residents are being forced to deal with an ER that is closed on the weekends and has limited hours during the weekdays.

Physician assistants (PAs) are licensed professionals who must complete their education at an accredited program and receive clinical training. Most PAs work under the supervision of doctors and surgeons, and they can be found in hospitals, clinics, private settings and other work environments. Physician assistants are able to conduct medical exams, order tests, interpret test results, provide treatment, diagnose patients, prescribe medications and carry out other duties.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that physician assistants will see a higher demand for their jobs as more medical establishments realize they are a cost-effective way to solve the doctor shortage. PAs are already being pushed into the role of primary care givers in many parts of the country. The Institute of Medicine believes increasing the use of physician assistants will help.