Physician Assistant Workforce – Will the Supply Meet the Demand?

Guest Blog – COMP Health – FEBRUARY 2012

Lisa P. Shock, MHS, PA-C

President/CEO Utilization Solutions in Healthcare, Inc.

CompHealth Consultant

PATimes are changing.  It is refreshing and exciting to see college students now declare that they want to be a PA in the future.  This is certainly different from just 15 years ago when I was on my journey toward a PA career as a student in the Duke PA program.  This year, 17,000 PA applicants are estimated to be competing for 5,550 seats nationwide.  There is a significant proliferation of PA programs all across the country, and NC is no exception going from 4 programs to 8 within the next year.

Most PA leaders will agree that much more data is needed on PA contributions to the health care workforce, as research is small but growing.  If you recall our CompHealth webinar last year on meeting the challenges of health care reform.

Dr. Therus Kolff and I discussed some of the changes that have occurred in the health care workforce resulting in increased utilization of PAs and NPs on clinical teams.

In the 1960’s studies began to indicate we would not have enough primary care physicians, particularly in rural areas.  As primary care demands grew, so did the demand for primary care PAs and NPs.   As physician specialties were “stressed” by a flat supply but increasing demand, opportunities grew for mid level providers not only in primary care, but across more specialties as well.

Cooper et al (see reference 1) projected  “provider shortages” in the range of 150,000 to 200,000 by 2020.  The AAMC (American Association of Medical Colleges) predicts only a shortfall of “91,500” by 2020. NP & PA programs have not been able to ramp up and fully supplement the decreasing physician supply (in this case provider supply) even when you add in the increasing numbers of PAs & NPs.

At the community level there remains a Physician and PA and NP shortage.  How will educational programs meet the demand?  More programs are taking advantage of federal training grants to assist program expansion but clinical training and preceptor sites remain a challenge to recruit even at established, existing programs.

You can help by encouraging and supporting clinical providers to precept students.  Ensuring quality health care education for learners is critical to the success of this overall system expansion.  All of us currently in established clinical roles gained training and experience from our teachers and clinical preceptors.

Are you doing your part to help the greater system?  What do you think about the proliferation of programs nationwide?



Cooper, Richard A. New Directions for Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants in the Era of Physician Shortages. Academic Medicine, Vol. 82, No. 9 / September 2007.


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Lisa P. Shock, MHS, PA-C, CompHealth consultant, is a seasoned PA who has worked with clients to expand care teams in both large and small hospital settings. She enjoys part time clinical primary care practice, is a preceptor for both PA and NP students, and is the President and CEO of Utilization Solutions in Healthcare – a specialty consultant company for physician practices and hospitals, offering a wide range of services to help implement and improve upon the utilization of PAs and NPs in the health care system. Contact her at



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