Mar 06, 2013 9:00 AM

Author: Connie Goldgar, MS, PA-C


As our nation faces the biggest changes in health care in a century, the University of Utah Physician Assistant Program (UPAP) is helping fulfill a vision for both increased access and high quality of care for the people of Utah and the Intermountain West. At UPAP we have seen a steady increase in the stream of well-qualified applicants who hope to become physician assistants (PAs). This speaks directly to the growth in popularity and relevance of the PA profession as our health care system looks for new and cost-effective ways to manage the demand for health care services. With an increasing shortage of primary care physicians, an aging population, and greater numbers of Americans receiving health care under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), PAs will be needed more than ever. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the demand for employment of PAs will increase much faster than all other occupations by 2020. 

PAs are trained in the same medical model as physicians, with the PA curriculum based on a primary care foundation.  PAs also complete approximately 2,000 hours of clinical education. Because of this advanced generalist training, the PA profession is adaptable: PAs can work with physicians in primary care or medical and surgical specialties and sub-specialties to meet our country’s changing medical needs.  This practice model also integrates seamlessly into the patient-centered medical home and accountable care organization models that are expected to transform the U.S. health care system.

UPAP, similar to the majority of PA programs, grants a master’s degree, and requires 27 months for education. This allows fully prepared PAs to enter the workforce in a relatively short period of time into a myriad of clinical settings.  UPAP currently graduates 44 new PAs annually with approximately 50 percent of our graduates working in underserved or rural areas. PAs work in physician offices, hospitals, and clinics, with significant autonomy within the physician/PA relationship. In the primary care setting, PAs provide nearly all the clinical services that physicians provide, including performing physical exams, diagnosing and treating illnesses, and prescribing medications.

The PA profession is attractive for its adaptability to health care needs as well as the opportunity for a PA professional to be employed in primary care or specialties over the course of their career.  PAs are a critical component of any health care system that seeks to ensure both access to and quality of care.

physician assistants

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