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Nothing but the Facts on the Physician Assistant Profession

Students who want to start a career in the physician assistant profession may ask themselves why they do not just go to medical school instead! Well, they could answer that question quite handily by simply reminding themselves that the schooling they will have to put themselves through will actually cost about 50 percent that of a regular doctor’s, and students wanting to become physician assistants can complete their schooling in about two years. Now, compare that to a physician who has to dedicate several years to schooling, and it becomes easier and easier to see why a career in this profession is so desirable.

History of Physician Assistants

Believe it or not, the physician assistant profession actually goes all the way back to Peter the Great in the 1650s! During his era, records show that there were actually numerous military medical assistants who served in his Russian army. Fast-forward to World War II: Dr. Eugene Stead Jr. succeeded in coming up with a curriculum format to speed up the training of doctors to only a three-year timeframe.

However, it was between the years of 1961 and 1972 that the physician assistant role came into greater focus. 1967 marked a milestone for the physician assistant profession as Dr. Stead Jr. came up with the 1st physician assistant program at Duke University. Dr. Stead Jr. relied upon the same format that he came up with to train World War II-era doctors because he determined that there was a requirement for mid-level healthcare pros to assist the services that doctors were providing patients. Going forward from 1967, more and more physician assistant programs were springing up, which in turn caused the physician assistant professional organization called the American Academy of Physician Assistants to spring up in 1968. Another milestone for the physician assistant profession occurred in 1970 when Kaiser Permanent actually became the 1st HMO to hire physician assistants. Yet another milestone for physician assistants happened only the following year when Montifiore Medical Center started the 1st postgraduate surgical residency program for physician assistants.

Also in 1971, the American Medical Association Committee’s on Allied Health Education and Accreditation came up with guidelines for training programs; the program accreditation procedure was also begun. In 1973, the 1st conference of the AAPA was held, and the very 1st certifying examination was provided in the same year. 1975 saw the incorporation of the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. 1981 marked the very 1st time that a recertification examination was offered. In 1985, the number of physician assistants had swelled to 10,000 across the whole U.S. The following year saw another first in the profession as the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants was published.

During the 1990s, the quantity of physician assistant programs increased twofold, and both talk as well as actual implementation of master degree-level programs began to take shape. In 1993, 26,400 physician assistants were working, and that number swelled to 45,000 in 2002. Currently, 149 programs are operating in the U.S., and 79,706 physician assistant grads were approved to practice by 2009.

Future of Physician Assistants

To put it plainly, the future of the physician assistant profession looks quite bright. If there is doubt about this assertion, then people should take a look at stats that come from none other than the U.S. Bureau of Labors Statistics. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has said that the physician assistant occupation was the 12th fastest-growing career choice from 2000 until 2010! This rosy outlook can be traced back to two things.

First of all, when community-based attending doctors failed to be satisfactorily paid for their hospital rounds, they allowed physician assistants to take over these rounds more and more, thus permitting them to work out of their offices more. As they worked more out of their offices, they got better reimbursement, and this also allowed physician assistants to increasingly take over as hospitalists.

Second of all, back in 2003, there were new laws passed that imposed restrictions on the quantity of hours that residents and interns could work. As a result, there was a decrease by up to a quarter in the quantity of inpatient coverage that was offered by house staff per patient. Since many residents and interns were actually house physicians, these new laws impacted hospitals a lot. However, a lot of hospital administrators had the shrewd idea that physician assistants could actually replace both residents and interns.

Exciting Career?

Is the physician assistant profession an exciting career? Of course, it is! Although physician assistants can only work, in most cases, under the supervision of real doctors, they do work independent of them and in collaboration with them in many situations. As a matter of fact, physician assistants do a lot of what real doctors do, such as doing a physical exam of patients, formulating a diagnosis as well as a treatment plan and even helping in surgery. It may be surprising, but some physician assistants actually have their own practice and hire actual supervising doctors to work for them! Further, a new graduate in this field can actually already pull in an attractive physician assistant salary of $76,232 per year, which is hardly bad. Based on experience and practice area, some of them can even earn more than $100,000 per year!

So as is obvious, the physician assistant job is not only ever-growing and expanding, but it also is a profession that is quite exciting and rewarding, both professionally and monetarily. This profession has come a long way since it first started on the Russian battlefield and as part of Peter the Great’s Russian army a few centuries ago. This occupation really started to take off, at least in the U.S., after World War II, when Dr. Eugene Stead Jr. began seeing a niche that could be filled by mid-level healthcare professionals who would assist doctors. Since then, the field of physician assistants has only continued to grow unabated, and today, it is one of the better jobs in the healthcare area.

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