A profession in demand: physician assistant

March 5, 2014 —

Katrina Engerle.jpg

Katrina Enderle, a 2013 graduate of DMU’s PA program, provides patient care in the clinic and emergency room of Prairie Ridge Hospital in Minnesota, and she also recently created a diabetes management program. Photo: C.A. Ray, Grant County Herald, Elbow Lake, MN.

While demand is rising for many types of health care professionals, some of the hottest demand anticipated in coming years is for physician assistants (PAs).

For a recent article posted on HealthLeaders Media, reporter John Commins talked with a number of health care recruiters and concluded, “There is no corner of the health care job market that is hotter now than the search for physician assistants.” One recruiter told him that PA searches “are up 127 percent year-over-year,” a jump that he called “insane.”

A bit of background: Physician assistants are nationally certified and state-licensed to practice medicine as part of a team with a supervising physician. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), they “perform physical examinations, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret lab tests, perform procedures, assist in surgery, provide patient education and counseling and make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes.” They also prescribe medications. And they learn how to do that with a rigorous, intense course of study that, among PA education programs, averages 27 months in length.

Several reasons explain why demand for PAs is exploding, Commins reported:

  • Overall need for health care providers persists in rural areas, and now large integrated health systems are hiring them “in mass numbers.”
  • So are retail clinics like CVS and Walgreens.
  • PAs “provide excellent bang for the buck” for health systems: The AAPA reports their nationwide median salary is $90,000, compared to the average base salary of $185,000 for primary care physicians.
  • Regardless of that salary gap, PAs achieve high patient satisfaction levels and other positive outcomes.
  • Compared to physicians who seek board certification in specialties, such as dermatology, PAs who are trained as generalists are more professionally nimble. That means they can respond more easily to workforce and health care needs.

For individuals interested in becoming health care providers, physician assistant is a great profession to consider. DMU offers an exceptional PA program – check it out here.


Endlessly curious and easily entertained, Barb Dietrich Boose loves being a member of the friendly, fascinating DMU community and its creative communications team. The University's publications director and DMU Magazine editor, Barb is always on the hunt for story ideas, good books and new recipes to try out on her family, such as her surprisingly tasty pork-and-bean bars.

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