How Physician Assistant Programs Are Helping to Alleviate the Doctor Shortage

shortage of doctors creates need for physician assistants

There is a growing shortage of doctors, and physician assistant programs are helping to fill the gap by training physician assistants who can provide care to those who otherwise may not be able to see a doctor. 

The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that there will be a shortage of up to 124,000 doctors by 2034. The COVID-19 pandemic, which placed further strain on doctors and their capacity to see and treat patients, made this situation even worse.

Shortage of Doctors Creates Need for Physician Assistants

Physician-led teams, which include physician assistants, have emerged as one way to deal with this shortage by enabling more patients to be seen by medical professionals than would be possible if they could be seen only by doctors. This model also makes it possible for those in underserved areas, such as rural areas, to have access to medical care that they might otherwise lack.

Physician assistants play important roles on these teams, as they can do many of the same things people have long expected of doctors, including:

  • Obtaining patient histories.
  • Performing medical exams.
  • Ordering and interpreting lab results.
  • Making diagnoses.
  • Prescribing medications.
  • Assisting with surgery.
  • Working in emergency departments.

Some states have also begun to remove longstanding practice laws and regulations that had prevented physician assistants from drawing on their full range of training and experience by dictating how closely they needed to work with their collaborating doctor. As a result, in these states, physician assistants are now able to work with greater autonomy in treating patients.

Of course, physician assistants are not doctors. They lack the medical school training and hours of clinical experience and, therefore, cannot completely take the place of doctors. Patients with more complex illnesses will continue to need to be seen by doctors, who will have the training and experience to make the correct diagnoses and prescribe proper treatments.

But for those who lack access to doctors, a physician assistant can provide care that otherwise would not be available at all. For this reason, physician assistants will continue to play an important role in the future of healthcare. 

Get started on your career as a physician assistant through Carlow University’s MS in Physician Assistant program. This innovative, cohort-based program, offered on-campus in Pittsburgh, will prepare you to take the Physician Assistant National Certification Examination (PANCE) and pursue a versatile and in-demand career as a physician assistant.