Where Does the Role of Physician Assistant Fit in Today's Health Care Picture?

Analysis of physician assistant career patterns

    • January 2, 2004

In 1999 and 2000, an Arizona State University investigator, Eugene Schneller, conducted a follow-up survey of a group of physician assistants (PAs) whose experience as PAs has been tracked since 1975.

Duke University developed the PA occupation in 1965 to increase patient access to medical care by relieving physicians of routine tasks that could be handled by non-physicians.

Key Findings

A redesigned survey was sent to the PAs who had participated in the previous surveys. The new survey included questions about work history, practice settings, supervision and autonomy, job satisfaction, and future plans including retirement. Of the 323 individuals who responded to this survey, 236 were still practicing as PAs.

Initial comparisons of the PA's responses in 1978 with those in 2000 as reported by the investigator include the following:

  • There is a trend toward employment in hospitals (17.2% in 1978 vs. 26.1% in 2000).
  • PAs are less likely to work in rural areas (41% vs. 32%).
  • PAs are less likely to work in primary care than in specialty care (80% vs. 50%).
  • PA attitudes towards managed care were frequently negative, but were not influenced by the extent to which managed care penetrated their practice.
  • PA expectations regarding autonomy have turned out to be realistic. In general, respondents reported that they expected to be given autonomy and were given it.