Just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, the Certified Physician Assistant workforce continued to grow, expanding the number of Certified PAs available to meet rising demands for specialty medical providers.

According to the 2019 Statistical Profile of Certified Physician Assistants by Specialty, an annual report issued by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), the number of Certified Physician Assistants grew 28.5% between 2015 and 2019. The top five specialties in which Certified PAs practiced are: Family Medicine/General Practice (18.6%), Emergency Medicine (12.8%), Other (9.3), Internal Medicine-General Practice (4.5%) and Dermatology (4.1%).

The report also provides first time data on Certified PAs' telemedical practice patterns before the pandemic, which stood at 9.2%. In 2019, Certified PAs working in Psychiatry (25%), Primary Care (11%), Internal Medicine (11%) and Neurology (11%) reported the highest usage of telemedicine.

"It is interesting to see these numbers in the context of the current pandemic," said NCCPA President and CEO Dawn Morton-Rias, Ed.D., PA-C. "Before COVID-19, the use of telemedicine by Certified PAs was tepid. When the numbers are counted, I think it'll be safe to say that after the start of the pandemic, the technology has been more widely embraced, and has afforded many Certified PAs with the opportunity to continue doing what they've always done – provide safe, high-quality access to medical care. We anticipate that PA telemedical practice statistics will continue to increase in 2020 and beyond, owing to shifts in medical care delivery due to the COVID-19 pandemic."

Additional key findings from the report include:

  • Certified PAs in Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery and those in Neurosurgery reported the highest number of hours worked (46), followed by Surgical Subspecialties and Orthopedic Surgery (44) and General Surgery and Hospital Medicine (43) per week.

  • Certified PAs in Dermatology had the highest average number of patients seen per week (119), followed by: Pediatrics - General (104), Pain Medicine (96), Emergency Medicine (88) and Family Medicine/General Practice (84).

  • There was a 6.40% decrease in the number of male PAs between 2015 (32.8%) and 2019 (30.7%).

  • As the nation has begun to focus greater attention on the value of diversity, equity and inclusion, the trend has continued toward less racial and ethnic diversity between 2015 and 2019.

    • There was a 7.69% decrease in the number of Black PAs between 2015 (3.9%) and 2019 (3.6%).

    • There was a 25% decrease in the number of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander PAs between 2015 (0.4%) and 2019 (0.3%).

Physician assistant is consistently ranked as one of the top jobs in America, most recently by U.S. News and World Report as #1 in the Best Health Care Jobs of 2021.