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PA Workforce Growing, But Diversity Lags

While the PA profession is rapidly growing, a new study in the Journal of Medical Regulation, published by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), suggests that efforts to increase diversity within the field haven’t kept pace with this overall expansion.

Researchers analyzed available data from NCCPA to track gender and age of PAs who completed their initial certification from 1975 to 2020 and race and ethnicity from 2000 to 2020. Findings include:

  • The number of PAs completing initial certification has increased by an average of 11.7% per year over the past four decades.
  • The profession has become significantly more female, with women now accounting for 74.2% of PAs, compared to 23.9% in 1975.
  • While there have been positive shifts in some areas, the proportion of PAs who identify as Black/African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, or “other” race has declined.
  • The percentage of PAs who self-identify as Asian, Hispanic/Latino(a), or multiracial has increased, but these gains haven’t been enough to offset the overall decline in underrepresented in medicine (URiM) representation over the past 21 years.

“The growth of the PA workforce is encouraging, but the lack of progress in diversifying the profession is concerning,” said Andrzej Kozikowski, Ph.D., NCCPA Senior Director of Research and lead author of the study. “Given the well-documented benefits of a diverse health care workforce, it’s critical to identify and address the barriers that limit URiM individuals’ access to and success in PA programs.”

The study authors call for ongoing monitoring of the PA workforce demographics and said greater investment in diversity initiatives is essential to ensure the profession reflects the U.S. population. This could include programs aimed at recruiting and supporting URiM students in PA programs, as well as efforts to address potential bias in admissions and hiring practices.

The findings add to a growing body of research highlighting the challenges of diversifying the health care workforce. While progress has been made in some areas, there remains a significant gap between the demographics of health care providers and the patients they serve. Addressing this gap requires a sustained commitment to equity and inclusion throughout the health care education and employment pipeline, researchers concluded.

“Embracing diversity not only improves cross-cultural communication and reduces health disparities,” Kozikowski said, “but it also drives innovation, enhances patient outcomes and elevates the overall quality of health care delivery.”

Click here to read “The Importance of Diversity in the Physician Assistant/Associate Workforce: Examining the Profession’s Growth and Trends in Demographic Composition.”

Listen to the JMR Podcast

NCCPA Research Scientist Mirela Bruza-Augatis, Ph.D, MS, PA-C discusses the original research article published in JMR examining the importance of diversity in the Physician Assistant/Associate workforce.