Physician assistants see big growth in U.S.

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The ranks of physician assistants, who perform many duties once handled only by doctors, are rapidly growing in the United States, allowing healthcare providers to treat more patients, say authors of a new report.

The U.S. had more than 83,000 physician assistants last year, about double the number of a decade ago, according to the American Academy of Physician Assistants in Alexandria, Va.

The assistants perform tasks delegated by doctors -– for example, conducting physical exams, diagnosing illnesses, and ordering and interpreting tests.

Nearly one-third of assistants work in primary care, more than in any other clinical setting. That’s important because of a shortage of primary care doctors.


‘The PA profession is growing rapidly, and it is key to expanding access to quality healthcare for millions of Americans,” academy President Robert Wooten said.

Nearly 20,000 physician assistants provided information for the Physician Assistant Census Report.

The results showed that California had the second-largest number of assistants among all states last year, with 6,723. Only New York, with 6,989, had more.

The median age of assistants was 38, and nearly two-thirds were women.

These workers earned relatively high salaries. Their median income last year was $90,000, a 2.8% increase from 2009.


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-- Duke Helfand