Physician Assistant
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2024 Employment Forecast: Physician Assistant Jobs

Physician assistants (PAs) are uniquely positioned to enjoy a rewarding healthcare career while also improving patient outcomes and access to care. PAs can practice in various healthcare settings, from hospital inpatient management to outpatient surgery. As the demand in healthcare continues to increase, now is one of the best times to look for physician assistant jobs. Whether you want to focus on family medicine or specialize in emergency care or psychiatry, you’ll find multiple career opportunities to suit your needs. This guide provides an employment forecast for PAs in 2024, including details on the average physician assistant salary and why this career path is in such high demand.

Overall Demand for PAs

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the demand for PAs to increase by 27% between 2022 and 2032. This percentage represents an additional 39,300 PA jobs across the United States, with a total projected employment of 187,300 by 2032. When comparing this percentage to the previous 10-year period of 2021 to 2031, the projection is down 1%. However, the BLS expects around 12,200 new physician assistant jobs each year during the 2022-2032 decade, with additional openings primarily due to a retiring workforce. 

U.S. News & World Report ranked physician assistant jobs No. 2 on its 2023 Best Health Care Jobs list and No. 4 on its Best Jobs of 2023 list. PAs help fill healthcare gaps and provide many patients with access to healthcare they otherwise might not have had, creating a high level of job security for this career path.  

6 Factors Driving Increased PA Demand

Doctor and physician assistant talking to patient

1. Increased Demand for Healthcare

Baby boomers, which include those born between 1955 and 1964, are now between the ages of 59 and 68. As they age, they typically need more healthcare services, increasing the demand for healthcare providers nationwide. The Bureau of Health Workforce expects physician demand to grow to over 1 million full-time jobs by 2035, reflecting an 8% shortage compared to the projected supply. PAs can help bridge the gap by providing vital healthcare services so the overseeing physician can perform more urgent medical issues.

2. Growing Physician Shortages

One significant cause of the increased need for PAs is the ongoing shortage of trained physicians nationwide. A report from the Bureau of Health Workforce released in November 2022 projects a 57,259-person shortage of full-time physicians by 2025 and 81,800 by 2035. The underlying causes driving physician shortage include the following:

  • Increasing costs of medical school: The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) reported in 2020 that medical students graduated with an average of $207,000 in debt. This number increases around 3% to 4% each year. Additionally, Medscape reported that 26% of physicians in 2023 carried more than $300,000 in debt. With the higher interest rates seen in 2023, this can nearly double the total loan amount when repaid. The significant debt incurred while in medical school may deter many prospective applicants from applying.
  • Reduced salary during residency: Per Medscape’s 2023 report, residents had an average annual salary of $67,400, around a 5% increase from the previous year’s salary of $64,200. However, considering resident physicians routinely work as much as 80 hours per week, this salary works out to a relatively low hourly rate. It’s no wonder 86% of residents surveyed by Medscape reported their compensation doesn’t reflect their work hours. If a resident earns $67,400 annually and works 80 hours per week for 50 weeks, this equals $16.85 per hour. This hourly rate is much less than the highest-paying allied health positions, some of which only require an associate degree to start.
  • Resident physician shortages: In the United States, students undergo residency training after medical school, where each specialty has limited openings. Depending on the specialty, there may be a minimal number of spaces. The AAMC has attempted to combat this gap by introducing the Resident Physician Shortage Reduction Act of 2023. This act will strategically increase the number of Medicare-supported graduate medical education (GME) positions each year. The goal is to add 14,000 GME positions over the next seven years by partnering with academic medical institutions. Increasing available residencies will take several years; thus, there will still be a significant gap in physician shortages.

According to the American Journal of Managed Care, physician assistants can perform as much as 85% of the duties of doctors, including prescribing medications. PAs bridge the gap in care, allowing facilities to do more with fewer physicians on staff, further driving up the demand for these healthcare professionals.

3. Restrictive Single-State Licenses 

Currently, physician assistants must apply for a new state license in each state they practice. The application process can be cumbersome, time-consuming and costly for PAs working in a healthcare facility along state lines, as a telehealth provider or in travel PA jobs. The nature of single-state licenses may impact access to care and amplify physician shortages in certain regions of the country. 

The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) is advocating for a PA licensure compact, in which PAs can hold one license in a participating state and practice across state lines in other states participating in the agreement. Although this compact won’t be activated until seven states have adopted the compact model legislation, it will increase the PA job demand if it becomes active across multiple states.

4. Rising Healthcare Costs

Healthcare spending is at an all-time high. According to the American Medical Association, money spent on healthcare in the United States exceeded $4.3 trillion in 2021, an increase of 2.7% from 2020. Healthcare expenditures in 2021 accounted for 18.3% of the United States’ gross domestic product, with hospital care making up 31.1%, physician services at 14.9% and clinical services at 5.4% overall.

Healthcare costs are expected to rise by 7% in 2024, according to PwC’s Health Research Institute 2023 report. This increase is higher than previous annual trends and poses a challenge for healthcare providers and insurance companies. Inflation and a shortage of healthcare workers are contributing to the situation, causing organizations to look for potential cost-reduction strategies.

One solution is utilizing PAs, as the Healthcare Financial Management Association reports costs are reduced by as much as $2,000 for complex patient care when delivered by advanced practice providers. An article in PLOS ONE’s 2021 issue systematically reviewed 39 previous research studies. Eighteen studies found that PAs provided superior quality of care compared to physicians. In 15 additional studies, PAs delivered comparable quality of care as physicians. 

Thus, PAs can potentially provide the same level and quality of care as physicians and help combat rising healthcare costs by delivering cost-effective care in place of physician services. Since many healthcare systems and insurance companies have discovered these cost savings, there has been a drastic increase in the number of staff physician assistant jobs and travel PA opportunities.

The AAPA emphasizes that physician assistants adopt a team-based approach that prioritizes collaboration in providing care. Patients with multiple chronic health conditions often have to see several healthcare providers, which can lead to the duplication of imaging studies and diagnostic tests, resulting in high costs. By adopting a collaborative approach, a physician assistant can help prevent this repetition and contribute to reducing the overall cost of patient care.

5. Reaching Underserved Communities

The Department of Health and Human Services defines an underserved population as a group of people who don’t have sufficient access to medical care and services. According to Health Affairs, the rates of rural hospital closures have increased over the past decade, leaving behind fewer healthcare options and potentially adding these areas to the growing population within underserved communities.

Underserved populations tend to need more medical care than members of the general population due to unique social determinants of health that impact their care. The lack of nearby primary care providers and healthcare services exacerbates this need. The extensive medical training PAs receive makes them uniquely qualified to fill this primary care role in rural areas.

The National Rural Health Association recognizes the significant resource PAs represent in helping solve the rural healthcare crisis, and many PAs are eager to step in to provide the care these communities need to thrive. With the proposed PA licensure compact, physician assistants could practice in participating states without obtaining new licensure, making it easier and less costly to serve multiple underserved areas, especially through telehealth. Unfortunately, as of October 2023, only two states have passed the legislation to join the Compact, but the AAPA expects support to expand tremendously over the next few years.

6. Social Determinants of Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), social determinants of health (SDOH) include factors potentially affecting medical outcomes. Health disparities can arise from socioeconomic status, lack of equitable healthcare, education, environment and other SDOH. A patient’s SDOH can greatly impact their care by increasing disease burden and leading to poorer health outcomes. PAs regularly implement SDOH into their practice and improve health outcomes. Many healthcare organizations and insurance companies are recognizing the work of advanced practice providers in this area. Hence, many organizations have opened more positions to PAs as SDOH care coordinators.

In-Demand PA Specialties

Physician Assistant Jobs

Analyzing data collected from Vivian in October 2023, some in-demand specialties for staff PAs, based on the number of job postings, included the following:

In-demand travel PA specialties posted on Vivian during the same time frame were General Surgery and Cardiology

Over the past several years, PAs specializing in cardiovascular/cardiothoracic surgery have also become highly sought-after. The CDC states that cardiovascular disease was responsible for about 695,000 deaths in the United States in 2021. Thus, hospitals, medical practices and other healthcare facilities need cardiovascular/cardiothoracic surgery PAs to care for patients experiencing coronary artery disease, heart attacks and other cardiovascular conditions.

PA Employment Opportunities by State

States with higher populations tend to have the most opportunities for healthcare professionals, including PAs. Based on data from the BLS, the 10 states with the highest employment of physician assistants in May 2022 were:

  • California: 15,540
  • New York: 14,790
  • Texas: 8,930
  • Florida: 8,480
  • North Carolina: 7,150
  • Pennsylvania: 6,400
  • Michigan: 5,370
  • Georgia: 4,950
  • New Jersey: 4,660
  • Virginia: 4,230

Additionally, cities with dense populations tend to have higher demands for healthcare services, so they typically have more physician assistant jobs available. If you’re looking to relocate or travel to a new city and want to increase your chances of finding employment, it may be beneficial to explore job opportunities in large metropolitan areas.

These five metro areas had the largest Physician Assistant employment in May 2022, per the BLS:

  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA: 14,580
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA: 5,720
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV: 3,280
  • Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA: 2,860
  • Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX: 2,790

Average PA Salary Data

A physician assistant’s salary depends on many factors, such as years of experience, choice of specialty and where you work. Looking at PA salary data available on Vivian on October 20, 2023, the average hourly salary for a staff physician assistant role was about $80 per hour nationwide. During this period, Oklahoma had the highest hourly wage at $87. The lowest reported staff salary was $72 per hour. Salaries for top staff PA jobs posted during this time frame ranged from $105,000 to $150,000 per year for specialties like pediatrics, general surgery and urgent care.

Highest-Paying PA Specialties

On June 8, 2023, the American Academy of Physician Assistants released a list of the top 10 highest-paying staff salaries in the PA profession for 2022. According to its findings, cardiovascular/cardiothoracic surgery accounts for just 2.3% of PA employment despite being the highest-paid specialty. 

According to Vivian’s salary data on October 20, 2023, PAs in this specialty earned an average salary of $86.54 per hour. Comparatively, Vivian reported an average hourly wage of $80.13 for dermatology and emergency medicine physician assistants during this same period.

Travel Physician Assistant Salary Data

According to Vivian Health’s travel PA salary data on October 20, 2023, travel physician assistant jobs paid an average weekly rate of $2,191 based on jobs posted over the last seven days. Jobs posted during the same period paid around $3,199 per week for PAs with experience in pediatrics. Regarding location, PAs in Pennsylvania had the highest average salary, especially if they were willing to accept assignments in Danville, a small city in the central part of the state.

Discover more about the PA role in Vivian’s Physician Assistant Career Guide, including qualifications, skills, pros and cons of this healthcare career and additional salary insights.

Amanda Marten, MSN, FNP-C

Amanda Marten MSN, FNP-C is a freelance nurse writer and a certified family nurse practitioner. With 10 years of nursing experience, she's worked in a variety of specialties, including urgent care, travel nursing, post-surgical and intensive care. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, outdoor activities and spending time with her friends and family.

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