The Expanded Role of PAs/NPs


Many doctors are overburdened, and the demand for medical services is increasing. Physician assistants and nurse practitioners can be the key to filling the gap for hospitals by taking on expanded responsibilities. Here’s some background about this trend and why PAs and NPs are needed more than ever today.

A Little History

Here’s a short timeline detailing why PAs and NPs became so needed:

  1. Specialization in medicine expanded greatly during the 1950s and 1960s. Also, the Social Security Amendments of 1965 passed, expanding both Medicare and Medicaid and enabling many more people, especially low-income individuals, the elderly and the disabled to access healthcare. These corresponding events created a large physician shortage nationwide, especially in primary care.
  2. Army corpsman returned home from the Vietnam War equipped with advanced medical training. Dr. Eugene A. Stead Jr. saw a way to utilize these corpsman to fill the gap in healthcare and assembled the first class of physician assistant students at Duke University Medical Center in 1965.
  3. Seeing that nurses possess the skills necessary to deliver primary care and could take on expanded roles, Dr. Loretta Ford and Dr. Henry Silver developed the first Nurse Practitioner (NP) program at the University of Colorado in 1965.

Since their inception, the roles of physician assistants and nurse practitioners have expanded greatly, moving from primary care to almost every specialty in medicine. With increased access to healthcare today, an aging population and more need for preventive healthcare services, we’re again experiencing a surge in the need for more of these mid-level practitioners. That’s because they can alleviate the overburdened system.

What Is a Physician Assistant or Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are usually a part of the healthcare team, working alongside physicians to deliver patient care.

Physician assistants are trained in the medical model, similar to physicians, and can specialize in a variety of board-certified specialties. They must work with a supervising physician, but can usually prescribe medication, conduct assessments and physicals, and perform simple procedures without the direct supervision of a physician.

Nurse practitioners are trained in the nursing model of medicine, specializing in a specific patient population such as geriatrics or family medicine. Nurse practitioners have duties similar to a physician assistant. They work as a part of a care team or even work independently, depending on the laws of the state in which they practice.

How Do PAs and NPs Lighten the Burden for the Healthcare System?

First, PAs and NPs lower costs, as they are less expensive to employ than a physician. However, by increasing the number of competent clinicians available to the population, PAs and NPs also allow more people to be physically seen by someone in a timely fashion. This leads to greater disease prevention and better health outcomes for patients. And it saves patients from more costly interventions, as they can prevent their health from getting worse due to a lack of providers. In turn, this leads to lower medical costs and an overall healthier population.

In addition, giving PAs and NPs more responsibility lets physicians provide care at the top of the licensure. Doctors will be able to concentrate on providing the specialized care that only they can provide, letting the NPs and PAs provide more of the face time that patients require to understand their diseases and/or learn how to lead healthy lifestyles.

The Future of NPs and PAs in Healthcare

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the physician assistant profession is projected to grow 37 percent by 2026. The BLS predicts nurse practitioners should see an estimated growth of 31 percent in the same timespan. Both of these figures far exceed the national average.

As the healthcare system searches for new and innovative ways to expand affordable and competent healthcare coverage to all Americans, we can expect NPs and PAs to take on more responsibility. Those healthcare facilities that begin actively recruiting more NPs and PAs today will benefit their patients the most. Schedule an appointment with Adaptive Medical Partners to discuss your recruiting strategy for NPs and PAs in 2018.

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