Pandemic Demands Highlight Resilience, Value of Physician Assistants

June 26, 2020

COVID-19 has applied a type of pressure on the U.S. this year that none of us have experienced in our lifetimes. Like every other segment of healthcare professionals, certified physician assistants have been put to the test during 2020.

The saying “pressure makes diamonds” refers to situations where challenging, often seemingly insurmountable circumstances result in people demonstrating their potential and achieving exceptional results.

COVID-19 has applied a type of pressure on the U.S. this year that none of us have experienced in our lifetimes. As a country, as families, as individuals, and as a medical community we have been tried and tested repeatedly, but our resilience and fortitude has and will continue to see us through this pandemic.

Like every other segment of healthcare professionals, certified physician assistants (PA) have been put to the test during 2020. The stress of battling a new virus, long hours caring for patients for whom they wish they could do more, efforts to support scared and distraught families, concern for medical colleagues, worry for the health of their own families, and the toll exacted by often isolating themselves from home to avoid possibly infecting loved ones would, at first glance, seem enough to break the best of us.

But, though bent by the demands of the pandemic, America’s certified PAs are most definitely not broken.

The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) just released a new report on the PA profession, 2019 Statistical Profile of Certified Physician Assistants, which shows that certified PAs remain well suited to meet our country’s rising demand for healthcare workers, now more than ever before.

In 2019, as we unknowingly advanced towards a global pandemic, over 10,000 newly certified PAs began practicing, swelling America’s certified PA workforce to almost 140,000 strong. Though COVID-19 strains our country’s healthcare resources and economy, Americans can rest a bit easier knowing that certified PAs are on the frontline in all specialties, settings, and states helping to care for some of the most critical patients, as well as continuing to provide high-quality care to 9.5 million patients every week.

Virus-related or not, whether your healthcare needs take you to a hospital - where over 40% of certified PAs practice - or an office-based private practice - where you'll find 38.6% of certified PAs - this group of highly-trained medical professionals stands ready to provide exceptional medical care.

Over the last few months our country has been privileged to hear the stories of amazing healthcare heroes who are accomplishing outstanding things for the most vulnerable patients. For every one of those heroes who are so deservedly highlighted, there are many others following suit in every community around the country to help patients recover from illness, mend broken bones, and manage chronic pain.

Today, more PAs work in surgical subspecialties than ever before, the most common being orthopedic surgery (10.9%), and the percent of certified PAs practicing in pain management has increased 152% since 2016.

The certified PA profession, which grew by 37% over the past six years, remains strong. Since only 6% of the workforce plans to retire in the next five years, certified PAs will remain a steady and constant source of high-quality healthcare for Americans, despite whatever challenging times have or may continue to come our way.

The pressure of COVID-19 didn’t form certified PAs into diamonds, it just polished them to a high gloss, allowing their many facets and brilliance to shine through, more brightly than ever before.

Dawn Morton-Rias, Ed.D., PA-C, is President & CEO of the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA), based in Johns Creek, GA. She has held that position since 2014, and has practiced in family medicine, addictive medicine, gynecology and acute care for the homeless.