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September 1, 2015

The Rise of Non-Physician Roles in Medicine

People are coming into the healthcare system by droves because of the Affordable Care Act and the aging population. Hence, the demand for advanced educated nurses to take the reins on caring for a big portion of them has grown immensely. That means that nurse practitioner (NP) and physician’s assistant (PA) are two professions playing a vital role in America’s changing healthcare panorama

NPs and PAs include direct patient care at the advanced practice level, including working independently or collaboratively. With so many baby boomers aging, the need for more graduate level health care providers is increasing by the day. Plus, the need for these professions have escalated because of the Affordable Care Act with more than 40 million more people added to the primary care systems after finally getting health insurance in the last two years.

“Physician assistants and nurse practitioners are more cost effective in a health care system, and there has been an amazing up swell interest in how to integrate them into hospital systems in more and more ways,” says Jonathan Bowser, director and associate dean of the Physician Assistant Program at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

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Here is a look at the growth outlook, salary range, strengths and advancements of a PA and a NP:

Growth Outlook, Salary Range, Strengths and Advancements of Physician Assistant

Bowser cannot believe how many applicants his university gets for the PA program each year, and it just keeps growing.

“I think the acceptance rate is higher at Harvard Medical School than for a PA school because it’s nuts how many people apply here. But we get fantastic students. And most of our students could get into medical school. However, they are choosing PA school,” he said.

His school is rated 5th in the country for PA schools, according to U.S. News & World Report. And according to U.S. News, the job of physician assistant is ranked 7 th best health care job, 10 th best job overall, and 14 th as the best paying jobs.

The extent of which a PA is under the supervision of a doctor varies from state and medicine specialty.

The opportunities are tremendous now and into the future. In fact, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the profession to grow 38 percent between 2012-2022 with 33,300 new positions being added to the already 87,000 physician assistants working already. And one of the nicest benefits is the median pay is about $91,000.

A PA must complete an accredited educational program, which usually leads to a master’s degree. And all states do require a PA to be licensed.

“I train physician assistants, and it used to be that these were wanna-be-doctors. Not anymore. That has changed with the advent of team-based care,” Bowser says. “That solo doctor is a myth. You can’t do medicine alone. The knowledge base is too vast. One person can’t absorb all that.”

In many states, a PA can own their own practice, he says.

“But those who go that route usually have a lot of experience. Some of those who have been a PA awhile move into education, and other move into the business side of medicine. There is a huge demand for hospital administrators, and some physician assistants move up that way,” he says.

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Growth Outlook, Salary Range, Strengths and Advancements of Nurse practitioners

The independence of working independently of physicians is a great incentive for some people to move into the nurse practitioner career. In fact, the profession rates #2 as the best job in health care and No. 2 job overall in top 100 jobs, according to the U.S. News & World Report.

Dr. Rebecca Zukowski, Dean for the College of Nursing at Resurrection University in Chicago, says that applications at her college for nurse practitioner program have definitely gone up just like it has at most of the program across the country.

“We will definitely continue to see these programs grow and the demand grow. It’s an exciting opportunity for nurses to continue their education and advance their careers,” she states.

Nurse practitioners can prescribe drugs in all 50 states. Florida is the only state that doesn’t allow them to prescribe narcotics, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

NPs can own their own clinics, treat patients and order tests. NPs can also pick a specialty. For instance, Resurrection offers two programs – family nurse practitioner or adult geriatric nurse practitioner.

“I worked oncology department as a nurse practitioner for five years, before coming to Resurrection to teach pediatrics curriculum two years ago,” says Patty Engebretson. “I became a nurse practitioner because I wanted to take on more of a leadership role in nursing.”

She had worked as a registered nurse for five years before deciding to be a NP.

“My hospital paid for me to go back for a graduate education. I worked full-time and went to school for three years part-time to complete it. That’s what most everybody does.”

About a quarter of all nurse practitioners are men, the AANP reports.

The BLS states that a nurse practitioner averages $96,000 a year, and the demand will grow the field of NPs by 34 percent by 2022 – allowing another 37,100 new graduates to start working in the field.

“The money isn’t the single motivating incentive to be a nurse practitioner,” Engebretson says. “There are just so many ways to take your career once you get that degree. There is lots of flexibility. But the stakes are higher. You take on more risks.”

Zukowski adds that more and more nurses are also pursuing their doctorate degrees.

“Patients continually are more complex, and the environments in which the NPs practice is more complex. You really need to continually progress the education of advanced nursing,” she says. “I really think it’s a bright future for nurses with advanced degrees.”

For nurses who want more out of their career and to do more on their own, the doors are opening with more and more programs such as earning degrees as physician assistants or nurse practitioners. They both offer independence, high salaries and more responsibilities and leadership opportunities. Plus, the demand for these jobs is huge – which makes it a win-win for the patients and the individual.

Lee Nelson of the Chicago area writes for national and regional magazines, websites, and business journals. Her work has recently appeared in Realtor.org, Nurse.org, Yahoo! Homes, ChicagoStyle Weddings, and a bi-weekly blog in Unigo.com.

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