Grant to Launch Research Into Student Debt, Career Choices for Physician Assistants

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, July 17, 2013 

Leslie Champlin | Sean Stickle 
American Academy of Family Physicians Physician Assistant Education Association 
(800) 274-2237, Ext. 5224 202-701-8353 

WASHINGTON — The Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care has received a grant from the Physician Assistant Education Association to study the impact of student debt on physician assistants' career decisions. Results from the research will shed light on the impact of student debt on a physician assistants' choice of practice setting – primary care or subspecialty care. 

"At a time when our health care system is moving toward team-based care, the importance of physician assistants in primary care has grown considerably," said Andrew Bazemore, MD, director of the Graham Center. "However, what we're seeing in the health care community is continued subspecialization among physician assistants, physicians, and nurse practitioners. Understanding the driving factors behind this trend is imperative to better inform policies aimed at reversing these trends. With this grant from the Physician Assistant Education Association, we look forward to adding to policymakers' understanding of the problem." 

Anthony Miller, MEd, PA-C, PAEA's senior director of strategy and policy agrees. "PAEA is excited to support research in this important area. The increase in student debt resulting from tuition hikes and looming interest rate hikes is certain to have an impact on the physician assistant profession and student career choices." 

The average total student debt for physician assistants was approximately $100,000 in 2008, according to the Physician Assistant Education Association. The average salary for a physician assistant in primary care in 2012 was $90,460, compared to the average salary of $113,063 for a physician assistant working in a dermatology setting. 

That pay differential may have an impact on physician assistant practice choices. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, only 31 percent of physician assistants practice in primary care — down from nearly 51 percent in 1996. The remaining 68 percent practice in surgical subspecialties, dermatology, hospital medicine, emergency care and other subspecialties.

"As the U.S. population grows, ages, and becomes increasingly insured, a correspondingly strong primary care workforce will be needed to address their health care needs. This research will provide valuable contributions to the development of policies to address the issues facing the U.S. health care workforce." said Bazemore. 

Funds provided to Robert Graham Center by Physician Assistant Education Association.


About the Robert Graham Center

The Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care works to improve individual and population health by enhancing the delivery of primary care. The Center staff generates and analyzes evidence that brings a family medicine and primary care perspective to health policy deliberations at local, state, and national levels.

Founded in 1999, the Robert Graham Center is an independent research unit affiliated with the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). The information and opinions contained in research from the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the AAFP.