PA Research: A Tour de Force at the 2019 AAMC Workforce Conference

On May 1–3 the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) convened its 15th Annual Health Workforce Research Conference, with the theme  “Developing a Health Workforce for 2030 and Beyond.” The conference brought together researchers, clinicians, educators, and decision-makers to discuss the challenges that face tomorrow’s health care workforce.

Researchers from PAEA, AAPA, and NCCPA presented a total of six papers and two poster presentations to a mixed audience of health care professionals. Researchers from these associations not only presented on conference panels alongside researchers representing other health professions, but also collaborated on a panel titled “Examining Gaps Within PA Education and Practice: What Will the Road Look Like Ahead?”

Cynthia Yuen, director of research and data analysis at PAEA, presented the paper “How Important Is Diversity to Students when Choosing a Physician Assistant Program?”

Recognizing that “the PA workforce must not only add more practitioners, but more diverse practitioners,” our research focused on whether newly matriculated PA students’ gender, race, and ethnicity were associated with whether and how much they considered program diversity when selecting a PA program to attend. Results indicated that female, non-Hispanic Asian, and underrepresented minority (URM) students, when compared to male and non-Hispanic white students, were significantly more likely to have considered program diversity when choosing a PA program to attend. Furthermore, among all students who reported considering program diversity, female, Asian, and URM students rated program diversity as being more important than their male and non-Hispanic white counterparts did. These findings can inform efforts to recruit and retain minority PA students, ultimately resulting in a more diverse and equitable workforce.

Tim McCall, manager of research at AAPA, presented two papers and a poster examining PA workforce influences.

In “Examining Gaps Within PA Education and Practice: What Will the Road Look Like Ahead?” the AAPA team studied specialization and geographic practice patterns of PAs approaching retirement compared to the trends of PAs not approaching retirement. They found that PAs approaching retirement were more likely to be in primary care or working in rural/non-metro areas. The team also found that PAs approaching retirement reported lower levels of burnout compared to those not approaching retirement. Their results suggest the profession must take steps to mitigate the burnout experienced by younger practitioners, as the expanding PA workforce is likely to continue facing shortages.

AAPA’s second paper, “Understanding Burnout and Workplace Experiences: How Benefits Benefit Employers,” used data from PAs who changed employers within the last year to determine the effects of burnout on PAs and the decision-making process of PAs changing employers. Their paper found that one in eight professionals who had changed employers cited work/life balance and better compensation/benefits as the two top reasons for doing so.

While the study revealed that PAs who had changed employers felt slightly less burned out, they believe this study indicates a need for longitudinal studies within the category of PA practitioners who change employers since “there are not higher rates of employer satisfaction, indicating that there doesn’t seem to be a ‘honeymoon’ period of increased happiness.”

“Physician Assistant Career Flexibility,” the poster presentation from the AAPA team, also shed light on the shape the PA workforce might take in the coming years. The researchers found 12 percent of PAs reported changing employer each year, and around 6 percent of PAs reported changing specialty each year. Overall findings concerning flexibility within the PA profession were stable over the past four years.

Andrzej Kozikowski, director of research at NCCPA, presented two papers exploring demographics as indicators or predictors of practice settings.

In the study “Certified Physician Assistants Practicing in Urban, Small Rural, Large Rural, and Remote Settings,” NCCPA sought “first, to assess PA demographics as predictors of geographic practice areas and determine their relative importance; and second, to investigate differences in practice patterns across the urban-rural spectrum.”

The researchers identified primary differences between PAs serving in rural vs. urban settings — with PAs practicing in rural areas being more likely to manage a panel of patients as a primary provider. The study also found that older age and serving or having served in the U.S. Armed Forces were significant predictors of increased odds of practicing in rural areas. Older PAs had almost four times greater odds of practicing in isolated areas than in urban areas. Their research suggests that as more PAs retire from rural/isolated areas, the provider shortage will become even more acute. Gender demographics findings were consistent with previous research: Men are more likely to serve in rural areas and women in urban practice settings.

Their second presentation, “Certified Physician Assistant Participation in Telemedicine Services,” investigated PA demographics and type of practice setting for principal clinical positions as predictors of participation in telemedicine services. The team “found that 8 percent of certified PAs participate in telemedicine, with the majority engaging less than 10 hours per week.” Important predictors of participation in telemedicine included practicing in an isolated/small rural setting and being male, African American, or Asian. Results also indicate three-to-seven times greater odds of participation in telemedicine for PAs practicing in federal government positions, home health agencies, behavioral/mental health, and hospital settings, compared to those in a single specialty.

Upcoming PA Research Opportunities

The AAMC Workforce Research Conference is just one of many opportunities for PA researchers to present on topics of importance to the PA profession.

Are you interested in getting more involved in PA research? PAEA’s two research grant programs for new PA faculty are currently accepting applications. The Don Pedersen Research Grant awards $7,000 toward PA workforce and education research. The AAPA-PAEA Research Fellowship awards up to $25,000 to PA faculty at member institutions to develop research skills under the guidance of an institutional mentor with a dedicated 20 percent release time.

At the PAEA Education Forum in Washington, DC, this October, attendees can participate in Research and Publishing Made Easier sessions, offering the chance to receive one-on-one guidance from seasoned PA researchers.

For more PA research resources and support, visit the PAEA website.