The US population is aging. As of 2020, over 16% of adults, or over 52 million people, are age 65 or older. With a population that is increasingly "gray," the nation is short of medical providers who specialize in geriatrics. The number of geriatrician physicians per 10,000 adults 65 years and older has decreased since 2000, and geriatricians were approximately 5,300 in 2018. Nurse practitioners in geriatric care are an order of magnitude smaller, numbering 598 in 2018. Considering that the projected geriatrician needs by 2030 will be over 30,000, the trajectory of geriatricians is becoming increasingly inadequate for the aging population. Physician assistants (PA) are another class of providers that are filling this need, although little is known about their distribution in geriatric patient care.
The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants databank provided the number and characteristics of PAs in geriatric medicine. PAs in geriatrics, their distribution, income, was compared to certified PAs. Analysis included descriptive statistics, Chi-Square and Wilcoxon Rank Sum tests for comparisons between PAs practicing in geriatrics vs. all other clinical specialties. For all analyses where a comparison between PAs in geriatrics and other specialties was made, a P value of .05 or less was considered statistically significant. Statistical analyses were conducted using R
As of 2018, there were 794 certified PAs, or 0.8% of the PA workforce, specifically in geriatrics. This cadre has grown significantly 2010 both in total number (increasing over 400%) and as a percentage of the PA workforce. The median age of PAs in geriatrics is 45 years, and 79% are female. Almost half (46%) of the PA geriatric workforce are in extended care facilities or nursing homes - which differs from PAs in non-geriatric medicine specialties (0.3%). Another 8% work in federal government facilities with an additional 8% in rehabilitation facilities. In 2018, the median annual income for this PA cadre was $106,680.
As the American population continues to age, the relative growth of PAs in geriatric medicine makes them a natural part of the solution to the projected physician geriatrician deficit.