Background: The US population is maturing. As of 2020, over 16% (52 million people) are age 65 or older. With a citizenry that is increasingly "gray," the nation is short of medical providers who specialize in geriatric medical care. For example, the number of geriatrician physicians per 10,000 adults 65 years and older has decreased since 2000, with approximately 5,300 in 2018. Nurse practitioners in geriatric medical care numbered 598 in 2018. Considering that the projected 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 geriatric medical care role, although little has been published. To address this role of PAs a study was undertaken.
Methods: The National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants databank provided the number and characteristics of PAs in geriatric medicine and compared them to all other certified PAs. Analyses included descriptive statistics, Chi-Square, and Wilcoxon Rank Sum tests for comparisons between PAs practicing in geriatric medical care vs. all other specialties. Where a comparison between PAs in geriatrics and other specialties was made, a P value of .05 or less was considered statistically significant.
Results: As of 2018, there were 794 certified PAs, or 0.8% of the certified PA workforce, in geriatric medical care. This cadre has grown significantly since 2013, both in total number (increasing over 373%) and as a percentage of the PA workforce. The median age of certified PAs in geriatrics is 45 years, and 79% are female. Almost half (46%) of PAs in geriatric medicine work in extended care facilities or nursing homes, which differs from PAs in non-geriatrics care. Another 8% work in government facilities and 8% in rehabilitation facilities. In 2018, the mean annual income for this PA group was $106,680.
Conclusions: 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. The role of PAs in geriatric medical care remains to be explored.