Barriers to Entry Keep Physician Assistants Out of Senior Care

Assisted living operators may soon start interacting more with physician assistants and nurse practitioners—if physician assistants can overcome certain barriers to entry in the long-term care (LTC) industry.

That’s according to a new report from the University of California at San Francisco, which examined job postings for nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) in 2014 and found that NPs have no shortage of job opportunities in the LTC sector.

This contrasted with PAs, where a lack of job availability in the LTC field could hinder their entry into the sector, the report indicated.


“The PA education is sufficiently broad that PAs could also serve in many of the kinds of jobs that nurse practitioners could serve in,” Dr. Joanne Spetz of UCSF told Senior Housing News. 

The researchers used data from Burning Glass Technologies, a labor analytics firm, comparing it with existing employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics for PAs and NPs. The final study sample consisted of 112,715 job postings for NPs and/or PAs in 2014.

The study found that in 2014, 1 out of 10 job openings for NPs and PAs focused on care for older people and/or people with disabilities, with half the jobs for that population requiring a year or more of experience. That requirement limits the opportunities available to new graduates, the study said. 


In addition, NPs are in higher demand than PAs for jobs that care for those with disabilities and older people. 

Though PAs are not necessarily as focused on primary care, PA education is extremely broad and could be applied to a range of areas, including gaps in care for geriatric and disabled populations. But employers may not always be aware of this fact, Spetz said.

“Employers assume ‘Oh a PA’s education isn’t going to be right for this job,’ and that isn’t true,” Spetz told SHN.

More than half of jobs that focused on the care of disabled and older populations were in primary care specialties. On the other hand, less than 1% of the postings were for assisted living (AL), retirement communities, residential continuing care facilities and supported living.

Still there are some pointers assisted living communities can take from the study, Spetz said. As NPs and PAs become more widespread in primary care offices—and as a geriatrician shortage continues—assisted living clients will likely get more and more services from PAs and NPs.

As a result, maintaining a good relationship with NP and PA providers in the community takes on strategic importance for assisted living communities.

“They can expect to see more of this, and they probably… shouldn’t be surprised by having more NPs coming through their doors to check on patients, make house calls and so on,” Spetz said.

Written by Maggie Flynn

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