Physician Assistant Compensation Up 1%, Showing Workforce Growth

The AAPA reports that median base physician assistant compensation rose from $105,000 in 2017 to $106,000 in 2018, outpacing inflation over time.

Median base physician assistant compensation increased from $105,000 in 2017 to $106,000 in 2018, representing one percent growth during the period, the American Academy of PAs (AAPA) recently reported.

The report, which surveyed 13,088 physician assistants between February and March 2019, also showed the median compensation for physician assistants including base salary, hourly wages, and other forms of productivity pay.

In 2018, the median compensation for physician assistants across the entire profession was $107,500. Although compensation varied by specialty areas, with physician assistants working in emergency medicine earning the most with a median base compensation of $116,964.

 “The PA workforce is strong and growing stronger every day,” David E. Mittman, PA, DFAAPA, president and chair of the AAPA Board of Directors, stated in the announcement “The year-to-year, steady increase in PA salary affirms that PAs are in high demand. That is why it is so important to advance policies that will eliminate administrative burdens and allow PAs to work at the top of their education, training, and experience.”

The AAPA reported that more than 131,000 physician assistants are currently practicing, and the workforce is projected to increase by 37 percent from 2016 to 2026, significantly faster than the average for all other occupations, according to cited data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

In light of the Silver Tsunami and the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions, providers organizations increasingly using physician assistants and other advanced practice providers, like nurse practitioners and certified nurse midwives, to manage the increased demand for healthcare services.  

In fact, office visits with nurse practitioners and physician assistants increased by 129 percent from 2012 to 2016, according to a 2018 report from the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI).

Physician assistants and other advanced practice providers are becoming key members of care teams, providing similar – if not lower-cost – care to patients compared to physicians. And as their role in the care team grows, demand and compensation continue to grow for physician assistants.

The AAPA report found that physician assistants working part-time, or less than 32 hours a week, reported working a median of 24 hours weekly and had median base salaries of $83,000 and median hourly wages of $60.

Meanwhile, full-time physician assistants worked a median of 40 hours a week in 2018, earning a median base salary of $106,000 and median hourly wages of $60. Median compensation among physician assistants paid based on productivity metrics was $150,000, AAPA reported.

Bonuses were common among full-time physician assistants. Approximately half of the providers earned a bonus in 2018, and about half of those physician assistants reported a bonus of $5,500 or more.

Provider organizations may be hiring more physician assistants and paying more for their work. But the bottom line could benefit from the use of more physician assistants, according to a 2018 Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) analysis.

Primary care practices that had a higher non-physician provider to physician ratio reported greater revenue after operating costs compared to practices with provider ratios of 0.20 or lower, the analysis found. Physician-owned practices earned about $100,749 more after operating expenses per physician and hospital-owned practices earned $131,770 more.

However, the potential of physician assistants may be stymied in certain states depending on their scope of practice laws, the AAPA says.

Scope of practice laws vary by state and dictate the degree of independent practice permitted for physician assistants and other advanced practice providers. While state practice laws are trending toward physician assistant independence, many advanced practice providers still face restrictions, such as needing physician supervision or collaborative arrangements with physicians to practice.

Not only do physician assistants in states with more relaxed scope of practice laws tend to earn more compared to their peers in more restrictive states, but the providers are also more efficient, according to health policy experts at the Hamilton Project.

Experts argued in a 2018 report that restrictive scope of practice laws hinder healthcare competition, resulting in decreased efficiency. Allowing advanced practice providers to complete more medical tasks on their own could free up physician time and reduce costs at the same time.

“This increased access can take the form of an expanded supply of primary care providers or the opening of new healthcare facilities,” they stated. “This can also mean reduced waiting times or increased face time with providers as reduced administrative burdens free up their time. In addition, government programs can more readily serve growing patient populations.”

The American Medical Association (AMA) has opposed the independent practice of physician assistants, maintaining the policy that physician assistants should be under the direction or supervision of a physician.