Hiring of Non-Physician Providers on the Rise

The physician and nurse shortage has benefitted one group of healthcare providers: physician extenders. The hiring of nurse practitioners and physician assistants is on the rise across the nation.

In fact, from the third quarter of 2011 to the same quarter in 2012, the number of job openings for nurse practitioners grew by 35 percent and openings for physician assistants also grew by 22 percent, according to research by HealthECareers, a healthcare recruiting company. "We can attribute of the increase to the shortage around physician and nursing employment," says Tricia Pattee, the product director for HealthECareers. "Nurse practitioners and physician assistants have come in to fill that gap more."

The demand for non-physician healthcare providers could grow even more than it already has in the coming years. A recent study by The Medicus Firm found that 82.9 percent of healthcare executives expect to increase their recruitment of nurse practitioners and physician assistants soon.

Saving hospitals money

While some hospitals seeking out physicians recently have found the marketplace financially competitive, hiring PAs and NPs in lieu of physicians can save the hospital money while still providing high-quality care. "[Even though] employers are starting to pay them 15 to 20 percent more than in the past, it's a cost savings, because [the hospital] is not paying a physician's salary."

And, according to HealthECareers, the trend of hiring NPs and PAs will not be over any time soon. "We will see a greater increase in these areas with the [physician and nursing] shortage and the aging of the population," Ms. Pattee says. "We have to find new ways to care for the population where there are no physicians."

Another shortage on the way?

With more hospitals employing NPs and PAs than in the past, there could soon be a shortage of these physician extenders as well. In 2011, the Journal of the American College of Surgeons predicted that the supply of physician assistants will be 20 percent less than demand by 2025.

Ms. Pattee acknowledges that a physician assistant and nurse practitioner shortage could be around the corner. "I think it is possible because of how rapidly we are seeing the increase in employment," she says.

However, the possible shortage has not yet been felt by the nation. The number of certified physician assistants practicing medicine in the U.S. has increased by more than 100 percent over the last 10 years.

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