Physician Assistants Could Address Skilled Nursing, LTC Staffing Gaps

Though a significant proportion of jobs in long-term and elder care are designated solely for nurse practitioners (NPs), physician assistants (PAs) may be an overlooked resource for operators facing persistent staffing issues.

That’s according to a new report from the University of California, 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 Skilled Nursing News.

For all NP jobs, 15.6% were in LTC or care for disabled or older populations; by contrast, 3.2% of PA jobs were in those fields.

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 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, one 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 dynamic 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 SNN.

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.

One notable finding was that 11% of job postings described LTC work in multiple settings.

“That there was a chunk of jobs that were kind of cross-setting speaks to the idea that you’ve got more people that are involved in transitions of care and following patients wherever the patients may go,” Spetz explained.

Written by Maggie Flynn

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