Many of Iowa’s rural communities are experiencing a doctor shortage but physician assistants, or PAs, are helping to fill the gap.

Jonathan Sobel, president of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, says some Iowans may not know just how much a PA can do versus an MD — which is just about everything.

“We’re medical professionals who diagnose illness and develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications and often serve as the patient’s health care provider,” Sobel says. “We work on health care teams with physicians and other providers in just about every medical setting and specialty you can think of and there’s more than 123,000 of us in the United States.”

In Iowa, there are more than 1,400 PAs and they have a median base salary in the state of $108,000. The PA profession was ranked #3 in U.S. News and World Report’s 2017 Best 100 Jobs List. Sobel says those interested in medicine should consider a PA program.

“It’s now currently at the masters degree level and we have 236 accredited programs across the country,” Sobel says. “We’re helping to fill the shortage in physicians and that gap that exists throughout the country in many areas.” The programs run 27 months or 3 academic years and a bachelor’s degree is required for acceptance.

The PA concept was developed in the 1960s as there was a doctor shortage and experienced combat medics were returning from Vietnam. The program was developed to put their skills to civilian use. “PAs increase access to care for patients and reduce wait times,” Sobel says. “PAs have been time-proven, we’re over 50 years old.

A few years ago, a Harris Poll looked at satisfaction amongst patients with their PAs and it was well over 90%.” With thousands of hours of medical training, he notes PAs are versatile and collaborative.