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The 2012 Job Outlook for NPs & PAs

What's your future?

Predictions for the NP and PA job market in 2011 were on the money: Employment offerings remained steady and even increased in some areas. This news alone is cause for celebration, but could the news get even better in 2012?

A Buzz in the Air

Word is clearly out about the benefits of nurse practitioners and physician assistants to healthcare organizations, and the Obama administration has championed NPs and PAs as an important part of the answer to our nation's healthcare woes. In October 2011, the White House removed certain restrictions on hospitals and healthcare providers in consideration of "impending physician shortages," stating that NPs and PAs "could provide immediate savings to hospitals."1 And according to a report on healthcare jobs, between May 2010 and April 2011, nursing was the No. 1 job listing and physician assistant was No. 6.2

Research organizations have begun to study NPs and PAs in more comprehensive ways. In a report released in 2010, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that between 1995 and 2009, the number of NPs per primary care physician had more than doubled (0.23 to 0.48), as did the number of physician assistants per primary care physician (0.12 to 0.28).3 These data show that the combined NP-PA workforce is already three quarters the size of the physician workforce. And this growth is sure to continue. The PA population now numbers 83,000,4 double its size of 10 years ago, and the NP profession has grown to 140,000.5 A 2011 National Center for Health Statistics report documented that the percentage of hospital outpatient visits handled by NPs and PAs rose from 10% in 2000-2001 to 15% in 2008-2009.6 Considering all this, the impact these providers will have on healthcare is immense.

Several media sources named the NP and PA professions and their educational programs among the most desirable in 2011. For job potential, Forbes rated physician assistant No. 1 and nursing No. 7 among master's degree programs.7 Physician assistant and nursing made the U.S. News and World Report list of the top 50 best careers.8 And physician assistant was ranked No. 9 among top jobs for working parents by CNN Money.9

"There are many reasons for this positive publicity, but the most visible is the U.S. shortage of physicians," said Lisa Lenell, MPAS, PA-C, cohost of the ReachMD radio show Partners in Practice. "This is not a positive thing for the U.S. healthcare system, but it is a good thing for PAs and NPs, both of which are in high demand."

NP and PA organizations are hard at work on ways to improve practice for their respective professions. The American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) is focusing on improving Medicare regulations to include nurse practitioners' patients as beneficiaries in accountable care organizations, the ability of NPs to order/certify home healthcare services for Medicare patients, Title VIII funding for NP educational programs, and traineeships and funding for nurse-managed centers, AANP president Penny Kaye Jensen DNP, APRN, FNP-C, FAANP, told ADVANCE.

"Any new legislation that recognizes and includes nurse practitioners will facilitate the ability of nurse practitioners to practice, while at the same time bringing us closer to a solution to the primary care provider crisis," Jensen said.

PAs are also part of these initiatives, which "would go a long way to remove the barriers facing PAs and increase their ability to treat patients," said Robert Wooten, PA-C, president of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA).

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Peering Into the Future

No crystal ball will tell you what your next career move should be, but the current landscape and trends in NP and PA hiring could help guide you as you make career decisions in the coming year. In terms of an overall picture, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported in 2011 that 52% of NPs and 43% of PAs work in primary care.10 The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 23% increase in overall nursing jobs and a 41% increase in PA jobs from 2008 to 2018.11 The BLS notes that all advanced practice nursing roles "will be in high demand, particularly in medically underserved areas such as inner cities and rural areas. Relative to physicians, these RNs increasingly serve as lower-cost primary care providers."12 As for PAs, the BLS reports that employment is projected to grow much faster than in the average healthcare profession.13 The NP profession is growing quickly as well, with 9,500 to 10,000 new NPs prepared in each of the last 2 years, Jensen pointed out.14

"Public awareness and acceptance of NPs as mainstream providers in a variety of healthcare settings is continually expanding, and employers are continuing to recognize the value of NPs as providers of cost-effective, personalized, patient-centered care," Jensen said. "The future for NP jobs has never looked better!"

Adrienne Archer, president of AVA Search Group, a recruiting company for healthcare providers, noticed several NP and PA hiring trends in 2010. She saw a dramatic increase in job openings for NPs and PAs in the last half of 2011.

"The need for NPs and PAs is going to continue to increase . this is especially true in rural areas, where they are sometimes all that the community has because it's so hard to find doctors for these locations." She added that she has seen a pretty even split between hospitals and privately owned practices with jobs to offer.

Nontraditional positions, such as those in politics, media or healthcare technology, will be more plentiful, our experts predicted.

"First to mind is Karen Bass, the first PA in Congress, which is a tremendous opportunity for PA education and advancement," Lenell said. In addition to cohosting the Partners in Practice radio show, which highlights the NP and PA professions, Lenell has started working with a cloud-based EHR company. "I am a good example of someone moving into a nontraditional role," she said.

As for salaries, averages continued to rise modestly in 2010, according to results of the 2010 National Salary Survey of NPs & PAs. Full-time salary for PAs was $96,876, and NPs earned an average of $90,770. According to the survey results, PAs experienced more than twice the salary increase that NPs did. The average PA salary increase was $3,771, while the average NP salary increase was $1,191.15 (We will report the first results of the 2011 salary survey in the February issue of ADVANCE for NPs & PAs.)

Archer noted that although she didn't see appreciable increases in NP and PA salaries last year, employers offered more aggressive benefit and bonus packages for hard-to-fill specialty positions. This practice is going to become more widespread, she predicted.

"The thing I don't think clients are realizing yet is that it's going to become a candidate-driven market," Archer said. With economic improvement and more job openings, employers will begin to offer better incentives to potential employees. Archer warned that with increases in job openings will come an influx of recruiters who may not know much about the NP and PA professions. She advises job seekers to ask recruiters how many placements they've made for their profession and to be sure a recruiter will never submit a resume without permission.

Is There Fortune in Our Future?

Like the crunchy cookie with a hidden fortune inside, 2012 will only become clear as it unfolds. We can't know for sure what 2012 has in store for the NP and PA professions. What is evident is that all the changes and publicity of the past year are a boon for both, Wooten said.

"As this country looks to shift from a fragmented to an integrated healthcare delivery system, much more attention has to be placed on a cost-effective care model," Wooten said. "That means that PAs and [NPs] must be empowered to deliver care to the full extent of their education and expertise. Only then will we reach true efficiency and clinical effectiveness."

Editor's note: Pages 2, 3 and 4 of this article delve into the risk of layoff, the challenges for new grads and a picture of the nation's employment statistics overall.

Jennifer Ford is the senior associate editor. Reach her at


1. Pear R. U.S. moves to cut back regulations on hospitals. New York Times. http:// Accessed Dec. 20, 2011.

2. Monster, Inc. Healthcare job conditions report, 2011. http:// Accessed Dec. 20, 2011.

3. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 2010. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants in the United States: Current patterns of distribution and recent trends. Accessed Dec. 20, 2011.

4. American Academy of Physician Assistants. Physician assistant census report: Results from the 2010 AAPA Census. http:// Accessed Dec. 20, 2011.

5. American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. Nurse practitioners in primary care. Accessed Dec. 20, 2011.

6. Hing E, Uddin S. Physician assistant and advance practice nurse care in hospital outpatient departments: United States, 2008-2009. NCHS data brief, no 77. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2011. http:// Accessed Dec. 20, 2011.

7. Smith J. The best and worst master's degrees for jobs. http:// Accessed Dec. 20, 2011.

8. Grant A. Best careers 2011. U.S. News & World Report. http:// Accessed Dec. 20, 2011.

9. Muse H, Rosato D. Best jobs for working parents. CNN Money. http:// Accessed December 5, 2011.

10. Agency for Health Care Policy and Research. Primary care workforce facts and stats no. 2: The number of nurse practitioners and physician assistants practicing primary care in the United States. AHRQ Publication No. 12-P001-3-EF, October 2011. Rockville, MD: Agency for Health Care Policy and Research. http:// Accessed Dec. 20, 2011.

11. U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Career guide to industries, 2010-11 edition, healthcare. http:// Accessed Dec. 20, 2011.

12. U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational outlook handbook, 2010-11 edition, registered nurses. http:// Accessed Dec. 20, 2011.

13. U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational outlook handbook, 2010-11 edition, physician assistants. http:// Accessed Dec. 20, 2011.

14. American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. Nurse practitioners in primary care. http:// Accessed Dec. 20, 2011.

15. Pronsati MP, Gerchufsky M. National salary report 2010: Inching forward with mixed results. ADVANCE for NPs & PAs. 2011;2(2):18-20. http:// Accessed Dec. 20, 2011.


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The 2012 Job Outlook for NPs & PAs

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I am trying to find statistics on how many NP and PA's are working in the field of cardiology. can you provide me with a resource to find this information.

Connie Kiser

connie kiser,  CRNPDecember 27, 2012
lancaster, PA


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