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A Profile of Colorado's Physician Assistant Workforce

April 1, 2011

Over the past several decades, federal and state policymakers have worked on developing an effective workforce policy in response to a primary care workforce that is not meeting the health care needs of many communities. In the next decade and beyond, Colorado, like the rest of the United States, faces a rapidly aging population. In addition, there will be increased demands for care from the newly insured as a result of the federal Affordable Care Act, the federal health reform bill.

Adding to the challenge of ensuring that Colorado will have the health care workforce capacity it needs is the fact that the workforce is aging and many members are approaching retirement age. Colorado also has shortages in some geographic areas because the physician workforce is not distributed evenly. The majority of health care professionals prefer to practice in urban or suburban settings, leaving large numbers of rural communities with inadequate or no primary care resources.

Health services research over the past 30 years has found that the introduction of the physician assistant (PA) profession in the early 1970s has been one of several promising strategies to expand the primary care workforce, particularly in rural and other underserved areas.

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