Which Way Will You Go? Primary Care Career Options Made Simple

Primary Care

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 50 percent of the country’s more than 900,000 MDs and DOs are primary care physicians. 

And that’s still not enough. 

In just three years, the United States will need another 20,400 primary care physicians, if projections from the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration are correct. 

This is good news for the more than 440,000 physicians across the country who practice family medicine, internal medicine, gynecology, geriatrics and pediatrics. It’s equally good news for nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who are increasingly being called upon to play larger roles in caring for patients. 

But those who are most likely to benefit from the shortage of primary care physicians are people currently studying to become doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, who are likely to have plenty of career options. 

Which way will you go? That depends on which option best aligns with your personal and professional goals:

The Primary Care Physician

Primary care physicians are the backbone of the country’s healthcare system. Their relationships with patients often span decades and can even include entire lifespans. For many healthcare professionals, the deep patient relationships and ability to have a significant influence a person’s overall health over long periods of time is what makes primary care so attractive.

Where you work. While many people consider primary care to be the specialty of ambulatory clinics, physicians can actually be found in community hospitals, teaching hospitals, birth centers, nursing homes and retirement communities. 

Beyond patient care. Primary care isn’t all about interacting with patients in a clinical setting. Because it plays such an important role in the nation’s healthcare system, there are ample opportunities to conduct research and teach. 

Currently, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is focusing research on increasing access to medication-assisted treatment of opioid abuse, developing new models of workforce configurations to address physician shortages and advancing heart health in family medicine, among other areas of research. 

In addition, teaching hospitals across the country will always need healthcare professionals who can effectively train the next generation of physicians. 

The Nurse Practitioner (NP)

In the last couple of years, nurse practitioners have begun playing a larger role in the country’s healthcare system. Part of this is due to the fact that NPs tend to work in areas of the country where the doctor shortage is most acute, part of it is due to people’s comfort with NPs

Where you work. Nurse practitioners can be found in community hospitals, academic settings, clinics and even in patients’ homes. 

Beyond patient care. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, colleges and universities across the country are facing faculty shortages. This means there are ample opportunities for nurse practitioners to become faculty members and train the next generation of nurses. 

The Physician Assistant (PA)

After the passage of the Affordable Care Act, PAs were finally recognized as important members of the country’s team of professionals that delivers primary care. Since then, the physician shortage and a growing understanding of the important role PAs play in the healthcare system have sparked a movement in the country to remove regulations that prevent them from using their expanded functions. 

Where you work. PAs are unique because they can work autonomously as well as in collaboration with other members of the healthcare team. PAs treat patients in community hospitals, teaching hospitals, nursing homes, retail clinics and nursing homes. 

Beyond patient care. Because physician assistants are in such high demand, there are many academic jobs available for PAs who wish to teach. Most of the jobs are at colleges and universities.  

Which option will you choose? Elliot Health System has options for all sorts of options for providers.

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