Fostering A Team-Based Health Care Approach

doctorsThe physician assistant (PA) profession celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017 and has experienced exponential growth since the first class of PAs graduated from Duke University in 1967.1 The PA concept was initially developed to aid in the shortage of primary care physicians, which quickly became more of a necessity when many more patients gained access to health care through the establishment of Medicare and Medicaid and more physicians trended toward specialty care in the 1960s and 1970s.2 


PAs helped to fill the gaps for continued access to care for Americans, while also allowing physicians more freedom to take time out of their clinics for continued medical education and much needed personal time off. The incorporation of PAs into medical practice also provided an opportunity for clinicians to establish unique niches within their own clinic to provide more comprehensive medical care to their patients.

Today, more than 100,000 PAs are in practice in the United States, across all medical specialties.3 PAs continue to play a vital role in access to care. It is estimated that by 2020 there will be a shortage of 90,000 physicians in the United States.4

PAs practice medicine in a wide variety of ways from first assisting in the operating room to endotracheal intubation in the emergency room. PAs are involved in many levels of care throughout the health care system. 

PAs in Dermatology

PAs also play a unique role in dermatology, providing a wide array of medical, surgical, and cosmetic services dependent on the needs of their practice and collaborating physicians. 

A recent analysis of dermatologist and dermatology PA density demonstrates the positive impact PAs have on access to dermatologic care across the country, especially in nonurban locations where dermatologists are less likely establish their practice.3 There are more than 3000 members of the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants (SPDA) and this number continues to grow.5

jennifer conner_Jane MastOur profession was built on a team-based approach to medical practice, which remains the cornerstone of PA practice today. Despite the rapid expansion of the PA profession, we continue to recognize the importance of collaboration with physicians and other health care providers. The PA profession must continue to evolve to remain competitive in the marketplace. The SDPA advocates for team-based practice with board-certified or board-eligible dermatologists and we believe this relationship to be foundational to our mutual goal of providing better access and excellence in dermatological care. 


We continue to advocate for team practice with our dermatologist colleagues. The knowledge and skills we gain from working alongside our collaborating physicians is essential to our continued growth and ability to provide the best care for our patients. We remain committed to the value of the dermatologist-PA team in providing more timely access to care for patients and lifelong learning as a part of a health care team dedicated to dermatology. 

Ms Conner is the immediate past president of the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants. She has been a dermatology PA for more than 11 years. She practices in San Antonio, TX.

Ms Mast is the current president of the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants. She has been a dermatology PA for 16 years. She practices in Merritt Island, FL.


1. History of the PA profession. The American Academy of Physician Assistants website. Accessed November 19, 2017.

2. 1957 to 1960. The formative years. Physician Assistant History Society website. Accessed November 19, 2017.

3. Glazer AM, Holyoak K, Cheever E, Rigel DS. Analysis of US dermatology physician assistant density. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2017;76(6):1200-1202.

4. Physician shortages to worsen without increases in resident training. Association of Medical Colleges. Accessed November 19, 2017.

5. Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants website. Accessed November 19, 2017.