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The PA role in medicine is flexible and innovative

The following article, co-authored by Augsburg PA Program’s Program Director, was recently published in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

Alicia Quella, PhD, PA-C is an epidemiologist and the Chair and Program Director of the Augsburg PA Program in Minneapolis, MN.

The PA role in medicine is flexible and innovative. PAs work in every clinical specialty and thrive in other roles too: CEOs, administrators, public health experts, business owners, researchers and professors.  Not only have PAs continued to emerge into different careers, especially during the pandemic, they demonstrate the ability to change clinical specialties over the course of their careers. A recent study demonstrated that new PAs spend about 3.4 years in their first job, on average, before they decide to move to another medical or surgical field.1

To better demonstrate this flexibility, an alluvial diagram was developed for PAs who report one clinical specialty change on the AAPA annual census within a 10-year period.1 An alluvial diagram contains additional information beyond summary statistics that illustrates aggregate changes in each clinical role. The two vertical bars represent the clinical roles of PAs’ first and second jobs, respectively. The flow between the two vertical bars demonstrates the movement of PAs from one broad clinical category to another.

Career progression of PA between primary care, sugrical subspecialty, other specialty, internal medication, emergency medicine and pediatric


This flow from one clinical specialty to another, occurring early in a new PAs career, emphasizes the adaptability and potential of this career arc. Additionally, from clinician to administrator (many are also dual-employed across specialties), it will be exciting to see what lies ahead for this innovative profession.


  1. Quella, Alicia K. PhD, MPAS, PA-C; Hooker, Roderick S. PhD, MBA, PA; Zobitz, John M. PhD Retention and change in PAs’ first years of employment, Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants: June 2021 – Volume 34 – Issue 6 – p 40-43.

doi: 10.1097/01.JAA.0000750972.64581.b0