Conduct Research to Show Impact of PA Profession on Health Outcomes

Updates to National PA Research Agenda Reflect Changing Profession

July 8, 2019

By AAPA Commission on Research and Strategic Initiatives

What have the PA profession’s research experts deemed the most important themes for a national research agenda? The value of PAs, the PA workforce, the role of PAs in a changing health care system, and PA education. The AAPA Commission on Research and Strategic Initiatives encourages PAs to further explore one of these topics to help demonstrate the impact of the profession on health outcomes.

For many PAs, knowing where to focus their research can be the hardest part of getting involved. Lucky for them, scores of experienced researchers, leaders, and advocates have come together to highlight areas where more research is needed within the profession. Research is imperative to show the PA profession’s impact on health outcomes as seen in medicine by other health care professionals.

National PA Research Agenda: Humble Beginnings
In 2010, AAPA hosted a three-day Research Summit where more than 90 researchers sought to show the maturity of the PA profession and solidify the profession’s own research agenda.1 At that time, the Research Summit had specific aims:

(1) To identify and reach consensus on key questions regarding the PA profession upon which the framework for a research agenda would be built.

(2) To identify and reach consensus on core strategic, specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-specific goals for a research agenda.

(3) To identify and reach consensus on individual and institutional stakeholders, within the PA community and beyond, that have a strong interest and motivation for advancing and supporting a research agenda for the profession.

By the end of this meeting four main themes emerged: the value of PAs, the PA workforce, the role of PAs in a changing health care system, and the PA education continuum. The Research Summit resulted in the framework for the National PA Research Agenda and highlighted the most important questions within each theme for PA researchers. A Research Steering Committee was established to further refine the work that arose from the Research Summit. After two years of ongoing work, the National PA Research Agenda was published.

National PA Research Agenda updated to reflect growth and change
Since 2011, there has been tremendous growth and change in the PA profession. PA education has seen significantly more new programs and consequently the number of new PAs has increased every year; PAs have expanded their clinical roles within a wide range of specialties; the concept of Optimal Team Practice (OTP) necessitates research showing PA outcomes; and PAs are discussing the potential ramifications of a title change and of entry-level doctoral degrees. These changes resulted in updates to the National PA Research Agenda. Between 2017 and 2018 more than 200 stakeholders provided meaningful feedback on the existing National PA Research Agenda. The purpose of this update was to maintain the spirit of the original document while providing an updated framework for the changes that have occurred and the future of the PA profession.

Use National PA Research agenda to look at PA impact
The four pillars of the updated National PA Research Agenda are PA Value and Impact, PA Workforce, PA Role and Practice, and PA Education. Research under the PA Value and Impact pillar evaluates the quality of care and the cost effectiveness of the care that PAs provide within the health care system. Currently most health outcomes that are measured and are reported are from medical doctors or the health care team. It is time to see how PAs have impacted health outcomes especially since the Affordable Care Act was implemented.

Research should examine the demographic composition of the PA Workforce that includes who PAs are, as well as where and in what specialties PAs are practicing. Work under the PA Role and Practice pillar explores the dynamics of PA practice. Finally, research under the PA Education pillar evaluates the changes needed in order to prepare graduates for the work that they will encounter in the future, and to explore subjects such as revised competencies, the cost of education and the value of the PA doctorate.

With each pillar comes a description of how to approach research topics in these areas and questions that may serve as exemplars for building one’s own research agenda. Students may benefit when deciding upon where to focus their capstone research projects or dissertations. A summary of the four pillars with some sample research questions can be seen in Table 1. Explore the Updated National PA Research Agenda in its entirety, get some ideas and start researching.

Table 1. Updated National PA Research Agenda excerpt

Four Pillars of National Research Agenda Sample Questions
PA Value and Impact · How do PAs impact the cost effectiveness of health care?

· Do PAs provide the same level of care or higher compared to other health care practitioners?

PA Workforce · What does the current PA workforce in the U.S. look like?

· How many PAs are working in specialty areas versus primary care? What are the trends?

PA Role and Practice




· Are PAs satisfied with their jobs and with their roles in delivering care?

· What kind of care are PAs delivering?

PA Education

· How can faculty best be supported and developed professionally?

· Is there a need for doctorally-prepared PA professionals to work in education, research, leadership, and advanced practice?

· How can we increase the number of clinical site and preceptors?


More Resources
National PA Research Agenda (Summary Presentation)
Establishing a Framework for a Physician Assistant Research Agenda: A Summary of the March 2010 Research Summit
National PA Research Agenda
Updated PA Research Agenda (Summary)
Updated PA Research Agenda (Full Report)


1. Fang R. A national agenda in support of research on the PA profession. JAAPA. 2012;25(6):39-40, 42-43.

Authors are the Commission on Research and Strategic Initiatives and Noël Smith, senior director of AAPA Research. Contact Noel at [email protected].

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