Understanding the role of physician assistants in oncology

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of Oncology Practice








Purpose: To understand the deployment of physician assistants (PAs) in oncology. A recent analysis of the oncology workforce in the United States commissioned by ASCO predicted a significant shortage of providers by 2020. Methods: A descriptive study was undertaken using a Web-based questionnaire survey. Invited participants, including all PAs listed in the national PA database (n = 855) and all PAs at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center (Houston, TX; n = 159), were mailed letters directing them to the Web-based survey. Results: The study produced a 30% response rate. A total of 186 PAs worked in medical oncology (the population of interest). Of the respondents, 80% were women, mean age was 36 years, average time employed as a PA was 9.5 years (6.5 years in oncology), 55% had obtained a master's degree, four had completed a postgraduate oncology program, 91% reported that direct mentorship by a supervising physician was very important in obtaining oncology-based knowledge, and 61% reported that becoming fully competent in the practice of oncology required 1 to 2 years. The majority of PAs (78.5%) worked 33 to 50 hours per week, and 56% of those reported working 41 to 50 hours per week. Three fourths (77%) wrote chemotherapy orders, most requiring physician co-signature, and 69% prescribed schedule III to V controlled substances. Additional data were gathered regarding clinical duties, research, and teaching. Conclusion: Oncology PAs are used in multiple medical settings, and many assume high-level responsibilities. Future research addressing function and factors that limit use of PAs may allow for improved organizational efficiency and enhancement in the delivery of health care. Copyright © 2010 by American Society of Clinical Oncology.

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