Dimensions of Retention: A National Study of the Locational Histories of Physician Assistants

Journal of Rural Health

This study describes the locational histories of a representative national sample of physician assistants and considers the implications of observed locational behavior for recruitment and retention of physician assistants in rural practice. Through a survey, physician assistants listed all the places they had practiced since completing their physician assistant training, making it possible to classify the career histories of physician assistants as "all rural," "all urban," "urban to rural" or "rural to urban." The study examined the retention of physician assistants in rural practice at several levels: in the first practice, in rural practice overall and in states. Physician assistants who started their careers in rural locations were more likely to leave them during the first four years of practice than urban physician assistants, and female rural physician assistants were slightly more likely to leave than men. Those starting in rural practice had high attrition to urban areas (41 percent); however, a significant proportion of the physician assistants who started in urban practice settings left for rural settings (10 percent). This kept the total proportion of physician assistants in rural practice at a steady 20 percent. While 21 percent of the earliest graduates of physician assistant training programs have had exclusively rural careers, only 9 percent of physician assistants with four to seven years of experience have worked exclusively in rural settings. At the state level, generalist physician assistants were significantly more likely to leave states with practice environments unfavorable to physician assistant practice in terms of prescriptive authority, reimbursement and insurance.

WWAMI Rural Health Research Center
Eric Larson, Gary Hart, Goodwin MK, Jack Geller, Holly Andrilla