As health reform places more strain on primary care and specialists, physician assistants (PAs) are moving in to help with the burden, according to a survey by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). In 2003, there were about 44,000 PAs. Now there are about 96,000 — more than double.

“As newly insured patients increase and more baby boomers enter the Medicare system, demand for PAs will continue to surge as proven providers of quality care,” says Dawn Morton-Rias, EdD, the NCCPA’s president and CEO. It is worth taking a closer look at these providers. For instance, 62.2% of all female PAs are under 40 while only 37.6% of male PAs are under 40. The median age for all PAs in 2013 was 38. (Women make up 66% of PAs.)

PA master’s degree worth getting

The average PA training program is about 26 months long. “Programs have been trending toward the master’s degree, and by 2020 all PA programs must offer at least a master’s degree level program to be accredited,” says the survey.

(Forbes this year said that the PA master’s degree is the degree that gives someone a better chance of landing a job than any other degree.)

About 54% of PAs work as extenders in family practice, surgery, and emergency medicine (20.5%, 19.1%, and 13.9% respectively).

About 3,800 don’t practice; many cited family responsibilities. The reason cited the least: The work wasn’t challenging enough.

Gender and age of PAs

Educational profile of PAs

Current practice area of principal clinical position

Data collected from about 76,000 respondents between May 2012 and December 2013.

Source: 2013 Statistical Profile of Certified Physician Assistants, National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, July 2014.