CHARLESTON, S.C. — As demand rises for physician assistants in South Carolina, there are shortages both with the schools that teach them and the clinics who train them.

The Medical University of South Carolina gets 1,600 applicants for its physician assistant program. And for the 700 who are qualified, the program only has 60 seats, Director of Physician Assistant Studies Helen Martin said.

“It is a growing profession. It has been for a number of years. We are at the top of the market right now,” Martin said. “There is a shortage of health care providers. This profession fits that need.”

In fact, the physician assistant program is currently slightly more competitive than MUSC’s program that trains doctors, The Post and Courier of Charleston reported.

Physician assistants examine patients, diagnose illness and provide treatment all under the leadership of a doctor. They typically make around $100,000 a year.

MUSC Board of Trustees Chairman Don Johnson said the Southeastern Spine Institute in Mount Pleasant that he founded has 17 physician assistants, most of them trained at MUSC.

“I tell them all the time, they’re much smarter than the doctors,” Johnson said.

The demand is also creating another problem. Five other South Carolina schools — the University of South Carolina in Columbia, Francis Marion University in Florence, Charleston Southern University, Presbyterian College in Clinton and North Greenville University — have opened physician assistant programs, but the number of clinics where the graduates can train have not kept up, Martin said.

“There’s only a certain number of clinical sites in South Carolina, and we’re all competing,” Martin said.


Information from: The Post and Courier, http://www.postandcourier.com