Health workforce shortages are a global phenomenon. Dealing with these shortages requires a multi dimensional strategy that some developed countries have recognised may need to include the introduction of new health professionals. These professionals supplement the work of medical practitioners in dealing with changing population health needs.
One such complementary practitioner, the physician assistant, has made significant contributions to the United States’ health system for over forty years. In the United States, physician assistants have proven to be an efficient and cost effective means to deliver health care and demand for their services is growing. Other developed and developing nations have either adapted the United States physician assistant model to suit their health system or have shown interest in the model.
In Australia, debate is still underway concerning the merits of alternative practitioners. Primarily, this debate centres on whether these practitioners constitute a threat to the quality and safety of health care.
This paper outlines the development of the physician assistant model in the United States, Britain and Canada and considers the possible application of the model to the Australian health system. It concludes there is potential to adapt this model to suit the Australian health system so that quality of care and safety in the delivery of services is not compromised.