New AAPA President: Physician Associates Key to Addressing Workforce Shortages

By Christopher Cheney

Physician associates (PA) are part of the solution for workforce shortages in the healthcare sector, says Folusho Ogunfiditimi, DM, MPH, PA-C, president and chair of the Board of Directors at the American Academy of Physician Associates (AAPA).

Ogunfiditimi began his term as president of the AAPA this month. He currently works as administrator of practice management at Florida Health Care Plans. His prior experience includes serving as the associate administrator of the Detroit Medical Center Cardiovascular Institute.

HealthLeaders recently talked with Ogunfiditimi about a range of issues, including the priorities of his AAPA presidency and the ideal role for PAs on care teams. The following transcript of that conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

HealthLeaders: What are the priorities for your AAPA presidency?

Folusho Ogunfiditimi: There are three main categories and a fourth that is not as critical. The three main categories are what I call the Three Ps.

The first P stands for patients and improving access for patient care. The ability of patients to get the care they need is critically important.

The second P stands for practice—the practice that PAs are actually working in. We need to improve outcomes, whether that is health outcomes or outcomes related to the value or productivity that PAs bring to practices. We need to be able to empower PAs as well as expand and grow their practices.

The third P stands for the profession as a whole. We need to modernize the laws around the profession. About 100 million people lack access to primary care. Only 47% of primary care needs are actually being met. So, some of the challenges that PAs have in terms of the current laws prevent us from boosting healthcare access for our patients. About 163 million people do not have access to mental health care. PAs need to be fully utilized to the extent of their training.

The fourth priority is looking at expanding the role of PAs as it relates to leadership, mentorship, and closing the equity gaps in healthcare. I want to focus on how we can mentor young PAs. So, I want to be looking at research and looking at leadership as well as looking at mechanisms to be able to effectively close health equity gaps.

HL: What is the ideal role for a PA on a care team?

Ogunfiditimi: We have talked a lot about optimal team practice—how PAs, physicians, and other healthcare providers work together to deliver care. That is the optimal role for PAs and being able to deliver services without the administrative burden that you see in terms of having constraints around them.

For example, when a PA is not legally tethered to a physician, the PA can be more flexible in the care they deliver. It would be easier to allow PAs to serve on care teams by expanding the role of PAs and making sure that PAs are able to practice to the top of their license and the top of their training. This will facilitate PAs to be able to serve in medically underserved communities, where we currently do not have enough physicians and in certain areas have no physicians. PAs are primed to provide care in those areas in states that allow them to practice autonomously.

So, the ideal role for PAs is to work on care teams with colleagues but to also have the ability to fully maximize their training and work autonomously.

HL: There are workforce shortages in healthcare nationwide, including shortages of physicians. How can PAs help to address workforce shortages?

Ogunfiditimi: PAs play a critical role in ensuring patients have access to high-quality care. A recent Harris Poll that was conducted for AAPA showed that 67% of patients who have seen a PA would trust a PA to serve as their primary care provider. The same poll showed that 92% of patients believe PAs should be allowed to provide care to the fullest extent of their education and training. The poll found 90% of patients believe PAs are part of the solution for our healthcare workforce shortages.

So, PAs play a critical role in ensuring that we can improve access to quality healthcare and improve on the disparities we see in healthcare. In most states, PAs are required to have supervision by a physician. Some states have gotten rid of that requirement, which is something we support.

HL: You are administrator of practice management at Florida Health Care Plans. How did working as a PA help prepare you to serve in an administrative leadership role?