If you’ve visited a doctor in recent years you may have noticed more physician assistants diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medication. In fact, physician assistants are among the fastest-growing professions in the United States.
State-licensed physician assistants, also called PAs, can take medical histories, perform physical exams, counsel patients and assist in surgeries while working under a doctor’s supervision. In addition to primary care, physician assistants also work in medical and surgical specialities.
But recently-graduated physician assistants who want to work in Illinois must wait months before they can treat patients. The current processing time for Illinois Physician Assistant applications is 8 to 10 weeks, according to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR).
For comparison, licensing officials in Wisconsin said they can process a PA license application in as little as eight days.
Betsy Matthews is the administrator of American Center for Spine and Neurosurgery in Libertyville and said the longer processing times in Illinois impact patient care and her office’s ability to attract new hires.
“Without that license they can’t practice and even without the license they can’t obtain any privileges at the hospitals,” Matthews said.
New physician assistant Alexa Niermeyer told NBC 5 Investigates she had to wait about three and a half months before the state issued her PA license, controlled substance license and other required documents.
“A lot of PAs graduate with student loans and then obviously other expenses and to have to wait that long to start working and getting a paycheck can be ready challenging for people,” Niermeyer said.
A spokesperson for the IDFPR said several factors can increase individual processing times, including applications submitted with incomplete or insufficient information or personal history issues requiring further Department review.
“The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation is committed to processing all applications thoroughly and promptly to ensure all practitioners are qualified and safe to practice,” said IDFPR director of policy and community relations Eric Eizinger.
Matthews said physician assistants are often looking at positions in a variety of states and are willing to relocate.
“Illinois’ reputation for taking a long time to process applications has unfortunately spread,” Matthews said.
The Illinois Academy of Physician Assistants (IAPA) said the IDFPR is understaffed and “lacks sufficient funding to tackle the backlog of applications.”
“The IAPA will work during 2019 with the new Governor to improve the financial situation and help the department have the resources it needs,” said IAPA spokesperson Dan Shomon.
Shomon said the IAPA has worked successfully to resolve individual cases of licenses being delayed.
According to the IDFPR, the volume of initial applications received varies throughout the year and the Department optimizes staffing resources to meet the processing demands.