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Lack of Sustainable Funding a Barrier to Physician Assistant Employment in Canada

Ottawa, September 13, 2017—Although largely an area of untapped potential in most provinces, physician assistants (PAs) can help address many service gaps and health system policy goals, including improved continuity care, access, equity, and sustainability. But a new Conference Board of Canada report finds that the absence of sustainable funding models is a significant barrier for the expansion of PA employment across Canada.

“Demand for physician services is growing at twice the pace of population growth, putting considerable strain on Canada’s health care system and funding resources,” said Louis Thériault, Vice-President, Industry Strategy and Public Policy, The Conference Board of Canada.

“Physician assistants can help alleviate the increase in demand, decrease wait times, and off-set some of the health workforce shortages. But before that can happen, Canada needs to explore sustainable funding sources for physician assistants to better support their integration into the health care system.”


  • Sustainable funding models that support physician assistant employment are lacking in many provinces.
  • Physician assistants can help address many service gaps and health system policy goals.
  • A comprehensive funding model would enable the expansion of physician assistants across Canada.

In Canada, funding for PAs come from several sources: provincial governments through demonstration projects, career start programs, and targeted clinical service funding in primary care and hospital settings; block funding, such as academic specialty groups; or direct funding from physicians or hospitals. The absence of provincially mandated funding models is a significant barrier to employment and stability for Canadian PAs.

The report, Funding Models for Physician Assistants: Canadian and International Experiences, examines Canadian and international funding models from the U.S., U.K., and the Netherlands, as well as Ontario and Manitoba—the two provinces which employ the most PAs in Canada. The context of where the PA is employed, the services they provide, and the availability of funds, among other considerations, all impact that type of funding mechanisms countries employ. These examples provide several considerations for Canada, including:

  • An appropriate funding model for PA integration must be efficient and sustainable for the health system and meet defined performance and outcome targets.
  • Monitoring PA work, as well as their impact, outcomes, and efficiency is essential.
  • Funding models should also address local needs, specifically for primary care and emergency medicine.

This report is the third installment in a series of briefings that aim to provide an understanding of the role and financial impact of PAs on Canada’s health care system. The previous two reports are titled Value of Physician Assistants: Understanding the Role of Physician Assistants Within Health Systems and Gaining Efficiency: Increasing the Use of Physician Assistants in Canada. This series is funded by the Canadian Association of Physician Assistants.

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