"The profession is so hot right now that there's going to be anywhere from 60 to 80 new programs that pop up over the next six years or so," Payne said.
One reason for the high demand is the growing elderly population, Payne said. That population consumes about 80 percent of the nation's medical resources. With the elderly population set to double in the next 10 to 15 years, the demand for qualified professionals will only increase, he said.
Physician assistants can do many of the same things that doctors do, but the training takes less time, he said. The average PA program takes 27 or 28 months after a student has achieved his or her bachelor's degree.
After that, "they'll be able to start practicing right away, as opposed to the physicians' route -- four years of medical school and anywhere from three to six years of internships and residencies before they become board certified," Payne said.
The jobs pay well, Payne said -- between $70,000 and $100,000 per year, depending on experience and specialty.
UC's first cohort of physician assistant students started in January with 30 students.
The next group, which will start in January, is already more than halfway full. Seventeen of the 24 available slots are filled and officials anticipate having the rest filled by early summer, Payne said.
"The new program is going very well," Kahler said. "We certainly have very talented individuals who are working with students very close and ensuring they have all the resources they need to be successful."
Reach Lori Kersey at lori.ker...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.