Illinois is on track to expand the number of physician assistants allowed in rural areas thanks to Senate Bill 2904.
The bill, which has passed both houses of the General Assembly, will expand the number of physician assistants a doctor is allowed to collaborate with in areas facing a shortage of healthcare providers.
"Currently in Illinois, law is that a physician can only collaborate with 5 physician assistants," said Don Diemer, Director of the Physician Assistant program at SIU. "And in health profession shortage areas, that's caused some difficulty with the PAs that want to stay and practice in Southern Illinois and other rural and underserved areas."
Physician assistants perform many of the same duties as doctors and Diemer says that many patients in rural areas see physician assistants as their primary care provider.
"What this bill will do is increase the access to care and quality [of] care," he explained. "Currently, you may have to travel long distances to even see a provider in some cases, with the ratio as it is. So it will decrease wait times, eliminate the need to travel to other areas, and keep our providers here at home to take care of the communities."
That's important for SIU graduates as well. Diemer says roughly 70% of the program's graduates want to stay in the area, a number much higher than the national average. He says that recently some PA grads have had to move away because they couldn't find jobs thanks to the current law.
SB2904 is currently waiting for the governor's signature.