LYNCHBURG, Va. -

The next time you visit a doctor's office, you might not see an actual doctor.

Physician assistants, or PAs, are being hired in growing numbers across the country.

PAs spend less time in school and aren't required to do the same type of residencies as a medical doctor, but they perform many of the same duties.  PAs can examine patients, diagnose illnesses, and prescribe medications.

Lynchburg College is launching a master's degree program for PAs next summer.  Students will take 27 months of classes and complete clinical rotations, under the supervision of licensed professionals.

The program is getting support from Lynchburg's largest health care provider, Centra Health.  Centra is investing $250,000 to help pay for equipment and cover expenses, once the program is fully accredited.

"The gift from Centra will go a long way toward allowing our program to have state-of-the-art task trainers and technology for the training of our students as we move forward with the program," said Dr. Jeremy Welsh, department chair and program director for the Master of Physician Assistant Medicine program at LC.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of PAs employed in the United States is expected to increase 38 percent between 2012 and 2022.  That's faster than the growth rate for all other professions.  The Affordable Care Act is also providing money to fund programs that train PAs.

The program at LC is expected to launch next June.  It will need approval from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) and Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) before degrees can be awarded.