Why Choose the PA Profession?Jun 18, 2022
The PA (physician assistant, soon to be changed to physician associate) profession is amazing. I mean, as a PA-C myself, I’m clearly highly biased, but I’m truly passionate about the profession! Whether you are a pre-PA student in high school or college, a PA-S in PA school, or a practicing PA-C, you’ve had to answer this question for yourself: “Why did you choose to pursue becoming a PA?” Well, here’s an overview of some of the reasons that I chose the PA profession. If you’re still considering a PA career among other career options, I hope this post can help shed some light for you on the amazingness (that’s a word, right?) of the PA profession!
The PA Profession Is Very Versatile
PAs are advanced practice providers who are trained in generalized medicine as well as various procedures, so from the start of PA school, PAs are optimized to deliver quality care while assisting with the nation’s physician shortage. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the growth rate for PA employment will be 31% from 2018 – 2028! PAs practice in many fields of medicine by taking detailed patient histories, performing physical examinations, developing and implementing treatment plans, prescribing medications, ordering and interpreting laboratory tests and diagnostic studies, and performing in-office procedures. PAs can be found in general areas of medicine such as family medicine, internal medicine, urgent care, emergency medicine, as well as specialties such as dermatology, interventional radiology, cardiology, orthopedics, endocrinology, psychiatry, gastroenterology, rheumatology, neurology, pulmonology, asthma and allergy, sleep medicine, OBGYN, pediatrics, pain management, and many surgical specialties such as general surgery, urology, plastic surgery, neurosurgery, colorectal surgery, etc. The emphasis really should be placed on the “etc.”, as there are so many areas of medicine that PAs practice in!
But do you know what one of the great benefits of the profession is? PAs can start in any area of medicine, and can switch to any area of medicine that has a team or physician that is willing to train in the nuances of their specialty throughout the lifetime of their career! This concept is called lateral mobility: PAs have the ability to be flexible in choosing the specialties they work in, and the ability to move between specialties if they desire to do so. Although my PA classmates and I have only been practicing for 6 years, most of my classmates have been in at least two or more specialties since we graduated in 2014. Even physicians do not have this luxury throughout their career. For example, if a physician decides that he or she would like to switch from cardiology to dermatology, then he or she would have to back through another residency for a few more years before they can make the the switch.
I have always said, “Who knows what area of medicine that I would like to be practicing in 10 to 20 years down the road?” Here’s a news flash: although physician assistant students are exposed to several areas of medicine during their rotations, unfortunately, they just simply cannot have a rotation in every single field of medicine before graduating as there are too many options. How can they truly know which field of medicine that they will absolutely love if they never even got a chance to have a rotation in it? For example, when I was choosing my (only) three elective rotations as a PA-S, the fascinating field of interventional radiology (IR) was not even on my radar, as I had not even heard about PAs practicing in IR back then. Although I’ve never practiced in IR, it sounds like a very cool area of medicine, and being a PA allows me to be able to consider it as an option in my future.
The Streamlined Training Allows for Fewer Years in School and Less Student Loan Debt
The average PA program duration is 26 months to obtain a master’s degree (after the completion of a bachelor’s degree). This fast-paced, streamlined training allows PAs to be able to start practicing medicine in a shorter amount of time than their physician counterparts. A physician attends medical school for 4 years (after completion of a bachelor’s degree), followed by another 3 – 7 years of residency! Additionally, although the student loan debt for most newly graduated PAs is still quite high, it is certainly lower than most physician loans, partially due to the accelerated training. Less time in school = less time for student loan debt to accrue.
The PA Income Is Still Quite Sufficient
Although (most) PAs do not earn as much as (most) physicians, the PA income is nothing to sneeze at. The caveat that the “most” provides is that some physicians in certain lower income fields of medicine (such as some physicians practicing in pediatrics) actually can make less income than some PAs in certain higher income fields of medicine (such as some PAs practicing in dermatology). According to the 2020 AAPA Salary Report, the national median compensation for a PA was $111,000 in 2019. In addition to various specialties paying more than others, certain states will also have higher incomes for PAs than other states. To accelerate your timeline to reach financial independence, consider implementing the concept of geoarbitrage by moving to a state that typically has higher income for PAs while having a lower cost of living to get more bang for your buck.
The PA Work-Life Balance May Be Great
Practicing PAs may be able to achieve a great work-life balance. However, this is very specialty and group dependent. For example, I currently work in family medicine for a fairly large organization that owns several clinics throughout my state. We PAs (and our NP colleagues) are fortunate in that we currently do not take call. The physicians throughout the clinics rotate call amongst themselves. I am very thankful for this! However, perhaps PAs in more surgical-based fields may have to take call to be able to scrub in on some emergent cases at times.
PAs Are Integral Parts of the Healthcare Team
The PA profession has deep roots as being part of the team that provides healthcare to our patients. PAs have had to work with supervising physicians “overseeing” them to provide healthcare to patients as part of a team. However, the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) has adapted a policy known as Optimal Team Practice (OTP). The main goal of OTP is to aid in all “healthcare professionals to work together to provide quality care to our patients by removing burdensome administrative constraints”.
Although OTP is attempting to remove the specific relationship that each PA has with his or her supervising physician (SP), PAs still are wanting to remain collaborative in the way we practice healthcare. For example, whenever a practicing PA has a question about a patient, they will still reach out to a colleague (as physicians do as well). Additionally, as a family medicine PA, I will continue to refer to specialists in many fields for various medical issues. Read more about the objectives of OTP here.
In conclusion, I hope that this post has allowed you to see why the PA profession truly is an amazing career choice. There are so many benefits to becoming a PA, and I think it’s an excellent career to start your journey to financial independence.
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