If you’re interested in the medical field you’ll be sure to get asked this question by friends, family, admissions committees, or even job applications. Why do I want to be a Physician Assistant? Most people understand why you want to be in medicine, but many don’t know what exactly a Physician Assistant is and why you would choose that over being a Physician. So here are my reasons : )
Length/Cost of training: Well, to take it back to the beginning, a Physician Assistant can examine patients, prescribe medicine, order and interpret diagnostic tests, perform surgery, consult patients, and perform other duties that Physicians also perform, BUT Physician Assistant’s have 2 or 3 years of in class and clinical training, whereas Physicians often have 7 or more years of training. The cost of Physician Assistant school can vary greatly from 30,000 to 200,000 from matriculation to graduation depending on private or public, in-state or out-of-state, price of living, etc. but the median cost is 76,000. I am lucky and fortunate enough to soon attend a Physician Assistant school where the tuition is 30,000 for two years. Comparatively, the median cost of Medical school for 4 years at a private university is 280,000. These differences are enough to persuade someone who doesn’t want to commit to nearly a decade of intense training and the anxiety of jumping into a deep pool of debt without having a job to pay it off for years due to training. Now obviously, the salary you come to make after your training is finished balances out the debt at some point in both situations. I came to terms with the fact that I can still provide health care, and great health care at that as a Physician Assistant.
Teamwork: A Physician Assistant is a mid-level health care professional who is able to provide care to patients under the supervision of a Physician. Some people may hate the thought of having someone “above” them, but I love the thought of having a Physician to consult with, collaborate with for bigger decisions, and overall just having a teammate if the going gets tough. That umbrella of safety is unique and important to me and is different than most jobs in the health care field can offer. My thought is having two sets of eyes on a patient is better than one.
Lateral Mobility: A Physician Assistant is not required to declare a speciality or go through residency in a speciality they want to work in. As a PA, I can graduate and apply for a job in Emergency Medicine and 10 years later, I can decide to apply for a job in Surgery. Yes, there will be some turnover time in learning and feeling completely comfortable in the new specialty but I love that I don’t have to commit to just one specialty. Another great thing about not declaring a specialty is that many Physician Assistant’s can “moonlight” into different specialties as a second part time/per diem job, and another source of income. There are also some ARC-PA accredited residencies out there for Physician Assistants in just about every speciality that typically last 12 months for those looking for more training and education in a specialty they are sure they want to commit to.
Hours: A Physician Assistant can have some very great hours given the right opportunity. I’ve seen PAs working 1 week on, 1 week off, or 1 week on, 2 weeks off in the hospital setting and 4 days per week in the private practice setting. Now, not all jobs are this cushy, but there are a lot of great hours out there for PAs. Many Physicians can find themselves working 60+ hours per week depending upon their specialty. Depending upon your location, the staff situation, and specialty, many times there is no “on call” responsibility for PAs unlike many Physicians and typically no managerial responsibilities lie on the Physician Assistant in a practice setting. Something that really deterred me from going into Private Practice as a Physician was the huge business side of it that no one really sees. It’s really important to me to have a future work/life balance and I think the Physician Assistant profession will help me fulfill that.
And that wraps up some of the main reasons I chose the Physician Assistant path! Thanks for reading!