I have worked as a Physician Assistant for about two years now, and I absolutely LOVE what I do. I do not have a shadow of doubt in my mind that this is exactly the right career choice for me. Prior to pursuing this career, I spent years researching exactly what PAs did in the medical field and shadowing PAs in numerous specialties. Although I am still “green” in my career, I feel that there are a hundred reasons why being a Physician Assistant is the greatest. Below are my top ten reasons to pursue this path to being a competent, well-rounded provider:
1. Element of surprise
If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “So what kind of nurse are you?” or “When will the actual doctor be in?” I would be a VERY rich woman! Depending on your geographical location, PAs are still a fairly new profession, and patients oftentimes do not understand what our clinical role is. I still love the look on patients’ faces when I tell them that, in fact, I am their provider, and explain the training that I received to get to this point!
Although the exact rotations vary from program to program, all PAs receive training in a multitude of medical specialties. When we take our boards, we are tested on every body system. This allows us to work in any specialty upon graduation and the successful completion of our boards. We also have the ability to change specialties at any time during our career, as we receive on-the-job training from our supervising professions. For example, I took my first job with a large cardiology group, and then took a job with an emergency medicine group about a year and a half later. How cool is that?!
3. Medical model training
The courses that PAs take very closely model those that physicians take in medical school. Our rotations are often structured similarly as well. This means our training, differential diagnosis and diagnostic approach are as closely related to the physician’s training as they can be without attending medical school. I have found that my supervising physicians value this parallel in our training and clinical approach, which allows for the ultimate trust and communication in a professional partnership.
While PAs always work in conjunction with a supervising physician, we also have a large amount of autonomy in clinical practice. I am, more times than not, the sole provider for a patient once they hit the doors of the Emergency Department. My job is to interpret a patient’s vital signs, order and interpret the appropriate diagnostic tests, establish a differential diagnosis and formulate a treatment plan. While there is always a physician on shift that I could consult with questions, I can usually handle the case without having the physician intervene.
I could sit here and go through an entire paragraph of numbers for you to compare the overall net income of a physician versus a PA when you factor in their debts…however, THIS is a great article that I read recently that breaks it down into really detailed, really realistic scenarios. The bottom line is that with net income and debt factored in, PAs are not far behind physicians in terms of hourly wage. Check it out – the numbers speak for themselves!
6. Being part of the solution
With all of the recent healthcare reform, there has been a large influx of patients into the healthcare system. Patients who have not seen providers or had access to basic/preventative care are now seeking such from a limited number of providers. Primary care physicians and specialists are struggling to meet this demand, and hiring a PA is a great solution to this need. PAs are used as an extension of the physician, which allows for more patients to be seen and in turn, improves access to care.
7. Job placement
See the above. Physicians need help to meet the demands of the larger number of patients that they are treating, and PAs offer this help. Most physicians are eager to hire a PA, as we provide the same quality preventative care, but for much less cost than it would be to hire a physician. Clinical rotations are a great time to network, find what area of medicine interests you, and even job search. Most of my classmates had job offers before we even graduated. Physicians are eager to higher PAs!
8. Problem solving
One of my favorite parts of the job! Being a provider is a bit like being a detective. We gather all of the “clues”: the history, the exam, the labs and images, etc., and piece everything together to be able to solve the puzzle. At times, it can be challenging, but finding the right answer is always so rewarding.
9. Medicine is constantly changing
There are new studies, diagnostic tests and medications that are coming to market every day. Being a provider demands that you be a lifelong learner, which is something that I love. To maintain my license, I have to acquire so many CME (Continuing Medical Education) credits each year. There is no shortage of ways to earn these, including conferences, podcasts and journal reviews. Many employers will even give allowances for you to be able to pay for your CME!
10. Personal interaction
Other than the challenge of solving a “medical puzzle,” it is the patient-provider interaction that I find to be the most rewarding. At the end of the day, patients want to feel that their voices were heard and that they mattered to someone. It is truly an honor to be able to care for patients in their time of need, to be trusted with their deepest concerns and to be a part of the solution.
Stephanie is an Emergency Medicine PA-C who practices in Kentucky. Originally from Michigan, she graduated from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN with a Bachelors degree in Chemistry. She went on to work as a CNA at an assisted living facility and pharmacy technician prior to obtaining her Masters degree in Physician Assistant Studies at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, KY. She has experience in cardiology as well as emergency medicine. She resides with her new husband and dog, and enjoys working on her fashion blog, White Coat Wardrobe, in her spare time.