Most of the clients I work with are dead set on becoming doctors. I believe this mindset exists because doctors have such a visible role in patient care historically, and in the media, are represented as being at the very top of the healthcare hierarchy.
Physician assistants (PAs) are a relatively new member of the healthcare team. The first PA program was started in 1965 at Duke University Medical Center. The Physician Assistant Education Association was created in 1972.
In comparison, there is evidence that the first physicians existed as early as 3000 BCE. The first medical school in the U.S. was established at the University of Pennsylvania for the 13 colonies in 1765. Doctors clearly have been around for a significantly longer period of time and have more visibility and authority than do PAs. However, as hard as I often try to convince students who think they prefer the physician route over that of the PA, there are many advantages to becoming a PA.
I have identified at least nine concrete reasons why you should consider becoming a physician assistant:
1. PAs help meet the need for care
If you do indeed love to help others and want to improve access to healthcare, becoming a PA is a much faster way to do so. PAs graduate in two to three years. Most PA students spend the first year or two—depending on the program—in the classroom and then begin their rotations.
2. PAs focus on developing relationships with patients
PAs often get to spend more time with patients. They can become a patient’s main provider. PAs often have less paperwork and more time to spend providing care. They can also provide continuity of care as the main provider—in building relationships with their patients that can last many years or decades.
3. PAs benefit from a team-based approach
In sharing responsibility for the care and outcomes of your patient population, you can maintain a healthier work-life balance and provide a higher quality of care. As the saying goes, two heads are better than one…and three or more heads will be even that more advantageous!
4. PAs gain access to constant learning opportunities
Healthcare is a dynamic and quickly evolving field. Becoming a PA will allow you to learn from experts from all educational levels—MDs, MD/PhDs, PAs, nurse practitioners, nurses, hospital techs, patients, and others. Each patient is unique and will present you with the opportunity to meet their needs to the best of your abilities as a person, provider, and scientist.
5. PAs have the opportunity to continue their education
Your education will not end with your PA degree. You will need to maintain your certifications through regular testing and continuing medical education credits (CMEs). Similar to doctors, you will have to meet a required number of CMEs per year or a set period of time. Often, your employers will provide professional development funds to help you cover the cost of additional training.
6. PAs get to be a part of an up and coming profession
PAs are one of the fastest growing branches of medicine. The anticipated growth in this field along with the physician shortage will make PAs all the more valuable and offer unprecedented opportunities for professional growth and development.
7. PAs have the flexibility to explore multiple specialties
Unlike physicians, PAs can move across specialties with ease. It’s as simple as applying for a new job. With a comprehensive educational background, after completing your PA degree, you will be able to pursue any specialty of your interest for any length of time you desire.
8. PAs use the same process of differential diagnosis and diagnosis as physicians
To provide the best possible support to the healthcare team and patients, in PA school you will be trained in the same method of differential diagnosis and diagnosis as physicians. The only limitations to your role as a PA include:
• You cannot perform surgery without the supervision of a physician.
• There are limitations to what you can prescribe, depending on the state.
9. PAs take on significantly less debt while earning a high income
If you compare the average debt for PA programs to those of MDs, you will be taking on significantly less debt as a PA. Combine that reduced debt with a high potential income—that is continuing to increase— and you could be in a better financial position.
There are many reasons to become a PA. To further explore this option, shadow a PA or schedule an informational interview with one. You can also contact the PA schools in your area or visit their websites to learn if they have any events or informational sessions. Or you can schedule a tour.
For assistance with applying to PA programs, check out Accepted’s PA Admissions Services or contact me or one of my colleagues directly. We’d be delighted to help guide you successfully through the PA application process.Alicia McNease Nimonkar is an Accepted advisor and editor specializing in healthcare admissions. Prior to joining Accepted, Alicia worked for five years as Student Advisor at UC Davis’ postbac program where she both evaluated applications and advised students applying successfully to med school and related programs. Want Alicia to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!
• Get Your Game On: Prepping For Your Grad School Application, a free guide
• A PA’s Positive Outlook: If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, a student interview
• 10 Reasons to Become a PA