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First Year PA

Reasons to Love the PA Profession

Published October 31, 2013 4:02 PM by Harrison Reed
The first year of clinical practice can chew through the toughest skin right down to the marrow of your bones. Doubt creeps into the crevices of your brain, the dark recesses that you never knew existed. The early challenges of your career can force you to examine the biggest decisions of your life. Fortunately, there is one I have never doubted.

People have questioned my decision to become a physician assistant throughout my career. The inquiries are usually based on innocent curiosity. Many of my coworkers have had limited exposure to PAs or grew up and trained in countries where we simply don't exist. My position at a large, globally recognized academic center has, in a way, turned me into an international ambassador for the profession.

Occasionally, less respectful (though often well-intentioned) comments require a response as well. As a student, I cringed the first time a respected preceptor told me "You are really competent, you totally could have gone to medical school." While the influx of young, talented students to the PA profession seems to have baffled some outsiders, these (now frequent) comments merely serve as a reminder that our ranks are still misunderstood.

I'm known to delve into lengthy, animated rants on the virtues of the PA profession, but I try to limit the number of people I expose to that treatment. Instead, I prefer to distill this tirade into some key points.

The Top 3 Reasons to Love the PA Profession:

  1. Ultimate Career Flexibility - The PA profession is the slinky of healthcare. It offers flexibility beyond any other career. Our chameleon-like ability to adopt the practice scope of our supervising physicians means we can transition from prescribing outpatient medications to managing an ICU ventilator to opening an abdominal cavity in the operating room. We aren't limited by specialty certifications or required residency; we can collect an eclectic mixture of experiences and skills over the course of a career.
  2. An Emerging Healthcare Force -The PA profession hasn't turned 50 yet. That youth offers some great advantages. PAs are not hampered by centuries of outdated tradition or insurmountable political hierarchy. Like a hot piece of metal, the profession is malleable to the changing forces of the healthcare landscape. It is wide open for young leaders and pioneers to offer new ideas and leave an immortal impression. You can pretty much be the first PA-anything. Just ask PA Karen Bass; that is, if she isn't busy representing her district in Congress.
  3. Return on Investment -Money should never motivate someone to enter the healthcare industry. However, if you decide to dedicate your career to serving others, there is nothing wrong with getting a bargain. Based on the initial time and economic investment, PAs receive outstanding compensation, job security and career options nearly anywhere in the country.

Much more importantly, the job satisfies those who wish to impact the lives of others in a deep and meaningful way. It's hard to find another master's degree that offers the same career rewards.

The Not-Top List

While the above list is far from comprehensive, I purposefully omitted several common (and erroneous) ideas I have heard over the years. Responses like, "We work less/have a better lifestyle," or, "We get to spend more time with our patients (than physicians)," or, "PAs are just better at dealing with people," are impossible generalizations and, in nearly all cases, are factually inaccurate. Anyone supplying these reasons, especially at a PA school interview, should explore more hands-on opportunities with PAs in the work force.

3 comments

I don't know how the people skills point can be prove/disproven. I will say I've met many many doctors and many PAs and as a generalization (obviously), PAs tend to be much better people persons. Maybe it's because they're less stressed out in life or maybe PA schools weight personality differently? I don't know. Again, a generalization. I can give you many counter examples too.

Anthony M January 22, 2014 3:32 PM

Harrison, as someone who has interviewed potential applicants over the past 20+ years, I sincerely appreciate your comments.  Wonderful, and so true.  I wish you a rewarding career!

David Paulk, PA Education - Program Director, Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences January 22, 2014 3:01 PM
Staunton VA

Thank you for your 3 reasons to love the PA profession. I have been a PA for 25 years and have felt blessed everyday to have chosen this profession. I started out working in surgery for 10 years, worked in Endocrinology for 9 and now work in Sleep Medicine (which I love:). I am proud to be a PA and encourage anyone considering a healthcare profession to think about a career as a physician assistant!

Julie , Sleep Medicine - Physician Assistant November 7, 2013 11:05 AM
Rochester MN

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