We’ve been asked twice already this week: “Can you work while going to PA school?”

Times are tough, and everyone wants to minimize student debt, and if you’ve been reading us for a while, you know that PA school costs anywhere from a chunk of change to a truckload.  So why wouldn’t you want to work while you’re going to PA school?  Well, here goes…

Working While Going to PA School

First, as always, it depends on your program (we know – we say that a lot).

UC Davis School of Medicine (where we go) is structured so that students will have periods at school, and periods away.  Despite this, they heartily discourage students from doing any work while going to PA school, because they know that your chance of failing out is vastly increased if you don’t have enough time and energy to study adequately.  We have intense periods of class time (8-5, 3-5 days per week, study time not included), sandwiched between stretches where we’re at home, studying and preparing for our next set of exams for 1-3 weeks at a stretch.  A few of our classmates work, but none work many hours (max of 16 per week?), and none find it easy.  As we’re now in our second year, all work will need to stop soon, since preceptorships will be nearly five days per week during the weeks when we’re at home.

But enough about us.  If you’re considering doing work while going to PA school, here are our thoughts:

  1. Before you start, check with each program to find out if working while in enrolled is even allowed.  It sounds a little kindergarten-y, but some programs expressly forbid it.  We’re not sure what kind of action a program could take if you broke such a rule, but we assume there are ways they could make you regret it.
  2. If you program does allow you to work, do so with extreme caution.  PA school is an accelerated form of medical school, and is almost always more intense than incoming students expect.  Falling behind early on is a recipe for disaster.  If you must work, at least in early semesters, scale your hours back as much as possible until you know how much you can handle.
  3. If you are new to medicine (i.e. coming to it after working business or engineering or something) we think working a job while going to pa school is a terrible  idea.  Since you’re new to it, you’ll need more time with the books and study groups to stay with your classmates, many of whom have worked extensively in medicine and know more than a thing or two about it.  We assume you worked hard to get your science and health care experience requirements fulfilled — how you would you like to come this far and fail because you took on too much other stuff?  Sad indeed.
  4. If you think you’re up to the challenge of working while in school, do yourself a favor and keep your mouth shut about it until you can talk with a student from the program about it.  Incidentally, we consider this a bad thing to ask about at a PA school interview, since it could mean the difference between rejecting you and accepting you to some admissions committees.  At UCD, each incoming PA student is assigned a big “sibling,” both as a welcome, and to help them learn the ropes.  If you’re lucky enough to have such an opportunity and a current PA student tells you to scrap the idea, listen to them.

But as sure as squirrels keep nuts in their cheeks, we know that some will read this article and think themselves different, special–invulnerable even–and do it anyway.  For some there just is no other way financially.  We accept that, but it doesn’t make us sleep any better.

Our Parting Thought

Even if you are  able to work, we can’t imagine you will get as much out of your PA training if you do.  PA school is like drinking from a fire hose for 2+ years, which makes doing it while working akin to drinking from a fire hose for 2+ years while riding a unicycle and juggling chainsaws.  I mean, would you want to be treated by a doctor or PA who worked 40+ per week and moonlighted too?  You might?

We say no thanks.

  • Ambur February 23, 2013, 10:10 am

    Great article! I love your website, it gives me a lot of insight into being a PA. I’m a senior in high school, and plan on attending Saint Louis University in the fall. While getting my bachelors (I’m thinking in Psychology), I could do a program called PAthway, which you apply for sophomore year of college. As long as you keep your GPA above 3.3 and have medical experience while in college, it’s pretty much a guaranteed spot for their 2 year PA program. I was considering becoming a certified EMT-B this summer before I started college. Do you think it’s possible to work as a part time EMT while a full time student? And while I’m in PA school I’m going to have to have a job. I don’t have anyone to help me with bills and such, only myself. I’m second guessing becoming a PA on the sole fact that I will have to work while in school to support myself, and I don’t know if it’s reasonable to be able to keep up with the school work. Any thoughts? Thank you, it’s greatly appreciated!

    • Paul February 23, 2013, 11:16 am

      As mentioned in the article, that may not be possible.

      BUT, don’t worry too much if you can’t work. PA students are usually eligible for enough financial aid to get through school without working. This can mean more debt when you finish, but at least you have the comfort of knowing that it can be done.

      • cecila July 4, 2014, 8:28 pm

        Putting loans aside what about everyday bills? Car, insurance, phone, rent, food, utilities? These are important factors in creating a structured, stable living environment all of which require money. If someone is forbidden to work part time how can they expect to survive?

        • Paul July 6, 2014, 1:23 pm

          I’m not exactly what you’re asking with reference to bills. If you are not working and have no partner with income, than scholarships and loans are your only options usually. Financial gurus like Dave Ramsey make a great case for not borrowing for college, but this isn’t an option for PA school in most cases – it’s just too intense to work while you’re in school, tuition for graduate training is high, it only last two years, and the financial payoff when you get out makes borrowing a pretty good option.
          Borrow no more than you need
          Live as cheaply as you can
          and use whatever scholarship and loan repayment money you can find

    • EM February 24, 2013, 2:24 pm

      I’m a first-year PA student at the moment, and although I don’t work, some of my classmates do. I really can’t imagine how they manage, and I can’t say I think it’s a great idea – for all of the reasons Paul lists in the article above. You simply don’t have time to do a good job at your studies while also tackling a job – and I’ve seen firsthand the results. If finances are a major concern, think seriously about taking a few years after college to work at something medical and save up a bit for PA school. There’s no real need to straight from undergrad, and from my experience the younger students struggle both with professionalism and with workload (I’m 7 years out of undergrad). If you take that time, work a bit, and see what medicine really is (messy, unglamorous and hugely rewarding), you’ll a) develop better experience to present to an admissions committee, b) have a better idea of what caring for sick people is all about, and c) have the time to prepare yourself financially. You can look around, too, and see if you would be eligible for some of the repayment programs the government offers (e.g. national health service corps). That will make the debt burden a little less scary. Good luck!

      • Paul February 25, 2013, 10:39 am

        Nicely put!

  • Jon July 21, 2013, 6:37 pm

    My only question would be how does one pay bills for over two years? That is my biggest concern. How have other people dealt with this?

    • Paul July 21, 2013, 6:56 pm

      Most students take out student loans, which tend to be readily available. No one likes debt, but once you’re out a short 2-3 years later, you’re making good money.

  • Lynne March 30, 2014, 2:15 pm

    My concern is… this would be a second career for me. I have graduated and gone back to school a few times already to pursue another love of mine. I am now an RD at a hospital so I have the healthcare experience on my side, and my interest is growing rapidly in pursuing PA school. However, I am already drowning in student loan debt from my prior schooling that I wouldn’t be eligible for any more financial aid nor would I want to take it on. My job offers $7000 per year tuition reimbursement so that would be a big help if it’s possible to work. Why does everything have to be so expensive 🙁

    • Julie August 19, 2014, 8:19 am

      I am in a similar situation as Lynne. I already have an Associates and Bachelors degree and owe approximately $70,000 in school loans. I’ve been working in the medical field for 4 years now so I have the experience as well which is a plus. However, my concern is not being able to work during PA school, that is just impossible for me to survive because I have no help from anyone; I support myself. If I work it will be weekends, possibly Friday and Saturday nights. I wish taking out loans was an option but do you think that is a good idea considering the amount I already owe, PLUS what PA school will cost?! And on top of that, other loans to help pay my bills? Yes I will be making good money as a PA, but I will owe a crazy amount of money…. Any suggestions in my case? Please advise, I am really losing sleep over this.

      • Paul August 29, 2014, 5:10 pm

        I think your best bet would be to research employers or programs. He might hire, you after school and on for a long repayment program.community clinic such as Planned Parenthood are noted for providing these kinds of incentives for me graduates. The national health service corps is another option. You might also contact me AAPA chapter in your state to find out what kinds of scholarships grants and aid are available near you.

  • Savanna June 5, 2015, 9:56 pm

    This article was extremely helpful! I recently switched from premed to PA, and the more I research about schools, the more questions I have. This was one of the biggest ones! I’m lucky to have had such high grades to get scholarships and financial aid (I’m a 3rd year undergrad student). I also recently transferred from a state school to a private university, so that upped tuition quite a bit. I’m also lucky to have parents willing to help out in any way they can. Loans are definitely scary.. and the idea of having all these loans pile up and waiting for you after school is even scarier. My dad said loans and/or putting off PA school for a a year or so to work and save up would probably be my best bet in how I would be getting through PA school (along with their help).

    Thank you for this article! Like I said, it was VERY helpful as were the other comments.


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