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.