Why a PA career may be wrong for you

Look first, or you may regret it

It’s easy to get excited about a physician assistant career.   I wrote recently about how to tell if you have the PA personality.  But what about the values you hold?  Excitement has a way of discouraging us from seeing the little negatives we sometimes need to see.  So today’s topic is a little different – 180 degrees, in fact: how to tell if it’s the wrong field for you.  Here are five big ones as I see it.  If you have one to add, float in a comment below.

5 Reasons a Physician Assistant Career is Wrong for You:

  1. Your job title is more important to you than what you actually do. I’m not being snide here – for some people (and they usually know who they are), the prestige attached to job titles is crucial.  If you’re one of these folks, think twice about a PA career.  Why?  Even though PAs are gaining acceptance in the eye of the public every day, they have a way to go; many people still don’t really know what a PA is.  To be one is to accept that you will be explaining your role to your patients as a normal part of your work.  You will occasionally be mistaken for a medical assistant or a doctor.  You will be neither, and it’s your job to patiently explain what you are and do.
  2. Your interest in medicine is more about the science than about caring for patients. Don’t get me wrong – as a PA, you’ll need to know and work with plenty of science.  And PAs aren’t the only medical providers who care about their patients.  But as a PA, your patients are a larger focus.  Your communication with them and your ability to educate and counsel them about their health and treatment are your “magic bullets,” not your specialized knowledge of biochemical pathways or fluid dynamics.
  3. You need to be at the top of the decision making chain on every decision you make, as opposed to working as a member of a team. PAs are supervised by physicians.  They make many decisions independently every day.  But sometimes the supervising MD makes the call.  If you can’t stomach the idea of not having the final say about everything that  happens with every patient, you shouldn’t be a PA.
  4. You prefer to be the expert on one or two subjects than to be competent in many. One of the recognized strengths of the PA profession is its flexibility.  It’s great to be able to work in, say, primary care for a few years, and then switch to a job in emergency.  It leaves you open to more employment opportunities, and it’s one reason PAs are so sought after; they are “physician extenders.”  But it’s not ideal if you want to be the regional or national expert on a particular illness or procedure.
  5. You think it’s an easy way to get into medicine. Medicine is hard, in part because it’s complicated, and in part because there’s simply more of it than you could learn in three lifetimes.  It takes fewer years to become a PA than a physician, but there isn’t much about it that’s easy, and believe me, you’ll still be learning when you get out of school.  It’s loads of work and time to become solid, and a PA’s mistake can kill or harm a patient just easily as a physician’s.

If you have thoughts about these, or have one to add, just leave a comment – we’d love to hear what you think.     -P