Female physician assistant

Good news for female physician assistant candidates

I’ve been asked a few times by readers about how welcoming the physician assistant profession is to women.  My answer: very.

But First, the Good New for Both Genders

A quick look at the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics makes the good news for all of us clear:

  1. There is a shortage of PAs, and there’s no sign of it ending.  The report describes the job outlook for PAs in its most positive terms: it’s expected to grow by at least 20% in the next ten years.
  2. Overall, physician assistants enjoy their jobs.  See the graph at right.
  3. The median PA income is good at $84,420 as of 2009.
  4. For these and other reasons, US News and World Report Money called physician assistant one of the best careers this year.  Not bad, eh?  How about CNN Money?  They had a similar take on PAs.

Now, the Good News for Women PA Career Satisfaction Graph

Historically, medicine has been dominated by men – particularly those with the most authority – physicians.  This being true, as a woman, you might wonder if you will:

  • Be challenged or bored as a PA
  • Be respected or disrespected in your workplace
  • Have the freedom to do other things, or be chained to your job

According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (JAAPA), these are these are areas that most female PAs rate highest when asked about their work.  In addition, women are slightly more likely to recommend the profession to a friend than their male counterparts.

Isn’t medicine dominated by men?  Not this part of it.  True, the first PAs were men, and it wasn’t until 1970 that Joyce Nichols became the first female PA.  Incidentally, she was also the first African American PA!  Her story is inspirational and probably set the stage for the profession being similarly welcoming to men and women.  Check it out!

Today, about 55% of PAs and 72% of new PA students are female.  This means that the percentage of PAs will continue to grow.  In most medical schools, students these days are more often female by a slim margin, so the physicians who supervise tomorrow’s PAs are more likely to be female too (though with doctors it’s changing much more slowly).

The researchers in the JAAPA study theorized that the PA profession is attractive to women because it offers satisfying work that is well compensated, and more flexibility than that of physician, particularly for those who wish to be both PAs and mothers.  My friend Sundance spoke to this her video interview

(if you haven’t seen it, you should), and how the need for balance in her life was the primary reason she chose to switch from MD to PA career paths.

Clearly, PA medicine has a lot to offer women, and they seem to be leaving their mark on the field.  Are you sold yet?  I thought so.