One of the touted joys of the physician assistant profession is that “PAs don’t need to take call on holidays or weekends.”  I’ve even met several people who entered PA training for just this reason.  But…

If you think that not having an “MD” after your name means that you don’t need to pull the undesirable shifts, think it through a little more.  The higher you get in the “chain of command,” the fewer people there are who do the work that you do.  In my clinic, there are nearly 20 employees who keep the place running, but only two of them can suture a laceration or prescribe pain killers–the doctor, and the physician assistant.  This means that on holidays and weekends, PAs are needed more than ever.

Have you ever seen an ER that was closed for Christmas?  Of course not.  And even though clinics are usually closed at night, at least one of the clinicians must be available after hours for emergencies.  So let me break it to you:

PAs (already) take call on evenings, weekends, and holidays

That’s right: physician assistants are often on call – even on weekends and holidays.  But more than that, there is a growing push to keep clinics and hospitals open on weekends and holidays, which will not only require PAs to be on-call, but to actually be at the work site.  Case in point: an interesting opinion piece in the New York Times makes some interesting observations:

One study in 2007 found, for example, that for every 1,000 patients suffering heart attacks who were admitted to a hospital on a weekend, there were 9 to 10 more deaths than in a comparable group of patients admitted on a weekday. The weekend patients were less likely to quickly receive the aggressive procedures they needed — like coronary artery bypass grafts or cardiac catheterization.

Holiday or not, wouldn’t you want the full treatment if it was your daughter?  Or your uncle?  (Yes, even your odd uncle Phil).  Labor Day or not, I would want the best care for my family (even though Phil got me the Ch-ch-ch-Chia pet last year for Christmas).

Simply put, if we’re in it for health, we should do what research tells us will likely improve health.  And according to the research, that means being even more available than we are now.  Would you still be willing to enter the profession if doing so meant working nights, weekends, or holidays?

If you’re serious about becoming a PA, you should plan on just that.