15 Pros and Cons of Being a Physician Assistant

This article is going to talk about the pros and cons of being a physician assistant. Because every PA student or pre-PA student really should have a good grasp of what they’re getting themselves into.

So what are the pros and cons of being a physician assistant? There are several pros and cons of being a PA. For starters, there’s career flexibility, your above average salary, and your ability to help so many people. Below we’re going to dive deeper into some of the other positives and negatives of being a PA.

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So you’re a physician assistant student, or you’re thinking of applying to PA school. Congratulations! You’re going into a great field, and hopefully, this is just one of the many articles you’re looking at to make an informed decision.

You see there’s a lot of things to love about the PA field. Unfortunately, like everything else, there’s a lot of things that are not so great.

What we’re going to do is highlight some of those pros of being a physician assistant and highlight some of the cons of being a physician assistant. You’ll get our commentary, and our goal is that it will help you make an informed decision.

Alright. Let’s get this started.

Pros of Being a Physician Assistant

Here’s our take of some of the advantages of being a pa. I’m going to start with the…

1. Stellar Job Outlook

You’ve probably heard there’s a lot of job security in the healthcare field. The physician assistant field is no exception. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for PAs is supposed to grow 35% through 2026. 35% is crazy high and is growth that’s so much faster than the average for all the other job fields.

2. Career Flexibility

One of the things that makes being a PA such an attractive proposition is the flexibility of the work.

  • Do you want to work in oncology?
  • What about pediatrics or women’s health?
  • Have you always been fascinated by surgery?
  • Maybe you just want a desk job and be a “paper pusher” PA.

We’re just scratching the surface of what’s available as a PA. The career options as a PA are almost endless.

3. Above Average Salary

PAs make pretty good money. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay of PAs in the U.S. is about $108,430. Considering average wage in the United States is approximately $56,516 according to the United States Census, and you’ll see PAs are doing really well.

Keep in mind that this is an average. Some PAs will earn lower than that amount while some high earning PAs could see their income well over $150k.

4. You Get to Practice Medicine

In many states, PAs have very similar job responsibilities to a physician (MD, DO).  If you step out to rural or more underserved areas where recruitment for physicians is harder, you might only find PAs as the primary provider of care.

5. Shorter Schooling than Doctors

I mentioned above PAs get to practice medicine just like physicians. What I should also mention is that they get to do that with a lot less schooling. The typical PA program is a two-year master’s program. So including your undergraduate, you’re only looking at 6 years of schools.

Physicians, on the other hand, have a lot more schooling. Four years of undergraduate. Four years of medical school. Once you start throwing in residency and fellowship (depending on the specialty) that’s well over 10 years easy.

6. Help Patients in their Time of Need

Some people dream of being in a profession where they can make a really big impact. If that’s you the PA profession is worth a look-over. Physician assistants are responsible for managing patient care by diagnosing and treating their symptoms and ailments. You’ll get to see patients recover after coming to you really sick.

Cons of Being a Physician Assistant

We’ve talked about the positives of being a PA. Lets now talk about some of the downsides.

1. You’re Going to See Patients Die

Your goal is to help patients, but unfortunately, you’re not going to help everyone. You’re going to get patients who even after doing everything perfectly.

Perfect diagnosis.

Perfect treatment.

Perfect care from the treatment team.

The patient still passes away. While you will undoubtedly save many more lives than are lost death is part of working in the medical field.

2. Inconvenient Work Hours

As a PA you will most likely be required to work evenings and weekends. To add insult to injury do not be surprised if you’re required to be on-call as well. While you can find employment that gets you out of this like clinic jobs or primary care it is still likely you’re going to have a schedule that is going to be less than ideal and not the typical Monday through Friday 9am-5pm.

3. Pay Raises and Advancement are Limited

PAs start at a high pay rate relative to the average American. Unfortunately, the likelihood that a PA will be making close to the same amount they started with 5 years later is very high.

Let me clarify this. According to Payscale.com a PA with 1 year of experience will earn a little over $87,000. If they have 20 years of experience and higher they’ll earn about $107,000.

So the difference between a senior-level PA with a lot of years and an entry-level PA that doesn’t have as many years is not that much (source).

This is compared to other professions in the sciences like engineering where the salary differences between entry-level and senior-level engineers are bigger (source).

4. Your Pay Level will Never Match a Physician

In many settings, PAs and physicians will do roughly the same thing. The only thing that won’t be the same is your paychecks. This, of course, leads to…

5. You Need a Supervising Physician

No matter how capable or autonomous you get as a physician assistant, you will always need a supervising physician (source). Different states will have different rules to determine exactly what that means but ultimately the end result is you’re never truly autonomous.

6. Patients Might Not Understand Who You Are

Patients seem to understand one of two things nurse and doctor. If you come into their room wearing scrubs, they assume you’re a nurse. If you come in wearing a suit or dress clothes, they assume you’re a doctor.

If you’re not either, it confuses them.

Which means you’re going to have to explain to a lot of patients what exactly a physician assistant is…or you could end up with one of these conversations.

  • PA: My name is Jane Doe, and I’ll be taking care of you today.
  • Patient: So you’re my doctor?
  • PA: No. I’m not I’m a…
  • Patient: So you’re my nurse then.
  • PA: No sir I’m a…
  • Patient: So what are you then?
  • PA: Sir I’m a physician assistant I work with Dr. Smith.
  • Patient: Oh ok…What’s a physician assistant?

Those conversations are less common now than they used to be. But a lot of patients still don’t know.

7. You’ll Have to Recertify Your License

Unlike other professions where you just pay money to keep renewing your license PAs have to retake a certification test every 6-10 years. For PAs in a very specialized area of healthcare, they would have to relearn information (not applicable for their everyday job) just for the test (source).

You can probably imagine how annoying and frustrating this can be. While it happens very infrequently, it’s still something to keep in mind because not passing is a real thing and it could cost you your job.

Conclusion

This is it. Hopefully, you’ve learned some things you didn’t know. If being a physician assistant is a career you’re strongly considering we want to mention a couple of things.

  1. Do more research. Becoming a PA is a big time commitment and one you shouldn’t take lightly.
  2. Look through this site. We have helpful articles for pre-PA and PA students.
  3. Try to shadow or talk to a PA in person. Reading blogs is fine, but it’s not a replacement for actually talking to one in person or over the phone.

Has this made you lean more towards being a PA or less?

7 Comments

  1. Are you stating that the salary of a PA decreases over time? I am slightly confused. I would appreciate it if you elaborated on this and explained the source this information was derived from.

    Thanks in advance!

    1. Jasmine,

      I’m assuming you’re referring to Con #3. I’ve updated the article to add some clarification. Con #3 is trying to say that even though PAs start at a high salary they tend to not get as many raises compared to some other professions. I’ve also cited a chart from Payscale.com.

    1. Hey Jamila,

      Yes, it’s possible to work part-time as a PA. Some of the more popular part-time PA jobs are urgent care and ER positions.

    1. Hey Christopher,

      I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a difficult program to complete. Not only are you learning very important information that will prepare you to practice medicine and save lives but the program is designed to be accelerated and you’re learning information at a high rate. A lot of people say it’s like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.

      I don’t want this to discourage you from becoming a PA because it’s absolutely feasible, but it will take pretty much all your time for a couple of years.

      Is there something specific you’re concerned about?

  2. What can I prepare from high school to be a future PA? And in college, we should achieve bachelor degree with science major?
    Thanks

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