I thought it was only fitting that since it was just #PaWeek, to share 7 reasons why I chose to become a PA over an MD. I get asked this question ALL the time, especially in the very infuriating way of “why are you limiting yourself” or “I guess you couldn’t make it in med school.”
Firstly, I am definitely NOT limiting myself with my decision to become a PA, and I think everyone else who makes this decision will agree with me. And secondly, I get told by med students at my school all the time that they think our program seems harder than theirs. Its also statistically harder to get into PA school than it is to get into Med school.
I’m definitely not putting down Medical School in any way — its incredibly difficult, and without Physicians my profession would not exist. I just knew that being an MD was not the right decision for me personally.
Here are the 7 main things I thought about when making my decision, and what caused me to chose PA over MD!
- The ease for family life. Growing up, my mom (even though she was in school and later working full time as a Nurse Practitioner) did everything to show my brothers and I how important we were to her. Family is incredibly important to me, and I remember my mom being around for almost every important event in my life. She has always been available to me, even if she wasn’t physically there. In my mind, I wanted to be able to do the same thing with my children. Not only would PA school allow me to be finished earlier and start a family earlier, but in most incidences, PAs have more flexibility for family life. I know a lot more PAs who work part time than MDs.
- The length of schooling. To me, spending two years in school compared to four years in med school followed by residency was incredibly appealing. I have always been “old” for my age, and I really wanted to get started with my “life” as soon as possible. I loved the idea of finishing school and getting right out into the work force, of starting to help people as soon as possible, of being able to make a difference at a young age. Also, while I’ve always loved the idea of school, I didn’t always love school. Learning is great, but exams and projects and presentations and everything else that comes with school is not fun. I wanted to be done as quickly as possible.
PAs are also trained in the medical model — aka the same model that medical students use to learn! This means that we learned (almost) everything that a med student learns in the same kind of way. We learn from a diagnosis and then treatment style, which is so important because the whole point of going to school is learning how to treat patients.
- Diversity in practicing ability. This is something I learned during my application process and by shadowing different PAs. There are so many different possibilities for your responsibility in practice. I know PAs who function in the role of a fellow, PAs who independently see patients, PAs who preform surgery. It all depends on what they wanted out of their job and how they worked with their surpervisors to achieve that. This is something that stands out to me because I think it is a common reason people chose not to become a PA is the idea of supervision and working “under” a doctor. In reality your amount of supervision depends on where you work and what you want more than being a standard across a field.
Additionally, legislation and the AAPA is constantly working to increase the autonomy and role of PAs in Healthcare. It’s still a young (50 years) career, so there’s still a lot of room for growth!
- Lack of specialization. Dont get me wrong here, PAs can specialize to almost anything! But, when you first finish school (unless you go somewhere like UAB where they specialize in surgery), you are trained as a general provider. This means you can do pretty much whatever you desire. If you decide you want to be a Derm PA, go for it. You might known someone who graduated from the same program as you who goes into Cardiology. The limitations on what you decide to do are on you. Most PAs receive on the site training from their jobs that gives them that “specialization” training. There are some PA “residency” programs that give the opportunity for an additional year of training in both didactic and clinical. However, these are NOT a requirement.
In addition, this lack of specialization in school allows PAs flexibility in job changing, my next point.
- Ability to change jobs. While this process isn’t as easy as it is made out to be, it is definitely still a huge plus to being a PA. Say you work in pediatrics for 5 years before having a child and deciding that working there now hits too close to home. You could decide to instead work in internal medicine. It would be the same thing as before where you would recieve on the job training. Obviously some specialties are more difficult to get into (like dermatology), but where there is a will, there is a way. This is totally different than a MD who would have to complete a different residency to change their speciality.
- The requirement applicants complete patient care hours. In my mind, I think my previous job of being a CNA/PCA has made me into a better human, and thus will make me into a better provider. I think I have a better grasp on the role EVERY person, no matter how low on the totem pole they are, has in providing for a patient. I have done the grossest jobs out there, so I can better relate to my patient who is embarrassed and my CNA and nurses who are overworked. I have interacted with actual patients and know how important compassion and empathy are to treatment. I’ve already had to learn how to develop provider-patient relationships, so I can apply that to my schooling. And I have already seen some illnesses, so I can apply that practical knowledge to my learning knowledge. I think being “forced” to have previously worked with patients makes PAs into better providers-providers who listen to their patients and practice patient centered medicine
- Ability to practice medicine and help others. Whole point of being a PA. I get to have all of these positive things I listed above, and I still am able to practice medicine and help others on a daily basis. It wasn’t a deal breaker for me that I wouldn’t have MD behind my name. I didn’t feel like I would need those two letters to get respect — mainly because I felt like my ability to treat patients would earn the respect of my colleagues and patients.
Maybe your surprised that I didn’t list PA Salary as a reason, and yeah its a great amount of money. But to me, I didn’t want to go into a field based on the salary, so I don’t count it as one of the reasons I chose to be a PA. However, I do think its worth pointing out that PAs have a great amount of career satisfaction! So clearly, becoming a PA is a career to consider when youre going into the healthcare profession.
My best advice? Do some research. Talk to PAs about why they chose the route they did. Shadow MDs, NPs, and PAs — learn the difference between the three and which one “fits” for you. But, make sure to shadow more than one person. No two PAs are the same, and its important to know the different distinctions between roles.