6 reasons to consider becoming a physician assistant (instead of a doctor)

Physician assistant

If becoming a doctor isn't in the cards for you, consider a career as a physician assistant instead.

American admissions committees only accept medical students they believe can become physicians, yet around 6 percent of students still do not graduate within seven years. While reasons may differ, some students simply realize medical school isn't for them.

Coming to this decision should never be considered a failure. Instead, it can be an opportunity to discover a career better suited to your personality. If you're undecided about your career path, these are some of the reasons you might consider ditching med school and becoming a physician assistant instead.

What's the difference?
Doctors and physician assistants (PAs) are both responsible for patient care, but physician assistants are classed as medical support professionals. This means their work must be supervised by a doctor, although in the case of PAs, this doesn't mean doctors are hovering at all times. Physician assistants may examine patients, diagnose illnesses and even create treatment plans, although these may require a doctor's approval. PAs also cannot perform surgeries, although they may assist doctors in the operating room. The level of monitoring a physician assistant receives varies from state to state and from organization to organization.

PAs spend less time in the classroom
Doctors must work hard for their independence. They spend four years studying for their undergraduate degree from medical school and another two years earning their medical degree. New graduates then face between three and seven years of residency before they can obtain their license to practice medicine or surgery.

Becoming a PA isn't easy, but it takes less time than becoming an MD. Qualifications vary from state to state, but most physician assistants become licensed after completing a four-year degree followed by a 25-month accredited physician assistant program and then a one-year clinical rotation. During these one- to two-month rotations, PAs are exposed to a range of specialties, including pediatrics and emergency medicine. Finally, students earn national certification and the license they need to work in the field.

That means you can become a physician assistant after around seven years of higher study – half the time some doctors take to earn their qualifications. If you're already in med school, the undergraduate degree you earned to get there means you can apply for the physician assistant program right away.

Becoming a PA is very rewarding
Some individuals find that the work environment of a physician assistant is more suited to their personality. While doctors and physician assistants perform many of the same duties, PAs have a greater focus on patient care. They don't need to worry about budgets and bureaucracy, so a greater percentage of their time is taken up by the work that drew them to medicine in the first place.

Physician assistants also feel like part of a team. Doctors are leaders, who often find themselves running a department or a practice. This extra responsibility naturally separates doctors from their co-workers.

PAs get paid well
Physician assistants might not command the massive salaries of doctors, but they are still fairly compensated.

The median pay for a PA in 2017 was 104,860 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $66,590, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $146,260.

PAs have flexible careers
Doctors train hard to get the skills they need to work in the specialty of their choice. But once they're there, they're pretty locked in. An orthopaedic surgeon who decides he'd rather work in pediatrics will need to spend several years receiving additional education before making the switch.

However, once you obtain your physician assistant license, you have the qualifications you need to work in any medical specialty you like. That means you can transition from obstetrics to oncology without heading back to the classroom.

PAs work shorter, more regular hours
It can be tough juggling a personal life with the demands of being a doctor. These professionals often spend time analyzing a practice's revenue and expenditure once patients have gone home, and they're required to be on call after hours.

PAs keep more regular schedules. They can work their required shifts and clock out without having too much spill over to their off-duty hours.

PAs have excellent job prospects
We all know that doctors are always in demand, but PAs rarely struggle to find work either. In fact, many clinics where surgeries are not performed prefer to hire physician's assistants to save cash. Busy physicians are often on the lookout for skilled physician's assistants to attend to their noncritical cases.

The future also looks bright for physician assistants as this occupation is projected to grow 37 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the BLS. As demand for health care services grows, physician assistants will be needed to provide care to patients.

Becoming a doctor isn't the only way to enjoy a fulfilling career in medicine. For these reasons, some people may find working as a physician assistant more rewarding.

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