If you have a scientific mind and a compassionate heart, a healthcare profession may be the perfect match for you; however, there are far more roles than you might realize when looking from the outside in. Not only are there particular specialties, such as obstetrics or oncology, but there are multiple roles beyond just nurses and doctors, including today’s topic: physician assistants, also known as PAs. These professionals can work as primary care physicians, as they have prescribing privileges and can diagnose diseases, but they do not have all the administrative responsibilities of doctors and have not undergone as much formal education.
This profession, which is generally overlooked in general discussions of medical careers, is not only a lucrative profession but highly sought after too. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a blazing hot occupational outlook for physician assistants, as demand is expected to grow by 31% into 2031; the pay is also excellent, with a median salary of $121,510 and rising. How do you know that this is the best choice for you when going into the medical field? Let’s take a look at some of the particulars of physician assistants to help you better understand the occupation.
Decide how much education you are willing to complete before starting your career
While RNs need only a bachelor’s to begin working, to become a physician assistant, you need to achieve a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MS-PAS), which generally takes two to three years. You can only qualify for the certifying exam, called PANCE, if you graduate from a program accredited by the Association for Physician Assistants. During your degree, you will complete the clinicals necessary to pass your exam and become a certified PA; this means that you can start looking for a job right after becoming certified and licensed, without any need for additional residencies.
As you can see, this level of education is right in between that of a registered nurse and a doctor: RNs need four years of training, PAs require six to seven years, and doctors must complete ten years or more. If you want to jump right into the profession without waiting several more years, this may be the best role for you.
Check that you have the right personality and skills for the job
We often underestimate the role that personality plays in job success, but there’s no denying that you have to have a certain character in order to be a good physician assistant. You’ll learn most of what you need during school, including the actual procedures you’ll be performing on a daily basis, but you will struggle mightily if you do not have the right constitution for the work.
O*NET OnLine, which compiles profiles for thousands of different jobs, has an excellent list of the different skills you’ll need to succeed, such as empathy, attention to detail, deductive and inductive reasoning, and information management. As with most other roles in healthcare, being a physician assistant requires a rigorous understanding of statistics and the ability to make quick decisions based on your knowledge base; you also must be a great communicator that helps others feel comfortable when they’re distressed.
Start looking for jobs before graduation so that you can have a smooth transition into your career
If you’ve decided that this is the right choice for you and are committed to completing your education, it’s important that you become familiar with the job market ahead of time. Though the outlook is very rosy for this particular profession, you still need to work to build connections and apply to jobs once you are fully certified.
One of the best ways to get prepared for the workforce is to become familiar with the tools necessary to land good roles, including the specialized resources available to you as a healthcare professional. Among these are job boards geared toward doctors, nurses, and physician assistants, which work closely with hospital systems to curate and present openings around the country. Even as you complete your coursework and cram for your exams, you should set up alerts for physician assistant jobs in the area you would like to work.
This can also help you perform market research, such as taking note of where highly compensated positions are most available; you might find that while there are some PA roles near you, the better ones are elsewhere. Remember that should you choose to accept a job offer in another state, you will need to get licensed there as well, so prepare for this in addition to packing up and moving.
Even if you’re planning on moving, the hospital systems where you perform your clinical rotations can be an excellent resource for you, so be sure to build solid relationships with your peers and supervisors as you learn; they can alert you to great opportunities and give you advice on what types of roles to look for when you’re ready to start.
If you’re intelligent, hard-working, compassionate, and clinical, you may find the role of a physician assistant to be an excellent choice, especially as it requires less formal education than becoming a doctor. You’ll enjoy hands-on practice and fewer administrative responsibilities, as well as a decent salary and great benefits, which is highly attractive to the right person. Look beyond just the traditional roles of doctor and nurse: you may find a perfect fit that you never even knew was a possibility.