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13 Pros and Cons Of Being A Physician Assistant


Written By: Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN

Has a career as a doctor always been something that has appealed to you, but you just feel like you cannot put the time or money into this career path? Well, there are options if you feel that being a doctor is not for you. Have you ever considered pursuing a career as a physician assistant? Do not worry if you do not know much about this career and the pros and cons of being a physician assistant? I am going to walk you through that burning question I now planted in your head of what are the pros and cons of being a physician assistant. After reading this, you will surely be able to decipher if this is the right career for you to pursue. Continue reading below to find out about the top 13 pros and cons of being a physician assistant.


TOP CONS OF BEING A PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT

(The following are the top 13 disadvantages of being a physician assistant.)

1. You may find the work hours a bit inconvenient for your life.

If you choose to pursue this career, you will find that one of the top disadvantages of being a physician assistant is your work hours may not always be the most convenient for your life. A physician assistant may find themselves working evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays. You may find that you will be missing out certain events due to your work schedule. Yes, there are definitely clinic jobs out there that are the typical 9-5, but these clinic jobs may not save you from having to take on-call in the evenings, weekends, and holidays. Remember, healthcare is a 24/7 type of job.

2. You will never make as much money as a physician but do a lot of the same work.

You will find that as a physician assistant, you will be performing many of the same tasks as a physician would. The caveat to these tasks is that the physician will make way more money than you will to perform these tasks as a physician assistant. Well, I don’t know about you, but I would definitely want the same compensation for the same job.

3. You will always need to have a supervising physician.

It will never matter how competent you are as a physician assistant and how much you know; you will always have to practice under the supervision and direction of a physician to a degree. You will never have complete autonomy and be able to practice on your own. Keep in mind different states will have different degrees of autonomy that the physician assistant can have when it comes to independence of practice. Still, unfortunately, the outcome will always be that you will need a supervising physician.

4. Your pay will not increase that much with the years of experience you will gain.

As a physician assistant, your starting salary will be relatively high. A first-year entry-level Physician assistant earns around $90,442 per year. Now, with approximately 20 years of experience as a physician assistant, you will earn about 110,408 per year. I know what you are thinking; this does not sound like a bad salary, but let's look at it compared to a certified nurse anesthetist who starts out around $143,863 per year and will increase to $178,590 per year by the time they have worked 20 years. The take-home I want you to get from this point is that your entry-level salary in comparison to your 20-year salary is not a massive difference compared to other career paths, making this one of the disadvantages of being a physician assistant.

5. You will have to recertify your license every 6-10 years.

As a physician assistant, you will be required to sit for an exam every 6-10 years in order to keep your license updated. Many other healthcare professionals only have to renew their license with a fee every couple of years and not passing an exam. Think about relearning all that material that you will only have to know for the exam and not for the discipline you chose to practice in.

6. Physician assistant school is expensive.

As with most degree programs, a physician assistant program is not free. The average public physician assistant program will run you anywhere from $50,000 to $89,000. If you choose to pursue this degree in a private institution, you are looking at spending around $130,000. Boston University Physician Assistant program with fees and supplies will be approximately $131,365.

7. Your schooling will occupy over 2 years of your life.

The average physician assistant program will require at least 26 months of school. For some people, that can be a long time trying to juggle many aspects of your life. Keep in mind you do not start your physician assistant coursework till after you have earned your bachelor's degree. So, if you want to put it all together, you will be in school for 6 long years.

8. You will be under pressure.

A physician assistant is responsible for their patient’s lives and will also have a workload that they need to complete each day. Remember, this will all be under the supervision of a physician. You will find that this role may be very stressful because of the constant change you will experience in the healthcare environment. You will have many tasks that will need to be completed by deadlines, and you will also find that you will be wearing many hats in this role making this one of the top cons of being a physician assistant.

9. Role confusion

As a physician assistant, your role and place in the healthcare system may be confusing to your patients. Patients tend to automatically assume that the healthcare team they will meet is a nurse or a doctor. You may find that you will have to explain who you are and what your role is over and over again. It can get a bit old.

10. Burnout is a real possibility

Due to the demands that will be placed on you as a physician assistant day in and day out, you may experience burnout. If you experience burnout, you may run the risk of being severely dissatisfied with your work life. Then you will have to decide to either stick it out or make a career change.

11. You will need to complete continuing education

As a physician assistant, you will be required to complete 100 hours of medical continuing education every two years in order to maintain your license. So, just when you thought you were done with schooling, you will have this hanging over your head every two years.

12. Not all of your patients will have a positive outcome

Unfortunately, the reality is, is that you will have some of your patients who will die. It is a sad reality but still a reality. Always encountering death is one of the disadvantages of being a physician assistant. People seek medical care because they are sick. Sometimes people will succumb to these illnesses that they are seeking care for. In certain circumstances, you may even be present for some of your patients dying. For some, this constant reminder of suffering and death may be too much to handle making this not the right career choice.

13. If you wish to go to physician assistant school, you will need a minimum GPA

The minimum GPA for those who wish to attend physician assistant school is around 3.0. Some schools will even require a higher overall GPA. For instance, The physician assistant program at Duke University will require that you have a 3.51-3.8 as an overall GPA. Wow, that is high! Sure, you can increase your GPA by taking classes over, but that will require even more time, more money, and no guarantee of a higher grade.


TOP PROS OF BEING A PHYSICIAN ASSISTANT

(The following are the top 13 advantages of being a physician assistant.)

1. Flexibility in schedule

Although you may find that your job will encompass days, nights, weekends, holidays, and on-call, you will have a tremendous amount of flexibility in your schedule if you work a 10 to 12-hour schedule. The flexibility in your schedule make this one of the top advantages of being a physician assistant. You will be able to try to schedule the days that you work around whatever you have going on in your life. In some cases, you can end up getting a good amount of time off if you are able to schedule your shifts just right.

2. Many disciplines to choose from.

As a physician assistant, you will also have the flexibility to choose the type of discipline to work in. There are so many different types of fields that you can choose from. Having so much choice and control in your career makes this one of the top pros of being a physician assistant. For example, you could be a pediatric physician assistant, an oncology physician assistant, or an orthopedic physician assistant, to name a few. Having the ability to choose and work in a field, you are passionate about can make your job more enjoyable and increase your overall job satisfaction.

3. You will have job security.

No matter how you look at it, if you have chosen a job in healthcare, you will always have a job. That has got to be a great feeling. As a physician assistant, you will always be in demand. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for a physician assistant is excellent. This profession is expected to grow by 31% by 2029. This is a faster than average job growth than other professions.

4. Your salary will be above average.

I know we already discussed what your earnings will be as a physician assistant. Although we talked about how your salary will not increase from your entry-level salary to your salary at 20 years in comparison to other career paths, you will still be making an above-average salary to begin with. Think about how an above-average wage will allow you so many different luxuries in your life.

5. Your schooling is not as long as a physician.

As discussed earlier, you will be performing many of the similar tasks that a physician would be performing on a day-to-day basis. The difference here is that your schooling is way shorter than that of a physician’s required education. To become a physician assistant, you will need to earn a master’s degree after your bachelor’s degree is completed. In total, your education will take you about 6 years to complete in comparison to a physician who is looking at about 10 years of schooling. This shorter education path is one of the advantages of being a physician assistant.

6. You may get to perform a lot of hands-on procedures.

As a physician assistant, you will be able to perform different procedures throughout the day if they are needed. This will all be at the approval of the supervising physician. For example, suppose you are a physician assistant who works in the emergency department setting. In that case, you will find that you can perform procedures such as lumbar puncture and thoracentesis, to name a few. Another example would be a physician assistant who works in obstetrics and gynecology, where you may find yourself performing procedures such as Loop excision electrocoagulation procedures (LEEP) and Vulvar and endometrial biopsies, to name a few. So, if you really enjoy hands-on procedural work, then this may be the career for you.

7. Can easily switch between specialties

One of the pros of being a physician assistant is, you will have the ability to move between specialties. So, for instance, if you work in a medical-surgical unit in a hospital and feel that you want to make a career move, you can easily move to the outpatient setting such as family practice or switch to a specialty like orthopedics. There is a tremendous amount of diversity and flexibility when deciding what type of specialty you want to work in. Your training allows you to move from specialty to specialty seamlessly.

8. You will have a smaller debt burden than medical school.

Although attending physician assistant school will cost you a good deal of money, it is by no comparison to the cost of medical school. For example, if you were to attend Georgetown University for medical school, you would be spending anywhere from $62,000 to $67,000 per year for four years. This will not include any additional fees and the cost of your living expenses. This can really add up and land you in a great amount of debt.

9.You will be helping people in their time of need.

Many people go into a career in healthcare because they have a want to help people. Working as a physician assistant, you will be helping people at some of their most vulnerable times. That is something you can feel good about.

10. You will not have to take the MCAT

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is an exam used to assess prospective students who wish to be admitted into medical school. Where you are accepted will be based upon your scores on this exam. If you want to pursue a career as a physician assistant, the good news for you is that this exam is not needed for your acceptance into a program.

11. Every day will be different.

In the world of healthcare, every day will be different. You will probably live your daily work life through spontaneity. This spontaneity will definitely keep you from getting bored. This lack of boredom you will experience makes this one of the top advantages of being a physician assistant.

12.You will be an extremely valuable asset to your work environment.

As a physician assistant, you will be a massive asset to your patients and the institution that you work for. You have the knowledge and training to make medically sound decisions that will provide the best possible outcome for your patients. As a physician assistant you will be an integral part to your healthcare team.

13. You will have a career that you can be proud of

The road to becoming a physician assistant is not an easy one. It takes a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication to accomplish this goal. I mean, remember, you will need a minimum GPA of 3.0. That takes hard work to earn. Earning the title of a physician assistant is no small feat, and it is something that you should be genuinely proud of because not everyone can do what you do.


The Bottomline


So, the bottom line, well, we have looked at the top 13 pros and cons of being a physician assistant, and I think that there is a lot to consider here. For some people, the pros may sway you one way, where for others, the cons may convince you one way. Ultimately you need to decide what are the pros and cons of being a physician assistant that will make or break your decision. Remember, you are the one who has to travel down this path.


Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Jennifer Schlette is a registered nurse in pediatric critical care in New York City. She is the former Director of Undergraduate Nursing at a college located in New York. After obtaining her BSN from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, she went on to complete her MSN.