6 Reasons to Ditch Med School and Become a Physician Assistant

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. The rigorous screening program ensures a lack of ability is rarely the cause. Instead, many students simply realize med 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 starting to second guess 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?

Nurse in operating room

Image via Flickr by DFAT Library

Doctors and physician assistants (PAs) are both responsible for patient care, but physician assistants are classed as medical support professionals. This means that 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. For example, in New Jersey, a doctor must sign off on any information their physician assistants enter into patient charts. In some circumstances, a physician will check in with their physician's assistants just once a week and allow them to work autonomously most of the time. 

Physician Assistants 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 a lot 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 straight away. 

Becoming a Physician Assistant 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 get to 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 get to 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. If you don't have leadership aspirations, you may find that working as a PA is a better fit for you. 

Physician Assistants Make Great Money

Physician assistants might not command the massive salaries of doctors, but that doesn't mean that they're unfairly compensated.

New physician assistants working in primary care stand to make $80,000, much more than the $45,000 starting salary of the average graduate with a bachelor's degree. With some years' experience under their belt, the median salary for PAs jumps to $90,000. In a high-paying specialty such as dermatology, the yearly pay could be as high as $117,000. That's significantly more than the $39,000 the average American woman makes and the $50,000 earned by the average American man.

And since physician assistants don't need to spend as long as doctors do at school, they don't need to spend as much of that hefty salary paying back student loans.

Physician Assistants 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.

Physician Assistants 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 off without giving their workplace a second thought. Any doctor who's had to break a date or miss a hot concert would envy a physician assistant's lifestyle!

Physician Assistants 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 non-critical cases.

The future also looks bright for physician assistants as these jobs are predicted to grow by 38 percent between 2012 and 2022, much faster than the national average and even faster than doctors. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for physicians and surgeons in the same period will only be around 18 percent. 

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.

Contributed to jobs.net by Kim Hale

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