Are you looking to make money as a physician assistant or are you seeking to make the world a better place with what you do?
It’s an honest question, and the two options are very different.
The latter involves being interested in giving value to someone other than yourself. The former involves doing anything and everything to add zeros to your bank account.
Neither option is inherently wrong. The problem is that most PAs begin with a desire to help people and, over time, once fully indoctrinated into the "system" they (we) become fundamentally changed.
If you’re only looking to make money, the strategy basically comes down to generating as much revenue as you can, while avoiding an unfavorable outcome. Or, as we in the medical field have so humbly named "covering your ass."
Sometimes it’s as simple as showing your boss that you can see 5 or 6 patients in an hour. Sometimes it’s not speaking up in the face of gross healthcare inequalities. Sometimes it’s taking the higher paying job in order to please others or prove your self-worth.
The organization you work for, and therefore you, do whatever it takes to maximize profitability.
Success is much easier to measure too—you simply look at how many patients you have churned out and count how much money you make.
Did it cover costs? Does it cover your livelihood and expenses? Were you able to maximize your retirement accounts? Is your boss happy? Awesome - you win, and you’re a success.
If you’re looking to make the world better with what you do, it’s a little more difficult.
Just because you want to make things better doesn’t mean the universe will align and show you the way.
Making the world a better place through the work you put out into it starts with you and how you answer the tough questions.
Do you actually like the work you’re doing? Does it align with a greater purpose in your life? Is the message behind what you do bigger than what you do? Are you truly stoked to do it?
People are attracted to excitement, so if you’re genuinely excited about something, others will take notice. Real excitement is contagious, like the flu (but with less sniffling).
Though doing something that makes the world better doesn’t stop with you. It also includes being super valuable and in service of others.
What about your work helps your patients? What about your work makes their life better? What about your work makes them truly stoked? Because when they’re excited, others will take notice of that too.
Measuring the success of doing work that makes the world better is also a little muddy. There are several key performance indicators (KPIs) involved, each of them based on your unique purpose and passion.
Sure, patient wait times, satisfaction surveys and money or revenue may be a part of it, but they’re not the only indicators. How much did you enjoy the process, regardless of the bottom line?
How much did your patient benefit from your work, irrespective of the volume (as in, maybe you only saw ten patients today, yet all of them left healthier, having an experience that positively changed their lives)?
In measuring success this way, it’s relatively easy to succeed as well - you get to do work you love that’s lined up with your purpose and valuable to the patients it’s for.
So, did you like doing it and did another person like receiving your care?
Awesome - you win, and you’re a success.
We get caught up and stuck in our thoughts when we change gears in our focus, or when we try to measure success for both types of work for the same outcome.
If you’re in it to make the world better and you only look at money, you’re doing your work and process a horrible disservice.
Similarly, if you’re in it to make money and you feel unexcited or uninspired, you’re also doing that work and yourself a horrible disservice too.
If you're in it to make the world better and you look at the patient sitting in front of you, you’re doing yourself, and your patient a great, and honorable service.
Magically, you're likely to find, the success that drove you to this profession in the first place will follow.
PS: If you’re stuck before you’ve even started, check out my resources page for some help and inspiration.
Photo Credits: From our medical mission trip in and around Port Au Prince Haiti. Photos by: Courtney Reese