Let me guess, you're asking yourself . . .
"Am I am making the right choice of becoming a physician assistant over a doctor?"
- "Am I letting myself down?"
- "Am I selling out?"
- "Am I letting my family down?"
- "Am I giving in?"
- "Am I taking the easier road?"
I know how important these questions are because they are the same questions I asked myself eleven years ago as I stood in your shoes.
As you may have read on the blog, my wife is very happy about my final decision.
It is easy for me to answer the PA versus MD question now, as they say, "hindsight is 20/20." But, at the time I was very confused.
I am going to try to set the record straight for those of you who may still be on the fence:
If you want to have both a rich and fulfilling LIFE AND CAREER in medicine, a career in which you can make a real impact in your patients lives, then you want to choose a career as a physician assistant.
It is as simple as that!
Below is an email correspondence I had with a reader by the name of Diane. Maybe you can relate to her situation?
Here's my story:
I was pre-med at the University of Washington through my senior year. I changed majors in my fourth year, not on a whim, but after careful soul-searching.
Now, I spend three days a week with my family. I enjoy being present (physically and emotionally) as a dad and as a husband. I enjoy my career as a physician assistant. This is a lifestyle choice.
As a physician assistant, I pride myself on providing excellent care for my patients who are my top priority outside of my relationships with my family and friends. I have never been one to define myself by my career, my career fulfills another calling, one that is rooted in the loving care of my patients.
I cannot say enough about how much I love my career as a PA. I have never met a PA who says otherwise. I have, on the other hand, met doctors who say otherwise. I just returned from Haiti where we worked both solo and alongside doctors providing the full scope of patient care. In clinical practice, you would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between myself and one of the physicians in the clinic because our scope of practice is so broad.
It is an enjoyable and fulfilling career!
Stephen Pasquini PA-C
Remember, as Confucius says:
"Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life."
I could go on, but I will stop here to avoid being redundant.
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This article was a great read and very helpful! I am senior biology major and changed my mind from ecology towards the medical profession during my junior year. I’m planning on taking this next year or so to build my medical experience. I’ve worked in an assisted living home for the past year and will be starting as a patient care tech at a hospital following graduation. Working in assisted living has affirmed that the medical path is right for me, but my favorite part of my job is the connections I have been able to make with residents. PA is what I’ve primarily been interested in pursuing, but I’ve recently been questioning medical school. You mentioned a connection with patients. As a PA, do you feel you get to form better connections with patients than an MD?
side note: this website was the first thing I looked at when looking into the PA profession, and it’s still my go-to! It’s SO helpful for pre-PA.
Thanks for all you do!
Stephen Pasquini PA-C says
Hi Brianna, thanks so much for your kind words. They mean the world to me. To answer your question, “do I feel I get to form better connections with patients than an MD?” I think the answer depends on your specialty and your focus. I have been a PA for almost 16 years, 14 of which I have spent in family practice, the other two years, I worked in a bustling specialty pain medicine practice. In family practice, I notice that MDs develop solid relationships with their patients (as do PAs). While, in specialty practice, especially specialty private practice, the MDs I have worked with have been very numbers-driven and spent little time with their patients and thus very little time developing strong interpersonal relationships. I had longer appointments, as did the other PAs I worked with, and in the end, many patients would prefer to see the PA for follow up because they got to spend more time with us, and we were much closer to them in the end. So, I think the answer is “it depends.” If you are an MD who is patient-focused and you choose to work in a setting that supports this, then yes, you can develop excellent, life-changing relationships with your patients. As a PA, if you value this and make it a priority, then you can also have this. In some sense, it may be easier to have this as a PA, as it is somewhat more innate in our role. But this is changing, and some PAs are designed to be nothing more than “cogs” in a profit-driven practice. For PAs who are motivated by profit-sharing, this may be a dream come true. Not my dream, though.
Alyssa Sagorsky says
In preparation for the upcoming application cycle, I’m beginning to gather everything in order to submit my application. I have been going back and forth between PA and MD/DO for awhile now. I was a non-traditional student and was on the post-baccalaureate pre-med track and I have all the pre-requisites, healthcare/volunteer experience to fulfill requirements of all three. What I am struggling with is how to relay in my personal statement/essay of why I’m choosing PA over MD/DO. Every time I attempt to write something, I feel like I am “taking the easy way out” and sometimes I simply feel like I’m just whining. I want everything that you are describing, the vast scope of practice, being able to tend to patients but also have a happy home life. I’m not sure how to relay this in a personal statement.
Stephen Pasquini PA-C says
Hi Alyssa, I think you just did…. relay this, and you did so very well!
After reading your experience/lifestyle as an Physician Assistant. It seems really interesting in a sense that I want to take care and save people’s lives as well. I am currently in my second semester of college and I really want to become a physician assistant . Knowing how rigorous it is to become one, reading your thoughts made me feel better and certain that this is what I want to become. I’ve always wanted to become a physician assistant since I was in high school. Science is my favorite subject along with English and social studies. I have a long way to go but I hope I can enjoy my career in a more fun way than just doing work. Thank you!
Stephen Pasquini PA-C says
Thank you Aleah,
It’s hard to ever know for sure if we are on the right path. I know a doctor who after just 15 years in medicine sold his practice and started a cattle ranch. At the time, when he began, medicine was the right thing… then life created a new and interesting path to follow. He looks very good in his cowboy hat. As a PA life remains full of opportunity with jobs in just about every field near or abroad. This is exciting. I wish you the very best on your path, it is well worth the effort.
I just want to start off by saying your website is heaven for anyone interested in the PA profession. I am 22 years old with a bachelors in Bilingual Education. I’m currently a fifth grade science and social studies teacher working at a title one school. In fifth grade children learn about the human body, systems and nutrition. Teaching is something I enjoy, however, it is not something I’m passionate about. Thus, I’ve done some soul searching, teaching about the human body to my kiddos and living along side my significant other whom is a first year medical student sparked an interest in the health care field. I find myself asking him questions about his lectures and patient interactions. As he explains I’m trying to come up with answers to his questions, with my narrow knowledge on the subject. I have researched nurse practionares, doctors, PAs and I keep going back to PA.
Considering my undergraduate degree is in Education I would have to go back to school and get all the pre requisites for PA school. I’ve applied and been accepted to both Carson-Newman and Northeastern State University’s post bac pre health program.
I was wondering if you have an advise for carrer changing people interested in PA school?
Would a drastic change in carrer frighten PA schools?
Any other advise would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time and your amazing website!
I am really interested in the PA career and this is my first year in college. I don’t know what to get my bachelor degree in and how to obtain the health care experience that is require to get into the PA program. Do you have any suggestions??
Divine leadership is moving – I see this post and am also interested in nutrition and preventative medicine, recently got my MS in exercise science and decided not PHD, but PA the next step along my path, and wanted to also know where this would fit, as most PAs do not talk much of it. I am also VERY interested in global health and medical missions, as my father was a pharmacist and would take medications to his native Africa (with employer approval) every two years, until he himself fell ill. Are there any PAs in integrative medicine?
I thought you should know that your website and this post especially helped me to decide to switch from premed to pre-PA a couple months ago. Your philosophy on family being more important than your job is exactly what I feel too. Three questions for you:
1. What did you do for your HCE before you applied to pa schools? (you might have said this in another post but I don’t know where)
2. Is your 3 days a week with your family a normal thing for most PA’s? Or are most schedules more hectic than that?
3. You say you have met doctors who are not super satisfied with their jobs. Could you share any one specific example with me? (I’ve heard the same thing and I’m just curious)
Thanks!!! (you’re awesome!)
Thank you Sam, those are kind words!
1. I started out volunteering my freshman year at the University of Washington. I remember showing up at the University hospital and just saying “How can I help?”. They gave me a name-tag and that day I started doing patient transport. I picked up a part time job later that year as well at the campus health clinic. I started in medical records, which was serendipitous because I was able to float all around the clinic and meet all the doctors, PA’s and nurses. I worked there in the evenings for almost 2 years and then took the only student position in the lab working as a phlebotomist. There, I became good friends with an ex-doctor who was working in the lab (he was from India) he taught me a lot about good patient care and the importance of proper technique. Upon graduation I took a job working for the hospital doing floor rounds as a phlebotomist, then as a mobile tech for the Puget Sound Blood Center. I took night classes to become an EMT and spent a couple summers working at a special needs youth summer camp working with kids with disabilities. I new all along I wanted to get into PA school.
2.I actually have 4 days a week with my family and 3 days at work. And no this is not a normal thing for most PA’s, but it can be if you never forget the value of your most important asset! To quote Seneca: “Nothing, is ours, except time. We were entrusted by nature with the ownership of this single thing, so fleeting and slippery that anyone who will can oust us from possession.” I put my time in the first 4 years working long hours and then extracted myself from the “system”. I will never go back. You can work 6-7 days a week if you want, but it’s like going to Starbucks and looking at their menu. There is always an option that may not be posted on the sign board.
3. Let me put it this way. 3 out of the 5 doctors who I work with are divorced, paying child support, complain that there kids don’t want to spend time with them, and on top of that are somehow in debt. They work long hours, look tired all the time but they are doctors! I know many who seem to like their job as well, I know very few who have other passions. Every single PA I know is happy they chose PA.
Keep me updated Sam!
It’s me again. I have a quick question for you. I’ve recently become very interested in nutrition and preventative medicine. Is there a specialty/area that would incorporate those subjects as a PA? I searched for information but I wasn’t able to find anything. What have you heard about it?
I would say this is the very definition of family practice medicine. And the sad part is most of those in family practice are absolutely horrible at the first!
In fact when it comes to real nutrition, i.e the kind of diets that get real results while managing diabetes and other metabolic disorders , even the nutritionists (at least in my experience) just follow the status quo. Which in all honesty is what got us into this mess in the first place.
If you understand and love these two subjects you will have the healthiest patients on the block. And the fact that a search for nutrition and preventative medicine in the realm of PA’s reveals nothing, just proves a point. That medicine still views the patient as innately flawed in need of a prescription pharmaceutical (that they can charge for) instead of healthy in need of nutritional education and the type of preventative medicine that will lead them to a lifetime of better health and well-being!