In recent years, the position of physician assistant (PA) has consistently been listed as one of the best jobs (1) to have in America. Given the looming physician shortage, especially in the area of primary care, it’s no surprise that physician assistants are in high demand.
Physician assistants are licensed health professionals who work under a supervising physician. They are formally trained to examine patients, prescribe medication (in most states), order and interpret diagnostic tests, diagnose and treat illnesses, and perform minor surgeries. In short, they can do many of the things that a physician can do, without all the years of training.
What are the benefits?
- Ability to practice medicine: Physician assistants have many of the same job responsibilities as a physician. In underserved areas, they can serve as your primary care provider in place of a doctor.
- Only two years of training: Compared to physicians, who face a minimum of seven years of training before they can practice and make an income, physician assistants typically go through a two-year training process after receiving their bachelor’s degree. The first year consists of core classes, and the second year is filled with clinical rotations in several specialties. Additional training in a specialty is optional.
- Good income: After two years of school, physician assistants make a median of $93,000 a year.
- Abundant job opportunities: According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2), job growth for physician assistants is expected to grow 30 percent between 2010 and 2020. This is one of the fastest growing careers today.
- Flexibility to move between specialties: Physician assistants can choose to work under physicians of all specialties, from primary care to surgery.
- Less administrative responsibilities than a physician: While most doctors are complaining about taking care of administrative duties instead of having more time to spend with patients, physician assistants do not have to worry about that.
What are the drawbacks?
- Little opportunity for advancement: Physician assistants don’t have much room to move up in their field without further schooling.
- No autonomy: Physician assistants must always work under the supervision of a physician, and cannot make medical decisions without passing it by their supervisor.
- Lower pay than physicians: While physician assistants make a pretty sizable income, they earn significantly less than the physicians they work with.