Planning Your Career as a Physician Assistant

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CNN Money recently ranked Physician Assistants (PAs) as number 2 in its Top 10 Best Jobs in America. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 30% job growth rate for PAs through 2020. If you’re starting your career as a PA, there are many options open to you. It all depends on the practice setting, your education, experience, and state laws.

Choosing a Specific PA Career Path

It’s important to choose a PA career path early, even before you graduate and start getting certifications. Each path requires specialized training and knowledge. For example, you may work in an ambulatory or emergency setting, or be a generalist and provide health care services in family medicine or pediatrics. You may choose to work in obstetrics and gynecology, orthopedics or geriatrics. If you specialize in surgery, you’ll provide pre- and post-operative care and possibly work as first or second assistant during major surgery. Whichever specialty area you choose, you’ll be part of a team of other health care providers, working closely with physicians, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, or mental health professionals. The American Academy of Physician Assistants can help you with what you’ll need to do and know in each career path.

PA as Manager

As a PA, you can also go into management. In large hospitals and medical offices, you’ll order medical and lab supplies and equipment. You may take on a supervisory role, overseeing technicians, medical assistants and other support staff. If you choose this career path, you’ll need some supervisory experience or have taken some courses in management and supervision at a college or university. To get an idea of what you’ll need to know and what you’ll be expected to do, listen to Kathe Hocum, Supervisor at Mayo Clinic’s Hospital Internal Medicine. She encourages PAs to move around to different departments, acquire new skills, join committees and teach other health care professionals.

PA as Principal Care Provider

While you’ll practice under the license of a physician, you may also be the principal care provider in certain situations. Here it’s important to develop a good bedside manner, counseling and people skills. You may even make house calls, visit patients in hospitals and nursing homes and confer with the physician and other health care specialists. A study published in the Annals of Family Medicine showed a decline in the percentage of PAs working in primary care. Medical schools and PA programs have encountered problems in recruiting healthcare students into primary care. While this may affect your decision to pursue a career in primary care, there is some good news.

The Affordable Care Act and PAs

Under the President’s Affordable Care Act, there are now incentives for hospitals to train primary PAs in the community. New regulations now provide more flexibility in Medicare residency training requirements. Hospitals previously bore the cost of education in non-hospital sites, and had to pay the resident’s and teaching physician’s salary. This discouraged training in community settings. Under the new policy, hospitals need only pay the resident salaries. This makes it far easier for you as a PA to secure training in your community. Check out Maggie Fox’s NBC News article on PAs and the Affordable Care Act.

If you’re considering a career as a PA or just starting out as one, consider the many directions your career can take and choose the path that suits your goals and passion.


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