A physicians assistant stands with a doctor

Pros and Cons of Being a Physician Assistant

A physician’s assistant (PA) is a great job in a fast paced career field with a broad span of opportunities. Under a doctor’s supervision, you help examine and treat patients. As with any career, however, it’s important to understand the pros and cons.

Pro: You have almost as much responsibility as a doctor with about half the educational requirements.

Being a physician’s assistant still allows you a position in the healthcare field, helping to heal the sick and find answers for patients. While you don’t have quite as much freedom as a doctor, there’s a reason for that. Being a physician’s assistant requires only a master’s degree—which means a lot less school and significantly less in student loans.

Con: You still have to go to school for a long time—and it’s not easy.

A master’s degree is still a serious commitment; most programs require two years of your time. Additionally, many of those programs ask that you have three years of experience in the healthcare field. This means you can work as a nurse or an EMT (emergency medical technician) for a few years between your bachelor’s degree and entering the master’s program—some brave souls even continue working while getting their second degree. PA programs cover pharmacology, behavioral science, and, of course, clinical medicine. Ultimately, this means you should plan on being in school for about nine years before finally getting your PA degree. Most PA programs have more prerequisites for admission and are just as competitive as a full-fledged medical school, too, so factor that into your plans.

Pro: You can make really great money.

Physician’s assistants make, on average, just under $100,000 a year; the higher end of PA wages ran closer to $130,000. While a doctor or surgeon makes closer to $200,000 a year, you’ll still be making very good money. PA’s don’t have to worry about running their own clinics, paying taxes and coworkers salaries, or any of the other worries a doctor takes on. Additionally, it’s much easier to find a position as a PA rather than trying to open an office of your own.

Con: The hours can be awful.

Unfortunately, not being your own boss means you don’t have the freedom of choice that comes with it. While this can mean you don’t have the fiscal and personnel responsibilities, it also means you have to do what you’re told. Part of that is working when they don’t want to. PA’s are frequently made use of for the worst of the on-call hours when a professional is needed. Especially when you’re just getting started, expect to be working nights, weekends, and even holidays.

Pro: The jobs will keep on coming, in a range of specialities.

Perhaps one of the best aspects of a career as a physician’s assistant is the expected boom in the workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects an employment increase of almost 40% by the year 2022. Other sources expect closer to 70% by 2025. Additionally, while a doctor generally has to attend school for a few extra years to become specialized (i.e. oncologist), PA’s don’t. Instead, you learn on the job under the doctor you’re working for. In many cases, once trained, you work more and more under your own authority rather than someone else’s. Some rural areas even allow PA’s to run whole clinics, as long as certain qualifications are met.

Con: You still have to get licensed by state, and it can be an enormous hassle.

Unfortunately, you can’t just go jump into any position anywhere in the U.S. once you’ve graduated. You’re still under the obligations of the law, and that includes getting re certified periodically, just like a doctor. Furthermore, each of state—and even particular institutions—have different restrictions regarding what you can and can’t do as a physician’s assistant.

Last Updated: January 11, 2017