Two Letters: PA

Written By Soraya Sato on March 12, 2023

As released by the U.S News & World Report Best Jobs Rankings for 2023, the PA profession was ranked #2 among the various jobs in healthcare and highest among the healthcare professions in regard to work-life balance. Additionally, projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipate a 28% increase in PA employment between 2021 and 2023, a rate that ranks much faster than occupations both inside and outside of healthcare. Therefore, it is no wonder that the PA profession has gained so much attention these past few years. 

This all sounds great, but what exactly is a PA? The official title of the PA profession has since changed from Physician Assistant to Physician Associate, as recently implemented by the AAPA (American Academy of Physician Associates). However, their education requirements and job responsibilities remain the same. PAs are licensed medical providers who may examine patients, diagnose, and treat illnesses and diseases, prescribe medications, and assist physicians in surgery across various specialties. PAs must have a written agreement with a licensed physician, but still demonstrate a high level of autonomy by being able to have and assess their own patients. For instance, I have been able to scribe for a PA at an urgent care clinic this semester, who is often the only medical provider present at the clinic. However, other work environments may have the PAs directly working alongside nurse practitioners and physicians as valuable members of their healthcare team. Because of this, PAs must display strong problem-solving skills and be able to work well independently under pressure, while also having strong communication skills and being able to work efficiently as a team to enhance the quality of patient care. 

So who should become a PA? This is no easy question to answer in one article, but I would like to speak to the aspects of the PA profession that made me decide on the career. Apart from feeling that PAs have always treated me with compassion and provided me with high-quality patient care during my visits, I was intrigued by the fact that PAs have the ability to switch between specialties and work in practically all healthcare settings. Once knowing I wanted to work in healthcare, I struggled with identifying which specialty I was most interested in after having loved shadowing in various settings. However, PAs are trained to practice in specialties including cardiology, dermatology, pediatrics, orthopedics, plastics, emergency medicine, OBGYN, neurology, and many more with no additional training beyond their Master in Physician Assistant Studies. Therefore, the flexibility of the PA profession allows students to explore their several interests, rather than being confined to one specialty for their entire career. For instance, it is not uncommon to find PAs who work in one specialty during the week, while working in another on the weekends! Additionally, PA programs typically range from 2-3 years of schooling after receiving a bachelor's degree, instead of attending four years of medical school and 3+ years of residency. This would allow me to begin working, interacting with patients, become financially independent, and make an impact in the field sooner, which excites me and aligns with my values. 

The mission of the PA profession resonated with me: enhancing medical care. Now you might say traditional physicians do the same, but the PA was born out of dire situations. The PA profession emerged in the 1960s when there were primary care shortages, helping enable increased access and affordability to medical care across the population. The first class of PAs actually consisted of military corpsmen and medics arriving home from the Vietnam War who utilized their extensive medical experience and applied it to the profession. This mission stays relevant today, as healthcare workforce shortages, rises in the growing aging population, lack of access to healthcare in rural areas, and the increasing prevalence of chronic illnesses requires PAs to rise to the demand. As the Pre-PA Lead for the organization, I hope to learn and share detailed guides like this one, including firsthand experience from me, PA students, and practicing physician assistants!

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Note from Editor: Soraya used "PA" a total of 24 times. Wow!