A physician assistant must complete physician assistant school in a specialized accredited program, usually at a graduate level, and continue with extensive training for as long as the physician assistant chooses to practice. Physician assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing medical education every two years and pass a recertification exam every six years. The cost of a graduate education must be considered, along with the potential loss of income during the schooling period. The time cost for oneself and one’s family must also be considered. Additionally, should an employer not accommodate continuing education during work hours, the demands of obtaining continuing education during off-time can be a strain.
Although a physician assistant shares many of the duties and responsibilities of a medical doctor, a PA has less authority and a lower pay scale than an MD. A physician assistant may not be well accepted by patients expecting a doctor and unfamiliar with a physician assistant’s level of expertise. While the supervising physician bears the brunt of practice liability, a physician assistant must also be entirely aware of the law and standards of practice to avoid legal issues and malpractice suits.
Job opportunities are plentiful, though not necessarily in an individual’s ideal setting and location. While some people are drawn to physician assistant work specifically to care for underserved populations, such as those in rural areas or in correctional facilities, others may find this work unappealing. A physician assistant working in an isolated setting will not enjoy the level of direction from a supervising physician or the camaraderie of working with a health team.
Within a health care team, physicians and administrators set the tone and style of the practice. Physician assistant job happiness may depend on a personality and practice philosophy that aligns with that of the supervising physician. Where different visions exist, so does the potential for dissatisfaction. For someone who prefers autonomy, the level of supervision itself may be problematic. In some positions, the hours may be long or irregular, affecting family and social plans.
The work of a physician assistant requires a great deal of responsibility. Patients, cases, and the work environment can all be stressful. Patients may not be entirely forthcoming or may ignore advice, consequently creating frustration in managing those patients’ cases. Because of a physician assistant’s inherent desire to serve and to cure, difficult or incurable cases may be stressful. Coping strategies to effectively deal with stressors of physician assistant work will be necessary.