My name is Michael Asbach. I graduated with a Doctor of Medical Science (DMSc) from A.T. Still in the spring of 2021. I enrolled in A.T. Still’s inaugural DMSc program uncertain whether the degree would benefit my career, but I was excited to broaden my experience and skill set.
Now, just a year and a half after graduation, I have started a medical education company and nearly doubled my income in large part due to my pursuit of a terminal degree.
Why I Chose the Go Back To Grad School as a PA
My journey toward a terminal degree began in early 2019. In my primary clinical role, I work as a psychiatric PA. I started speaking and consulting for the pharmaceutical industry in 2015. I enjoyed education and found educational speaking to be a nice change of pace from the demands of a busy clinical schedule. By 2018, speaking and consulting were steadily growing and becoming a significant component of my annual income.
Non-Clinical Jobs for PAs
Within the pharmaceutical industry, there are many opportunities for PAs and other clinicians. Many health professionals may have attended an industry-sponsored dinner where a key opinion leader gives a presentation about the pharmaceutical product. These dinners are excellent opportunities for health professionals to network, and also learn more about a new drug and the associated clinical studies and disease state.
Another opportunity within the pharmaceutical industry is advisory committees. Companies will often request practicing clinicians to sit on a committee and provide feedback and guidance on marketing, future clinical research, and other advisements.
Doctor Equates to Leader
In early 2019, I was asked to participate in a steering committee for a pharmaceutical company. The company put together a committee that included clinicians from across the country to help craft and develop the marketing strategy for the upcoming year.
The committee was professionally diverse, made up of physicians, nurse practitioners, and myself (a PA). While most of the committee members were physicians, the committee also contained two Nurse Practitioners and me (a PA). One of the Nurse Practitioners had a doctoral degree (DNP), while the other Nurse Practitioner and myself both had Master’s degrees.
Throughout the committee meeting, I observed that the pharmaceutical company seemed to value the opinions of the Nurse Practitioner with her DNP quite highly. At one point, a meeting moderator even commented how lucky the pharmaceutical company was to have a doctorally trained NP on the committee to provide a leadership perspective from the nursing community.
This was my lightbulb moment.
Why I Chose the DMSc
I had previously considered a terminal degree but did not see the value. I did not feel a clinical doctorate would benefit me as I was confident in my abilities to continue to grow as a clinician through mentorship and continuing education. And I did not have an interest in becoming an academic so a four-year Ph.D. sounded overwhelming.
If I was going to pursue a terminal degree, I wanted to be confident that it would provide a sufficient return on investment to justify the cost and time commitment. At that 2019 pharmaceutical committee meeting, I realized that a terminal degree provided something critically important, a seat at the leadership table.
Healthcare is an industry of terminal degrees. Physicians, pharmacists, physical therapists, optometrists, and many others have standardized the doctorate as the required degree. I appreciate that both the PA profession have resisted the urge to mandate a doctoral degree, but a Master’s degree in a healthcare world of doctorates places our profession at a leadership disadvantage.
A terminal PA degree offers a clearer path to leadership opportunities including hospital committees, industry consulting, academic appointments, and many others. While many of these positions are available to PAs with Masters degrees, it is hard to compete for these positions when other professions may be pursuing the same positions with doctorates.
How My Income Grew With a PA Doctorate
After completing the DMSc with a concentration in healthcare leadership, I have been able to successfully renegotiate my consulting rates while also expanding my role as a consultant. Since 2018, my consulting rates have doubled and I have been able to significantly expand the number of industry clients as well.
My non-clinical doctorate also provided inspiration for a new business venture. I entered the A.T. Still DMSc program with the goal of obtaining my terminal degree but was uncertain whether the curriculum itself would expand my knowledge or skillset. While in the program, I realized how little education health professionals receive on the non-clinical aspects of their careers.
Important topics such as how to be an independent contractor, how to negotiate a raise, and how to write policies and procedures, and more are simply not covered in school because the focus of medical training programs is almost exclusively clinical.
White Coats of the Round Table
A colleague and I realized that there are few resources available for health professionals looking to foster and grow within their careers outside of their clinical skillset. We decided to start a medical education company featuring a podcast named White Coats of the Round Table. Within the podcast, we strive to address 3 unmet needs in the healthcare education landscape:
- Support healthcare professionals through education and career development
- Highlight non-clinical career paths that are available and provide actionable steps for those looking to make a career pivot.
- Combat healthcare burnout through discussions of self-care, work/life balance, organizational leadership opportunities, and advocating for local and systemic reform within healthcare institutions.
This project has been a continuation of the foundation put in place by the faculty and curriculum within the A.T. Still DMSc program. I am grateful to the faculty and my classmates who provided 2 years of debate and discussions regarding all aspects of the healthcare landscape.
A PA Doctorate Will Highlight PAs as the Leaders They Are
In conclusion, if you are a PA who is considering a doctoral degree, I encourage you to broaden your scope of what potential benefits may come from a terminal degree. There are opportunities to become more clinically proficient, and a better educator, but also less direct benefits including opportunities for leadership and influence at an organizational level.
Healthcare is evolving quickly and PAs need to have a voice and a seat at the table. A doctorate is one of the most efficient ways to accelerate your path towards a role as a healthcare leader.
White Coats of the Round Table is available on all major podcast streaming platforms. If you’d like to learn more or have suggestions for educational podcast topics, reach out here as we’d love to hear from you.