Working in healthcare is pretty cool. The human body is an incredible machine and helping others to heal is a noble endeavor. Physician associates (formerly known as physician assistants or PAs) have consistently been ranked as one of the top careers in healthcare but how well do you know these 3 undiscovered healthcare careers that all outearn PAs? Dosimetrist, medical physicist, and cardiac perfusionist.
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PAs Have It Pretty Good
There are a lot of reasons to choose PA:
- Lateral mobility
- Rapid training
- Reduced Debt
- Comfortable income
Physician associates are trained as generalists. And though there are some PA programs with a surgical focus, for example, the certification exam (PANCE) is a general medicine exam.
But PA mobility is more painful than some might think. Yes, an orthopedic PA can move into gynecology or psychiatry but it’s obviously not a smooth transition.
With specialty-specific PA residencies and Doctor of Medical Science degrees, PA mobility is an uphill climb. It’s also not very enticing for that ortho PA to start all over in a pretty dissimilar field like psychiatry.
Physician associates with experience in primary care fields are much better equipped to swap specialties. There are also more subtle moves like family practice to urgent care, for example.
PAs are rightfully gaining full practice authority across the US as they’ve proven to be capable of delivering high-quality care while staying within their scope of practice. As this trend continues, will PAs see more or less lateral mobility?
Any profession that deals with people is inherently difficult but trying to care for the human body with our limited understanding adds another layer of complexity.
Physician associate training is an attempt to fit the most important concepts of modern medical practice into a few short years. As a result, the PA profession has traditionally attracted second-career professionals like nurses and other medical technicians.
Physician training is the most robust and comprehensive way to prepare for medical practice. Consider, however, how closely a PAs academic preparation compares:
- A bachelor’s degree is required
- PA programs are 2-3 years long
- Optional PA-specific doctorates add another 1-2 years
- Optional PA residencies add another 1-1 ½ years
All said it’s certainly possible for a PA to be cashing her first paychecks while her future physician colleagues are still in school growing their debt.
With a shorter minimum training than physicians, physician associates almost always take on less debt than MDs. The interest on the difference could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars over a career. PAs will also out-earn resident physicians for several years.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, physician associates/physician assistants make an average of $120,000 a year. That’s not half bad when you consider the average salary for most Americans is around $55,000.
If you can’t have a meaningful life helping others while making twice what most people do, there might be something wrong with you.
Do Physician Assistants Really Have the Best Job in America?
Although practice laws are becoming less restrictive, PAs have their work cut out for them. Some have even asked if the PA profession won’t be extinct by 2030.
It’s also just an awkward position to be in sometimes. Imagine a collaborating physician dies or loses his license in a state with antediluvian practice laws–the PA automatically loses her job. The practice possibly closes and thousands lose their primary care provider in the blink of an eye.
The politics of physician associate life are also less than appealing. Consider spending countless hours and taking on stifling debt to be an airline copilot your entire career. And no matter how many hours you accumulate at the helm, you will never become the captain.
“Just go to airline captain school!” say the critics. But, why? The job descriptions of the pilot and copilot are essentially identical. They were trained to fly the same aircraft using the same skill sets. Making the copilot start back at ground zero doesn’t make any practical or economic sense.
And all of this is over and above the same stresses that all healthcare workers deal with like long hours, making life-or-death decisions, dealing with ungrateful patients, fighting insurance companies, and trying not to run afoul of intrusive government and bureaucratic policies.
While these and other categorical flaws still infect the majority of PA practice laws in the United States and abroad, those who are considering the profession might want to look a little further down that Best Jobs list before making up their minds…
Without further ado, here are the top 3 unknown careers in healthcare that won’t have patients asking when you’re going to be a “real doctor”:
A medical dosimetrist designs a cancer patient’s radiation treatment. The median pay is $127,270 while the top 10% make $162,240. A 4-year Bachelor’s degree is required though there are several Master’s degrees available.
A medical physicist oversees the safety and technical aspects of the radiation treatment for cancer patients which includes calibration and upkeep of equipment. Medical physicists are also researchers and teachers in their field. There are several educational paths available in Medical Physics, including the MS, PhD, DMP (Doctor of Medical Physics). The median salary is $152,000.
A cardiac perfusionist operates the heart-lung machine during open-heart surgery. They’re also responsible for administering medication and blood products. A Bachelor’s degree is required though most Perfusionist programs in the US award a Master’s degree. The annual salary is $128,237.