Why PAs Rock
Posted by BrittneyOGradyComment

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CNN recently ranked physician assistant the 16th best job in America. Go PAs! (Plus, I’m proud to report I am currently one year(ish) away from being a bona fide physician assistant myself! )


What’s that you say? You do not know what a PA is? Well, don’t sweat it, you are not alone. Despite being ranked one of the top careers, I would wager most of America has no idea what the title “PA” means. Which is funny because I’m fairly certain most of you have actually seen a physician assistant if you went in for any medical check-ups. You might have confused them with the doctor because they essentially do the same thing. Diagnose. Treat. Repeat.

I’m not a PA (yet), but these are my thoughts/experiences/observations on what I love about the profession thus far:

1.) Scrubs are necessary for life.

Forget being forced to wear professional accoutrements. PAs can wear scrubs! So on a busy day when it is inconvenient to dress business professional, they can simply throw on the medical uniform. The drawstring pants with a loose fitting top—nothing uncomfortable about it. Scrubs rule!

This point is best made by Christina Yang and Meredith Grey of the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy.” I reference them because they have an innate knack of knowing to dress in pajama-y scrubs the days when serious heck-ola happens at Seattle Grace. Evidence: The body cavity bomb. The drowning. The shooter-on-the-loose. Plus, I bet if George would have been in scrubs he could have dodged that bus. (Sidenote: I’m not endorsing any scrub brand. But the “Grey’s Anatomy” scrubs are pretty stellar. Rock on, Katherine Heigl!)

2.) Because PA education is so focused, you can complete it in about 27 months.

Two saddle joint thumbs up to whoever decided two-plus years is all the time you need to become a certified physician assistant. (Spoiler alert: It was Dr. Eugene Stead who based it on medical training in the U.S. Army.)

You see, my senior year of college, I was the antithesis of Rory Gilmore circa 2007, re: Operation Finish Line. I had no real plans. The way I saw it, I would get my degree and coast on a cloud buoyed by postgraduate delusions until I, eventually, figured it out.

Turns out, this is not acceptable and I was forced to come up with a way to make paper. Quick!

My academic adviser (a twinkly-eyed Diane Lane doppelgänger) sat down with me for about an hour. I remember she kept talking medical school, but I wasn’t paying attention. I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor. Doctors are required to go to graduate school for four years and stay in one specialty for life. No go! When she noticed my lack of enthusiasm, she produced a red pamphlet from her top drawer titled: “The Physician Assistant Profession.”

A quick scan of the maraschino cherry-colored document revealed PA school met all of my career requirements plus fast-track medical training! Just over a year of didactics and 14 months of clinical rotations—no problem. I looked up at Diane and gushed, “This is going to be perfect for me.” She smiled. Then she said, “Good, now leave.” And, that was that.

3.) The money is primo.

If you can’t trust CNN, who can you trust? Most certainly, no one. I’m not insinuating wealth is everything but having cash money is nice.

4.) It’s a broad field! Essentially a modern-day apprenticeship with extensive training in the clinical setting!

Since everything in my life must be tied into television, I have to point out the show “Royal Pains.” For those of you who haven’t seen it (and you should), it is about a doctor, Hank, living and practicing medicine in the Hamptons. And guess what? One of the main supporting characters, Divya, plays the PA!

Divya works with Hank in the highbrow field of concierge medicine, but she could really work anywhere. And, if she quit, there would be no need for doing a residency. Picture this scenario: If Hank bails on Boris (his personal banker) and buys a one-way ticket on the Hampton Jitney, does Divya have to follow him? Absolutely not! This is because PAs are in high demand. She can score a job doing anything, anywhere. Perhaps she would move to Chicago and become a PA in internal medicine. No, she moves to Dallas. She becomes a PA in plastic surgery. She rides a red and blue vintage DKR scooter to work (aka The Leicester Cruiser). Her neighbors dub her the southern Aishwarya Rai.

So, yes. Physician assistants can work anywhere.

5.) Sometimes it’s all about the job security. 

Sadly, the one simple truth is that everyone gets sick. And vital players in the healing process are PAs. They take the history of the present illness and perform top-to-bottom physical exams of their patients’ body systems. They order and interpret tests, scans and labs to help them rule in or out different diagnoses. It’s a recession-savvy career that smacks of responsibility, for sure.

6.) You get to prescribe medicine!

When I was a kid, I used to naively think there were two types of drugs: Amoxicillin (that’s the Nuvo pink, bubble-gum-flavored medicine) and Dimetapp. Then I grew up and realized how many sick and valium-able (nailed it!) drugs there really are. There. Are. Tons.

I love learning the pharmacology behind all of these drugs and why they get prescribed. It’s probably because I think drugs are the closest thing we have to magic.

7.) You get to take care of cute kiddos who are leaking visceral fluids and projectile vomiting.

This will be cool for about a millisecond.

8.) You get to help people!!!

As far as my favorite things go, helping people ranks among raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. The only way to describe how it makes me feel is to say that I love it more than Levain Bakery chocolate chip cookies, which is saying something. There is nothing more extraordinary than being a character in someone’s success story. After all, we are all just flesh and bone, full of hope and wanting to change the lives of one another.

OK, I don’t want to take up anymore of your time, so I’ll sum this up quickly: Physician assistants are spectacular. The end.

Brittney O'GradyBrittney O’Grady, PA-S, is a student in the Lincoln Memorial University PA program in Harrogate, Tenn.

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