Physician assistant is often ranked highly among most appealing or attractive professions.
Physician assistants get paid pretty well too, which is always nice.
But how many hours do physician assistants actually work per week, or per month? Or daily for that matter?
Today I’ll share my experience, and what I’ve learned working as a PA over the last several years in multiple specialties.
Let’s Dive In
The number of hours you work as a PA depends on your specialty
First of all, there’s a huge variation between different specialties.
In some specialties, you can work as little as about 30 hours per week, even as a “full-time” employee. And in others you might work over a hundred hours per week. Which is way too much, in my opinion.
How many hours does an emergency medicine physician assistant work?
I’ve spent most of my career working in the ER.
As a full-time emergency medicine physician assistant, my weekly work average was right around 30 hours.
The reason that was still considered “full-time” is at least partly because ER PA’s have to work nights, weekends, and holidays. So when your schedule is potentially flipping back and forth, you kind of lose an extra day per week just trying to recover your sleep schedule.
So even though you only technically work about 30 hours per week (on the lower end, if that’s what you’re going for), it’s kind of like you’re actually working 40 hours per week. That’s because it takes an extra day or so just to recover from the disruption to your circadian rhythm.
And working in the ER is intense, so it kind of wears you out. But I may be biased in that regard. 😉
Another interesting thing about working in the ER as a PA is that your schedule is created on a monthly basis, not weekly.
In other words, you could work 6 days one week, 1 day the next week, and two days the week after that. The whole month is basically put together by the scheduler like a jigsaw puzzle.
That’s nice if you want to carve out some time to go on a vacation. But it also means sometimes you work several long shifts in a row, which can be tiring.
By the way, one thing that can help keep your energy up and make it easier to focus when you’re working consecutive long shifts is eating a ketogenic diet. That’s because your brain shifts over to ketone metabolism, which can be relaxing, calming, and better for concentration. I’ve done quite a bit of keto, and often do intermittent fasting while working in the ER as well.
Emergency medicine is one of the best specialties for working relatively short hours (overall). It also has a flexible schedule. This can be nice if you like to travel or just have some variety.
On the other hand, it can wear you out because your sleep schedule will be disrupted. It can also interfere with social occasions on weekends or holidays.
How many hours does an urgent care PA work?
Urgent care is another specialty where you can potentially work less than 40 hours per week, and still be considered “full-time”.
For example, there are some PA’s who do three 12-hour shifts per week, and that may be enough to qualify for benefits.
But everything here varies a lot. There are some clinics where people end up working like 60 or even 80 hours a week. They might not only see a ton of patients, but also have to stay after to do some extra documentation.
So it depends a lot on the specific workplace, and you have to do your due diligence to kind of figure it out.
More on that below.
How many hours does a family practice PA work?
I also have some experience working in family practice. And even though I was technically part-time, I got a pretty good sense of how much work the other people were putting in.
In my case, the weekly work hours would have been right around 40 hours, or possibly slightly more, if I had been working full-time.
Each day was pretty close to eight hours, so if you do Monday through Friday that adds up to about 40 hours per week.
However, there is quite a bit of variability within family practice / internal medicine (both of which are considered “primary care”). Some people end up putting in longer hours, and they may take some of the work home with them (like finishing up charts /documentation). So those 8-hour days can turn into 10-hour or 12-hour days pretty easily.
My advice if you’re going into a specialty like family practice is to shadow some providers at the clinic you’re looking to work, and feel out the situation. That way you can get a good idea of how much work people are actually put in, and kind of pick their brain in advance.
How many hours does a surgery PA work?
Some of the surgery specialties are known for working particularly long hours.
For example, if you work with a spinal surgeon, you might start your day early in the morning rounding on patients at hospitals. Then you could work several hours in the clinic. And then you might need to do some additional rounding or other preparation at the end of the day.
So it could be an extremely long day. I’ve certainly heard about PA’s working as much as 80 hours per week in a surgical specialty. Sometimes even more.
That’s one of the reasons I never really considered going into a surgical specialty as a physician assistant.
(Another reason is because you can never really be a surgeon as a PA. At best you’re a glorified assistant. And at worst you just round on patients in the hospital but never actually help with surgery.)
So if you’re looking for a work-life balance, I wouldn’t recommend going into surgery as a PA. 🙂
How many hours do PA’s in other Specialties work?
Almost regardless of the specialty, there can be a huge variability in how many hours you would work per day, per week, or per month.
For example, if you work in dermatology you might put in 8 hour days. Or 6 hour days. Or 12 hour days.
And the weekly work hours would vary accordingly, as well.
So as I mentioned above, it’s always best to do some research, and ideally shadow some of the providers for a few days and see what it’s really like. You may also be able to ask them some questions when their guard is down, to get the real scoop about what it’s actually like.
And of course, you’re able to observe first-hand to kind of see what their work schedule is like.
What’s the best specialty for work-life balance as a physician assistant?
I may be biased. But I think the best specialties for work-life balance are probably urgent care or emergency medicine.
That’s because you can put in your 10- or 12-hour shifts, a few times a week on average. And have the other three or four days off each week.
And you typically don’t have to take any of your work home with you, unlike a lot of outpatient clinics.
The downside of emergency medicine that I mentioned above, is you often have to flip back and forth between day shift and night shift. So that kind of screws up your work-life balance since you’re always feeling groggy.
But if you can find an ER job that doesn’t make you flip back and forth all the time, it’s a really great option for work-life balance.
Probably the best.
(Another specialty that’s pretty similar to ER in this regard is being a hospitalist. A lot of them can do something like three 12-hour shifts per week, and have the other four days off.)
Urgent care, on the other hand, doesn’t usually have that problem of flipping back and forth. So your sleep schedule probably won’t be disrupted as much.
But you may work longer hours in urgent care. It just depends on the particular clinic. So do your research.
Other specialties can potentially be okay for work-life balance as well. Assuming you’re okay with a basically 9 to 5 Monday through Friday type of job.
Personally I’d rather put in a few more hours per day, and work fewer days per week. That’s why I think ER or Urgent Care are probably the best options. (Or maybe being a hospitalist.)
Out of all of those, ER is probably the most flexible, since you can work a lot of your shifts at the beginning of the month, or the end of the month. That way you can take some time off for a vacation and still get all your hours in. Urgent care and hospitalist jobs usually make you follow a more consistent schedule.
And then I mentioned above, surgical Specialties are probably the worst options when it comes to work-life balance.
How many hours do I currently work as a PA?
My situation is pretty unique.
About a year ago I switched to part-time at my ER job. The plan was to work about four or five 10-hour shifts per month. So 40 or 50 hours.
Basically, that would have been enough to make ends meet with my typical personal expenses.
But that was right before COVID started, so then everything devolved into chaos.
Since I live in Las Vegas, basically everything slowed down when all the tourists left and the businesses closed. So there weren’t a lot of hours to go around.
My employer was losing a lot of money so they cut hours back like crazy.
As a result, I’ve only been working a couple shifts per month on average during the past year.
And of course, that has its pros and cons. One nice thing is it’s giving me more time to work on my websites, like this one. 🙂
In the long run, I see myself having a nice supplementary income from my various “side hustles”.
And that’s another benefit of working in the ER — I can work part-time, even only occasionally, and make decent money. It’s pretty flexible about how many shifts I actually do.
I suspect it would be harder to have a schedule like this if I were working in an outpatient clinic. They probably wouldn’t be as flexible.
The number of hours you work as a physician assistant each week varies a lot. The biggest variable is what specialty you go into.
But even within individual specialties, the number of hours you have to work varies quite a lot.
It’s always best to do your due diligence, and check out the workplace. Talk to some of the providers, and pick their brains. Get the low-down on how much work they actually do (including any work they do from home, such as additional documentation).
If you were wondering how many hours a physician assistant works per week, hopefully this has been helpful. 🙂
And if you have any follow-up questions or anything, just hit me up.