Physician assistant with a patient in her clinic

What Being a PA is All About

I guess that title’s a little ambiguous, since it could refer to this website, or to the profession. 🙂

Why don’t we talk a little bit about both.

What’s the purpose of this website?

I created this site to share my experiences becoming a physician assistant, from the decision to apply to PA School to my current career as an emergency medicine PA.

I’ll talk about how to apply to PA school (and get in, haha), how to be successful as a PA student, as well as tips for new PA’s.

Along the way, there are a million things to navigate, and it helps to have a “mentor” to answer some of your questions. Someone who’s already gone through the things you’re going through, and understands what you really need to know, as well as what you don’t need to worry about.

My journey – in a nutshell

I applied for PA School in 2010, enrolled in 2011, and graduated in 2013. In early 2014, I started my first job as a PA, working in emergency medicine, and I’ve been doing that ever since (with two different employers).

Ben Tanner on a medical mission in 2013 during PA school
On a medical mission during PA school in 2013

I also spent some time working on a part-time basis in family practice, as well as urgent care, for about a year each.

So I’ve had a few different jobs, and gotten a good feel for how to look for job opportunities, how to approach the job interview, resume, etc, and how to get started on the right foot at a new job.

What’s it like being a PA?

Working as a PA is interesting, because you basically do everything that a doctor does.

For example, if you work in primary care–or any outpatient clinic really–you literally do almost 100% the exact same job that a physician would do. You talk to patients, examine them, order tests or treatments, write prescriptions…and fill out lots of tedious paperwork. 😉

So there’s a little prestige, and a lot of responsibility.

On the other hand, depending on your specialty, you may have some limitations in the types of things that you do, compared to a physician.

For example, if you work in emergency medicine (like me), you typically won’t do as many “advanced” procedures (like intubation, or placing central lines, for example), compared with a physician. You may not run codes either, depending on where you work (by codes I mainly mean patients who are unconscious, need CPR, or have a stroke.)

If you work in a surgical specialty, you’ll kind of have to be the assistant to the physician (hmm, that sounds a little bit like our title, doesn’t it), because you’re never the primary surgeon.

You’ll probably also do a lot of pre-op and post-op evaluations of patients in the clinic, and possibly round on patients in the hospital when they’re recovering from surgery. (Rounding is when you check on hospitalized patients, about once a day, and order new tests or treatments as needed.) And you’ll probably end up working a lot of hours.

(Different PA specialties are super different. That’s why shadowing is so important.)

Another thing that makes being a PA different than being a physician, is that people don’t really understand our role as much in many cases, and may not know what to call us. So there’s frequent confusion, and a lot of clarifying.

PA’s have only been around since about the 1960’s, while doctors have been around for hundreds, or even thousands of years. So it kind of makes sense.

Final thoughts

If you want to “be a doctor” (more or less), but you don’t want to spend all those years to go through medical school and residency, being a physician assistant is a very reasonable alternative.

But it also depends a lot on the specialty you intend to go into–anything you do in an outpatient setting (like a clinic or doctor’s office) is basically identical to being a doctor, but the same is not quite true for an operating room, or the emergency room.

You’ll probably also run into a lot of people that don’t really understand what a PA is, so you spend more time clarifying your role than doctors do (since they basically never have to do that).

On this site, I’ll try to provide guidance for those who are considering going to PA school, students who are currently in PA school, as well as new PA’s who are somewhat fresh out of school. I hope it’s helpful!

Have a question? Feel free to get in touch.

Thanks for visiting!