MD vs. PA: Part II

I don’t pretend to be someone that only dreamt of white coat days in an MD haze. For myself and many others, the question between MD vs. PA school manifests itself. But to what extent and when is anyone’s guess. The last summer after year one and calls to 4 PA friends doesn’t seem ideal, but neither is regret over staying simply because you are capable/smart/expected to etc.

White Coat

My first phone call happened on a whim. On the way to my internship, I stewed over this recent discovery, an interest in pediatrics/primary care. What if I could hold babies and treat colds as a PA? Tired of the racing “what-ifs”, I hastily dialed my friend, a recent PA grad. She listened a bit then told me of her secret wish: residency. Every patient expects and her practice demands a knowledge and training that comes, not ideally, while on the job.

That night my second friend returned my call. Tests/hours/everything complainy were also the reasons for avoiding her doctor dad’s path. School is every bit as hard but she loves being an almost PA. I was nearly convinced by the option to work part time, to easily move between surgery and primary care specialties, to see but not really have patients.

Bepbep! cut our discussion short. On the other line was a primary care doc whom I’d been emailing, calling, hoping to meet. My last attempt caught her grocery shopping with her two boys. A good sign. And when I finally picked her brain for career advice–wow.

“I guess if you wanna be a PA, there isn’t much difference in primary care practice… but, when I decide to skip Friday clinic for my daughter’s game or vacation or whatever, our two PAs cover… and residency seems long but flies by. Call schedules vary from academic to community hospitals, all posted on the web… You would just have to be realistic about a pay cut. Ultimately, PA’s have initial flexibility, but most doctors who don’t buy fancy boats and cars and houses could work part time.”

A week passed. Soon another PA student, an old track buddy, called me back. She laughed because she’d done the inverse–considered the MCAT and medicine half-way through, but walked away from the MD timeline. Another friend echoed her hopes. She’s an old family friend and professor at a PA school. Had she been younger, she too would have gone to med school.

If my mind wasn’t made by then, who else could I have called!? Becoming a physician’s assistant is noble. School is still hard. With medicine shifting toward mid-level practitioners, the PA role is desirable. But the MD isn’t a death sentence to 80-hour work weeks nor a mandate to treat-the-disease-never-the-person. For MD vs. PA, your gifts, life-situation, and dreams guide the choice. As my dear PA friend said,

You really can’t make a wrong decision!


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