MD vs. PA: Part I


Very interesting girl who switched from med school to PA school.


You Don’t Have to Be a Doctor

Says my mom. This during another lengthy debate concerning the pros and cons of becoming one. And since registration for second year isn’t a declaration of marriage, I’ve flirted a bit with various career options in the medical field.

My first go around was this spring. Lilacs a’ bloomin’ and sun a’ shinin’ and a PhD a’ smilin’. What’s so alluring about the whole gig? I pictured falling in love with…

-No STEP or shelf exams

-Making science happen

-Finding the cure for cancer

-Analyzing data from home (it’s a no-no to bring your patients home)

-Writing Dr. on checks and what not

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Flexibility as a Female Physician

Seems [oxy-]moronic, but whether you’re into jet setting or maybe something quaint, oh, say like having a family, you should meet a few of the new friends I’ve made this summer:

Miss Mix-It-Up

This pediatrician grew up and attended medical school in Kenya. After residency and a mandatory year in something akin to the Peace Corps, Michigan seemed like the place to be. Her clinical work became so boring that she went for an MPH and ended up researching pediatric obesity. Currently, two days are spent running a healthy weight clinic at a major hospital while the other three days with data analysis, papers, lectures.

Miss E.R.

She chooses to work 3 twelve hour shifts. At night. Supposedly, never misses a bit of her children’s lives.

Miss Job Share

1 opening, 2 applicants. 1 patient, 2 doctors. It’s like when you signed up to bring snacks after your high school volleyball game. Everybody wants cookies so badly that they won’t turn you away if you can only bake one weekend in October. The same team gets fed. Different girls sign up. Think about it. (At least that’s the line I’m going to feed future employers.)

Miss Part Time

Anesthesiologist, internist, plastic surgeon, gynecologist all come to mind. They’ve not bought the 70-hour-work-week-lie to repay the investment that is medical education. (Oh yeah, lenders forget that we go hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt just to earn the little “m” and “d”.) For a pay cut, one can work mornings or three days or evenings etc. Endless possibilities.

Miss Consult

Turns out that you don’t have to enter residency after medical school (think teaching or medical admin–desperately needed as hospitals buildings rise higher than skyscrapers in our economy.) You don’t even have to practice after residency (think insurance claim consultation or research or nursing home management or really anything.)

Mixed messages from Mattel… should I be a mommy? A doctor? A mommies’ doctor!?

Whether guy or girl doc, these are all wonderful options to love what you do. But if there’s one common theme between those I shadowed, it was the presence of an awesome, supportive partner in crime!

Avoiding the Doctor Disease

It’s endemic. There are lots of unhappy and mean doctors out there. And I’m not just talking about the orthopod who screams at his staff. Or my childhood dentist. Or that proctologist (ewwwww.)

Recently, my friend’s mom told me about this disorder of frustrated arrogance comorbid with entitled inhumanity that often begins somewhere between first and second year of medical school and incubates into a full blown infection by the end of residency.

While I don’t quite hate sick people yet, my head does have a tendency to swell after passing anatomy rounds and biochem exams. Frighteningly, 60% of doctors would retire if they could, according to Forbes… but since they can’t, we still have to put up with their snarling over the burdensome task of willingly treating sick people who requested their services. How dare someone want to see them!

Pushing patients around has given me a new perspective on my role in medicine. I hold the privileged title of surgical orderly, transporter, bottom on the totem pole. But even the least of these sees a lot of patient contact–guiding medicated ones to their beds, calming their nervousness, talking past their worst fears.

can do lots of things but, like today, my boss just needed someone to organize anesthesia labels. The patient just needed someone to hold up a blanket in front of the door which we couldn’t get to close as she was getting back in her bed. Maybe doctors would be less epileptic if they met people where they’re needed.

It all gets old. At least that is what my mother noted about practicing nurse anesthesia. But nonetheless she loves what she does. What makes her atropine pushing any more exciting than that of an anesthesiologist?

She draws shapes with betadine before inserting an epidural. She sings her patients to sleep. She takes cardiac arrests in stride, prays a COPD-er through waking up, and thinks her way out of paper bags all day long.

Stole this adorable thing!

Ok, so I love my mom. But I’m just saying that finding joy in the mundane is an antidote to the doctor disease.

But what if you can’t see it?

Medical school teaches us to gather the chief complaint first. Transporting only permits me to see the person. I know their surgical procedure and nothing except what’s picked away by small talk. In their answers I catch glimpses of myself, bad and good. The little joys appear as my humanity is reflected back off their own hopes, dreams, and struggles. Bit by bit, petit à petit, the curmudgeon in me makes room for a hopeful doc indeed.

Why You Shouldn’t Go into Medicine

Here are a few reasons why you should think long and hard before going to medical school:

1. You like to help people. So did my kindergarten teacher who had a rockin’ sweet, life-size, laminated poster of a Blue Whale.

2. You are smart and like science. So are the guys who work for Boeing and my physics undergrad tutor who gets paid to get a PhD and the girl who invented Kevlar. Yeah, a girl invented Kevlar.

3. Your dad was a doctor… whose dad was a doctor…. whose dad was a doctor. This isn’t the 1850’s. And despite the fact that medical school curriculum has remained the same since when those dinosaurs roamed the earth, you needn’t pursue any career for legacy’s sake.


4. Money. You’d make a touch less as a high school teacher.

5. You think it will give you flexibility before age 29. Dearest ladies of the world, every woman that works outside the home can’t have it all. Yet every woman can make it work for kids/sigO/friends outside the home. And I’m sure Sheryl Sandburg might lean in on that.

6. You’re a life-long learner. Yay! See #2

7. You like being in charge and running things. I do too. But I wouldn’t trade away countless hours in the library, 2 more years as a hospital peon, and then 3 years of residency if I could dive straight into the rat race of the corporate world.

8. You just thought you might try it. I’d rather listen to middle school dribble on repeat than be an M1 again.