The Myth of the PA Work-Life Balance


When asking why someone wants to be a PA or why a PA chose the profession, you'll often hear talk of the "work-life balance." 


This phrase has come to mean different things to different people. And, I think a couple of interpretations, even though widely cited as reasons that PAs have a good work-life balance, are wrong.


For prospective PAs who are early into exploring the PA role, a "work-life balance" is often misconstrued as PAs not having to work as hard or as much as physicians. 


But, if you speak to a PA (or a physician who has worked closely with one), and you'll find this is far from the truth. 


PA Work-Life Balance Meaning lBe a Physician Assistant

A fundamental part of PA practice is working as a team with a physician. 


If you work in a facility where your collaborating physician takes call, it's likely you'll be a part of the on-call schedule as well. If clinic runs late, you probably won't be punching out at 4:30 every day, leaving your physician to wade through the remaining patients alone. 


The other thinly veiled meaning of the "work-life" balance terminology is the suggestion that PAs can get married and have babies while they're "still young." 


But, does that mean that doctors can't? By going to medical school, are you agreeing to a solitary existence until you come up for air after your training is fully completed? 


Of course not. Plenty of physicians have families, often growing them during their residency. 


So if it's not about working less or having a life outside of work, what does a "work-life" balance actually mean? 


Here are the areas where I believe PAs feel that mysterious work-life balance tip in their favor. 


1. Training

While how much a PA and a physician work during the professional phases of their careers are typically similar, the training period is the exception. 


In the short term, PAs will be trained faster and be in practice sooner compared to physicians. 


Due to new regulations governing physician residency introduced in the past ten years, the training period for doctors is not nearly as grueling as it once was (and, as a result, is safer for patients). 


But, medical school + residency means that physician training lasts 4-5 years longer than PA training. 


So, PAs get to start living the good life of the professional phase sooner. And, that also means that the other two work-life balance perks of being a PA can start having an impact earlier in your life and career. 


2. Geographic mobility

As a physician, you often move to where your career takes you. This may include moving to wherever you match for a residency program.


While PAs may move to attend PA school, this is much less of a commitment time-wise than relocating for a residency. 


After training, physicians look for positions in their specialty and hope an opening matches up with somewhere they'd want to live. Usually, this means being open to several different cities or states as options. 


However, being trained as general practitioners, PAs have the advantage of significant flexibility in choosing where to live. As a PA, you can decide where you want to live first, then look for jobs second. Rather than the other way around. 


Geographic flexibility isn't talked about much, but it's a serious advantage of being a PA. 


As a PA, finding a position nearly anywhere in the U.S. is fairly easy to do. And, if you have to relocate for family or personal reasons, it won't be much of a challenge to find an ideal position in your new town or city. 


3. Practice-style mobility

You'll undoubtedly hear a lot about having the flexibility to work in different specialties as a PA. (Only about half of PAs do swap specialities during their career, so don't hang your hat on this one.)


However, a under-recognized advantage of being a PA is the ease of being able to move into different styles of practice. 


As a PA, you can transition from regular business hours in a clinic to shift work in a hospital. You can move from full-time to part-time without skipping a beat. And you can rearrange it all with a new position again if you like. 


PAs can easily move from a major academic center to a small private practice, and back again.


And you can do all of this without it hurting your career. The same cannot all be said for physicians. 


As a PA, you can find a role with a schedule that best fits your lifestyle, and you can change positions as your lifestyle evolves. 


How's that for work-life balance?


The whole "work-life balance" terminology has taken on a life of its own and is sometimes associated with misunderstandings about the PA profession. 


How long you work, whether you're on call, and if you carry a pager are influenced more by the type of practice you work in rather than the type of provider you are. 


But, there are aspects of being a physician assistant that can seriously expand your choices in life and your career — which is where the real balance comes into play.