Why not PA - HELP me please!

This is a post i put on a non-medical board I frequent. Please give me your advice/opinions:

I am changing careers, 33 yo female, MS and BS degree. Currently working in the engineering field. It would be helpful to have perspective from others to think this through.

Scenario 1:

I was accepted to a school (for the fall) with a PA (Physician Assistant) program. PA’s are dependent practitioners who can perform about 85% of what a physician does, however they are under the direct supervision of an MD and do not have the final word. PA school for me means 1 year of mandatory pre-requesites (many are the same as a pre-med program), 1 didactic year (classroom), 1 year clinical rotations. My specific interest is in surgery.

This university is $30K/year, however I was awarded a partial grant guaranteed for all of the 3 years of school. Once graduating, I would sit for a cert exam and begin practicing and making money ($80-110 K/yr) However, my only reluctance is that I feel I may possibly not be satisfied being a PA and not being “in charge”. Additionally, many nurses that I work with (I am not a nurse) tell me to not to bother doing PA.

Scenario 2:

I feel that i am capable enough to become an MD and would be good at it. I am an “older” non-traditional student (some med schools do not like this). There is an inexpensive pre-med post baccalaureate program I could apply to for rolling admissions and attend in the fall. I would need to attend the post-bacc. program to do mandatory pre-requesites for at least 2-3 semesters, but could be as many as 4 semesters before I would apply to med school. They have a committee which assists you with reccommendation letters to med schools and the like. After (hopefully) being admitted to med school, it’s 4 yeard as a med student, and then 4 years in residency. That’s a total of 8-9 years - 4 on loans, and 4 on a resident’s salary (which is crap). I really love the idea of being an MD, but as I’ve learned, you need to live it yourself to know what a job is really all about.

The tuition here is about $6K/year. This is a public school and the classes are much larger, sometimes the professors are lousy. The administration can be just plain mean.

My dillemma is that I am really uncertain which path is right for me due to inexperience (I am in an unrelated field and I volunteer in a surgical hospital on the weekends only).

  1. Do I attend the expensive scenario 1 school and try to figure it out so as not to jeapordize my grant money (which is huge) and then risk being behind in some of the pre-med prerequesite classes?

  2. Or do I give that opportunity up, go to scenario 2 school (which is much cheaper) and potentially wind up dissatisfied and wishing that I had just stuck to the original plan?

    ALSO - To complicate things further…Due to a family circumstance I can’t leave the NYC regional area for at least 4-5 yrs (I need at least 1-2 years of pre-med reqs).

    I am already makig a huge change, so once I walk down a road, i really don’t want to walk back.



Tia -

Can you defer your entry to PA school for a year while you investigate further what you really want to do? Would that allow you to keep your grant money should you decide that PA school is indeed what you want to do?

I think it could be a mistake to proceed with PA school if you are already having misgivings that you will be satisfied with it. If you start PA school and then decide to pursue med school it could also hurt you more than just losing a year or so. Depending on how you present it in med school applications, it could be viewed as a negative. IMO you should spend some more time investigating both options - talking to PAs and MDs, shadowing both if possible. Make some pro/con lists, do some soul searching.

You don’t have to do a formal post-bacc program. There can be some advantages to it - as you mentioned - access to advising and a committee letter, for example, but those are often available to students pursuing med school pre-reqs without being in a formal program. Matt Corey posts on here and is from the NYC area. Perhaps you could contact him about pre-req options in your area. He is starting med school this fall.

It’s a tough decision, but well worth it to do the soul searching NOW and make the right one.

Good luck.

Thanks. I wish this was an easier decision.

Honestly ts, I’ve seen more than a few posts of people on OPM who used to be pharmacists, PAs, NPs, nurses, etc. and they’re all pre-med now obviously because they weren’t happy with where they were at.

If you doubt going to PA school, then that should tell you that it’s not going to be in your best interests. Perhaps for short term yes, but not for long term.

There’s about 8-10 medical schools in the state of New York so not being able to move from that area isn’t really going to impact you too much as far as applying to medical schools goes, and from the sounds of it, college accessibility won’t be an option.

I’d say go with scenario 2…better to be temporarily unhappy because you’re in debt than permanently unhappy because you don’t like your career.

Thanks Tim.

There are a lot of schools in or near the NYC area. Maybe my geographic fears are somewhat unfounded.

I’m going to set up as many shadowing opps. as possible this summer. I’ve already had one and sat in on 8 different surgeries. It blew me away!

If you have to wait 4-5 years till you apply to med school but can start PA school right now…it might not be a bad thing to go to PA school. Unless you’re in a do or die situation where after PA school it won’t be worth to you to go to med school.

The reason I didn’t go the PA route was because quite crassly I figure getting kicked in the nethers once should be enough. I couldn’t see going thru the rigors of PA school to turn around and go through twice the hell a few years later. I would be graduating this year as a new PA if I had. There’s the debt to think about as well. PA’s schools are getting outrageous with their tuition as well. Some schools are over $100k! Yikes!

So while I did start out by saying PA school might not be such a bad deal if you’re ultimate goal is to become a physician OR you discover that becoming a physician is your ultimate goal then PA would just add more debt and misery. It wouldn’t be a bad Plan B. I withdrew my app for PA school after speaking with a number of PA’s turned docs who warned me against PA school. There were also PA’s who told me i they had to do it over again they would just go MD. However now they’re in a financial position where by the time they broke even after going to med school they would be close to 65 so it’s not worth it to them. That’s why I’ve chosen to become a physician.

just out of curiosity… are there alot of PA turned docs out there? i know there are alot of RN to MD but didn’t know about the PA situation. yeah I was talking with my dad the other day and some girls in my pre-req classes were going for PA and talking about how competitive it is these days to get in and how it’s harder to get into than med school in some locations… i was thinking well duh… instead of the 3 yrs of just a masters, go for the darn MD in 4 yrs. i mean shoot add another year to your education and you’ll be their boss… (I hope I am not offending any PA’s as I do not even know anything about their professions, just going by what i’ve read so far).

is the biggest hurdle for some who choose PA over MD the MCAT?


Let me clarify…I can go pre-PA for 1 yr and then the 2 yrs of PA school = done in 3 years.

OR I go post bacc, I have to take 2 sem. Chem, 2 sem. O-chem, might need to re-do 2 sem. Physics (depending on age of grades), maybe Calc (?), maybe Biochem. Already have A’s for Bio 101/102.

Post Bacc Shedule:

Fall 07/Spr 08

Chem 1/2

Phys 1/2 (? may not be necessary)

Calc 1/2 (? may not be necessary)


Summer 1/Summer II or Fall/Spring 08/09

Ochem 1/2

Take MCAT at some point in between

Let me know what you think :slight_smile:

Miller J,

I agree with you, however you have to remember that in American society/culture, women are largely responsible raising (let’s not forget baring) children. Men who have stay at home wives have can go to school and opt out of being the caregiver.

Being a PA is far easier on family schedule than being an MD.

Ahhhhh I see.

So according to this you should be able to apply to med schools by 2009. Starting in 2010. So allowing for an extra year due to whatever issues then you would start in 2011. So 4 years from now. That’s not the end of the world. I would go for med school and have PA as a backup. With the time frame you’re talking about you’re not saving all that much time.

My rationale was that if I discovered a year or two as a PA that I will apply to med school then I might as well start from the get go with med school. It all depends on what you want.

Do you want to be the boss?

Do you need to know why to the nth degree about x disease?

Do you want all the headaches of being ultimately responsible for the patient?

Do you want all the headaches of being ultimately responsible for those on your team who are working under your license?

Do you think you will be happy in one field of medicine?

There are many reasons for pursuing the MD/DO. You have to come up with your own and focus, focus, focus, focus, focus. The latter has been the most difficult for me but I’ve managed to remain more focused than in years past. It’s difficult because you keep thinking “in 2 years I could be doing…”. However it doesn’t matter how fast you get somewhere if you’re not happy once you get there. Take your time, do it right, and do it for you.

However it doesn’t matter how fast you get somewhere if you’re not happy once you get there. Take your time, do it right, and do it for you.

Well said. Once I walk down that road, I do not want to look back with regrets.

Well, I’m about 9 years older than you and I’m looking to start med school at 45 (Fall 2010). I’ve been experiencing some cold feet on and off, and where is that getting me…no where.

I think of it like this…when I’m ready to look into the sunset, will I be happy with the career choices I have made or will I have regrets? Well, I believe I can do this…now I have to have the faith that I can do it.

The first thing that I am attempting to do is to totally take the age factor out of this equation…as long as I’m a good student, and willing to learn…I’m no different that students half my age that are pursuing this dream.

Also, something that my experiences have given me is that I’m not looking at it like I have 2+ years of prereqs, then 4 yrs of medical school, 4 yrs or so of residence and then I’ll be a full-fledged MD…but I’m going to look forward to each phase and not try to fast forward this experience. A phrase you will hear often, especially on this forum is that this is a marathon, not a sprint…and one of the nice things about a marathon is that you can look around and enjoy the scenery (it’s amazing how time flies when you move with things, instead of forcing things along).

Just my 2 cents!


HI, I started Medschool at 41 and went out of the country route, I’m back in SOuthern Ga for clinicals now you can do this if it’s what you want.

Do not do something cause it’s quicker in the short term you will be happy but have regrets