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Is a regular work day for a Physician Assistant as intensive as a Physician(long hours etc.) or does it differ ?

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Hwal’s Answer


I'm a curent PA (Physician Assistant) student. There are many resources that look at the PA and physician career paths, and here's one of the more concise and comprehensive I thought might be helpful for you: https://www.thepalife.com/infographic-pa-vs-md-understanding-the-differences/

I'm not sure what stage of education you're in currently, but feel free to ask me if you have any specific questions. I'd love to help out.

Good luck!


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Richard’s Answer

I am a radiologist who works with 5 PAs

They spend 1/3 of their day evaluating patients for procedures, completing a history and physical on each patient.

The other 2/3 of the day is performing radiology procedures such as:
Barium studies, like upper gi series or barium enema
Ultrasound guided biopsies of thyroid and liver
CT guided biopsies of lung and liver
CT guided drainages of abdominal abscess
Placing central lines, dialysis catheters and PIC lines.

Their work day is a little more hectic. They have to check in with the physicians before each case. However, we physicians have the ultimate responsibility for any complications so that makes our lives more stressful.

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Sarah’s Answer

Hi, Ruppam. That’s a good question, and you’re right in suspecting it differs. As a PA, I’ve worked as little as 12 and as many as 60 hours per week. (The 12 hour job was very part time--two half days per week.)

Generally, in my experience PAs rarely work longer hours than their physician counterparts. There are a few reasons for this, as far as I can tell.

Availability of a supervising physician can limit the hours a PA can work in a couple of ways. A supervising physician has to be in reach of their PAs at all times (or have another designated physician sub in if they’re unavailable, which doesn’t commonly happen on an ongoing basis). That can limit the hours a PA can be supervised. And having several PAs to supervise also taxes a physician’s availability, so again hours might be limited in that scenario.

A lot of PAs, especially my female colleagues, went into the field so they have a degree of freedom to help raise their children. Part time and job share opportunities allow some PAs to be able to raise their children part time. This seems to be less common among physicians, possibly because they tend to have a larger financial stake in their practices, such as full or part ownership, and that they typically have a lot more student loans to pay off than PAs.

The PA specialties that are most likely to work longer hours are hospitalist and surgical PAs. By nature of the work, shifts can be 12+ hours long. Even if you are just scheduled for three 12 hour shifts in a week, in that line of work, you rarely get to clock out at the precise time your shift is “over”. There are lots of extra hours involved beyond your schedule, often centered around coordination of care before and after shifts. There may be exceptions to this, but I suspect they’re rare. (On my surgical rotation, it wasn’t uncommon to arrive at 4:30 am and leave after 8 pm, for instance.)

In one of my family medicine jobs, I was getting paid for 40 hours of work (salaried), but was working 60 hours some weeks. Between seeing patients in clinic, charting, reviewing diagnostic studies, handling patient calls, supervising my medical assistant, being on call, and administrative duties (committees, quality assurance and process improvement projects, etc.), it was a lot of work. Too much work.

What I’m about to say is beyond the scope of your question, but I think it’s important to think about. There are a lot of jobs in medicine that are time-intensive. Some people are made for that, but most of us are not. I, personally, do not recommend ever working in a position that takes up >45 hours per week if you can avoid it. It’s a huge sacrifice and can pose a danger to your physical and mental health, and to your time with your family and friends, among other things. It drains your personal reserves, the stress is difficult to cope with in a healthy manner, and leaves your resiliency to life’s ups and downs low. The latter is a great way to leave yourself vulnerable to getting jerked around by “the system”. Don’t overextend yourself. Just like airplane safety where you put your own mask on before anyone else’s, take care of yourself first. That’s the only way you’ll be able to provide your patients with optimum care.

Best of luck to you!

Sarah recommends the following next steps:

Keep asking for advice and perspective.
Shadow a lot of healthcare providers, in different settings and specialties, if you can.
Become well-informed about the specialties that interest you. You need to know what you’re getting yourself into, in terms of time commitment and everything else your life will look like.
Practice good self-care to stay healthy. Set healthy boundaries.
Make sure you’re being fairly compensated for your hard work. There are lots of resources for this, like annual salary reports through AAPA and NCCPA.

Awesome answer, Sarah. I agree with everything you said. Susan Delphine Delaney