As a Physician Assistant, we are trained for Primary Care. Sure you can pick a specialty for the long term, but many PAs out there are interested in making a shift or two at some point in their career. Luckily, this is typically an easy process.
Let’s dig into a few things for a little more perspective on switching specialty areas.
Historically, PAs were meant to practice in Primary Care. But as the industry and position evolved, many PAs selected other areas of medicine seeking better pay and different work. Given this trend, new graduates might find it difficult to get an ER or Orthopedics position. If that’s you, a good idea is to consider a different specialty, and then transfer over once you have more experience. Hospitals and busy practices value experience in any area of medicine.
If you’ve got some years under your belt as a PA, then it’s no secret that medicine can become repetitive. You likely treat the general diseases of your specialty area. For example, diabetes and thyroid disease make up 90% of what an Endocrine PA sees. When one of those rare text book cases comes into the office, they see the doctor. If Endocrine is really your happy place as a PA, then there is no reason to change. If it’s not, then you might be looking to switch specialty areas.
As much as we love the versatility of the PA profession, there is a danger of becoming pigeon holed. A PA that has done Endocrinology for 10 years will be close to an expert level with diabetes management and thyroid disorders. For this particular PA, it is possible to switch to a field such as Cardiology after 10 years in Endocrinology. The keys are having great people skills, being a fast learner, and proving you are these things in an interview. The hiring physician will assume if someone learned Endocrine Medicine quickly, then they will pick up Cardiology quickly as well.
Either way, one of the biggest benefits of being a PA is being able to switch specialty areas. If you are in a position to take advantage of it, then there are a couple things you should consider.
1. What are your reasons for switching specialty areas?
- Tip: This is good to think about in the beginning not only to make sure you are making the right decision but because it will likely be an interview question!
2. How will switching specialties affect your work/life balance?
3. What is the amount of training required for switching speciality areas?
4. Is this covered on the job?
5. Is there a CME stipend?
- Tip: Practices should pay a stipend toward CME (continuing medical education), usually $2,000 – $3,000 a year to attend conference.
6. Are there PAs in the practice that can help mentor you?
7. Is there a PA or MD available during the day for questions that pop-up while you are learning?
8. Have you considered a residency program?
- Tip: These programs are popping up all over the country mostly because they generate revenue for the PA program or hospital. The idea follows the MD model. A PA applies to an ER, surgery, or specialty residency for a year and graduates with more experience and therefore poised for a better job. I feel that this will become the way of the future. At this point I do not think that the residency graduates are making more money, but they may be getting first picks of the best jobs. Yale has had a surgical residency for years, and the graduates usually have a guaranteed best job way before graduating.
Good luck, and let us know if we can help you out.