Reasons For Veterans To Become a Physician Assistant

physician assistant veteran

Reasons to Become a Physician Assistant

If you want high pay, job security, and meaningful work, a career in healthcare may be your best bet. The combination of an ever-growing need and a shortage of qualified professionals puts Physician Assistants (PAs) in particularly high demand.

Job Market For Physician Assistants

The job market for PAs has tripled in the last three years, and by all indications, demand will continue to grow.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts PAs will see an employment growth rate of 31.1% between now and 2028, which is far higher than the current projected average of 5.2%.

While the 2019 median individual income in the U.S. was $40,100.00 (about $19.28 per hour), the median physician assistant salary is $108,000 per year (about $52.22 per hour).

Of course, this level of earning requires education and training. If you want to become a PA, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree, plus two years of graduate education. Though it’s a big commitment, it’s a far shorter career path than becoming an MD.

Don’t Be Misled By The Physician Assistant’s Job Title

If you become a PA, you’ll be far more than an assistant to a Medical Doctor.

PAs are nationally certified and state licensed medical professionals who:

  • Diagnose illnesses
  • Develop and manage treatment plans
  • Prescribe medications
  • Often serve as a patient’s primary healthcare provider

Physician assistants work everywhere MD’s work including:

  • Primary Care Offices
  • Acute Care Clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Nursing Homes
  • Schools
  • Corporations
  • Correctional Institutions

The precise level of authority and responsibilities a PA has  depends on three things:

  • Level of experience
  • Medical setting they’re working in
  • Laws of the state they’re licensed in

Are You Cut Out to Become PA?

Here Are Some Questions to Ask Yourself

  • Do you have a background or deep interest in healthcare? (Many PA programs require applicants to have some experience working or shadowing in a healthcare environment.)
  • Are you more interested in treating patients than in the science of healthcare?
  • If your grades are closer to a 3.0, take heart, some programs will weigh other factors, including military service and medical training. You can also go back and retake some undergraduate courses to raise your average.
  • Are you willing to commit to a profession that requires passing board exams as well as completing continuing education requirements and certificate maintenance exams?

If you answered “Yes” to the above, keep reading!

Interservice PA Program (IPAP)

The military has its own PA training program, the Interservice PA Program, or IPAP for short.

IPAP is headquartered in San Antonio. It was developed to meet most of all military branches’ needs for PAs. 

One of the earliest IPAP grads is Gary Tooley, Director of Academics and Associate Professor for the PA Program at Christian Brothers University (CBU) in Memphis.

Dr. Tooley started his medical career as a combat medic with the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era. He later went on to become a PA, and has been a Physician Assistant for over 40 years. He made it clear that he’d love to see more program applicants from the military.

“Even though we’re a Yellow Ribbon School, we have precious few military vets applying to PA school,” he says. “The majority of the IPAP grads are career military, so we don’t see them in mainstream clinical practice until after they retire.”

Ways to Pay for PA School

If you were a military medic or corpsman, there are programs such as the VET-UP© program at South College which was designed specifically to bridge the gap between military medical experience and civilian training.

Even you don’t have medical experience, there are other viable of options. For example, you can pursue your Bachelors, or additional undergrad prerequisites in one of the schools that offers free tuition or substantial tuition subsidies for veterans. You can find a PA program at a Yellow Ribbon School.

You can also look into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program that offers student loan forgiveness to PAs who accept assignments in underserved communities.

Final Thoughts

PA students come from a wide variety of majors:

  • Nursing
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Psychology
  • Other healthcare majors

There are many colleges that offer pre-PA programs. With 292 PA programs to choose from, it’s best to do some soul-searching and then do your homework before you apply to schools.

PAs work in a vast number of settings and specialties, so it’s important for you to find a school that aligns with your goals. Though the competition is tough, there are many PA programs that would be pleased to see more applicants with a resume that includes military service.

“Veterans bring a valuable perspective to the classroom and are an asset in the healthcare field,” says Marie Patterson, a PA Professor at Lipscomb University.

When Jack Goble, PA Department Chair and Program Director at South College was asked what advice he had for veterans considering PA work, he offered these encouraging words, “Go from the front lines of protecting our nation to the front lines of caring for patients. Become a Physician Assistant.”

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About the author

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Caroline Sposto is a writer, actor, and the founder of Savvy Civility, an educational company that specializes in civilian role play training. She has a passion for the arts, education, and small business.