Updated: Mar 28
Why those who decide to embark on a career as a PA do so is an often-discussed question among PAs. Of the many good reasons to choose the PA profession, an opportunity to enjoy a lifelong career leads the list. Medicine is interesting, intellectually challenging, and service to others is an emotionally rewarding experience. Additionally, working in healthcare teams can lighten some of the burdens of practicing medicine. The unique ability to change specialties throughout a career allows for a recalibration of interest. However, despite these and many other good reasons for becoming a PA, one of the top reasons is that the profession provides a lifelong, financially comfortable lifestyle.
Financial analyses of physicians have been performed over recent decades, first in the 1990s in response to the shift away from primary care to specialties, and in the 2000s in response to concerns that physicians were choosing to enter high-paying specialties rather than primary care due to high student debt. Economic modeling over a hypothetical new physician's career calculates the total income and likely net worth at retirement for specific specialties. Such studies use models that consider debt, residency, raising a family, cost of living, projected income, retirement age, and other factors that contribute to the predicted net worth at retirement age. One study compared the lifetime earnings of physicians and found neurological surgery ranked first and family practice ranked 38th.
Few financial analyses have been performed on the PA profession. Essary and colleagues compared the net present value of physician and PA training for women practicing in family medicine and found that training as a physician or a PA offers similar career financial outcomes for women. Since the publication of that study, many financial factors, such as student debt, salaries, housing costs, raising and educating children, and changing life partners, have transformed considerably. Additionally, the sophistication of financial modeling tools has improved.
The ahead-of-print article “Financial analysis of PA lifetime earnings and debt” by Mirela Bruza-Augatis, MS, PA-C; Roderick S. Hooker, PhD, MBA, PA; Jennifer M. Coombs, PhD, PA-C, is a novel analysis of PA lifetime income that uses newer methodology to address this important topic. This study is an in-depth analysis of the lifetime financial trajectory of a typical family medicine PA using 2020 economic planning models in high and moderate cost of living areas. The authors conclude that the average family medicine PA, despite graduating with $125,000 of debt, would enjoy a financially comfortable career at the 75th percentile of US incomes.
Such research provides newer and recent data of interest to PAs, PA educators, PA students, healthcare educational advisors, and those considering a career as a PA. The PA profession is already well described in the literature: Quella and colleagues have shown what new graduates choose for their career and when they switch roles, the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants has shown emerging intent to leave clinical practice, and the American Academy of PAs has documented many characteristics of the PA profession including PA salaries.4-6 This new work by Bruza-Augatis and colleagues sets the stage for better understanding the arc of a PA career, and sets a high standard for additional studies on this important research topic.
Author information - Richard W. Dehn is a professor in the College of Health and Human Services at Northern Arizona University's Phoenix Biomedical Campus, a professor in the Department of Biomedical Informatics at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix, and editor in chief of JAAPA. The author has disclosed no potential conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.