In this post I explain why I decided to ditch my medical school interview and start my journey as a Physician Associate.
Finishing off undergrad
There may be a few of you out there that have just finished your life-sciences related degree and will be thinking 'what the hell do I do now?' You've written the essays, done the lab work and now you're ready to put all that knowledge into practice. You've decided that lab work or academia isn't right for you but what else is out there?
Don't panic. I felt like this throughout my last year of undergrad. I was in my fourth year of Biology with Industrial Experience and I could feel the pressure of having to make important decisions looming over me like a dark cloud. I knew I didn’t want to work in a lab or go down the academia path. I wanted to work with people, use my problem-solving abilities and make a difference. That’s when I had my light bulb moment 💡 - I wanted to do Medicine. (Just to be clear, I had no idea what a Physician Associate was at this point!)
Summer after Uni
I spent the summer writing my personal statement, revising for the UKCAT and volunteering to get experience. I'd even signed up and paid for my UCAS subscription, I was well on my way to med school. So I was gutted when my UKCAT score was miserably average. There was no way I could apply for the Graduate entry programme at the universities I wanted (blessing in disguise). After a mini breakdown and a lot of crying, I accepted that I'd have to apply for the 5 year programme and get a job to pay for it. In the end I was offered an interview at Kings. I was pleased but the idea of another 5 years at uni and loads more debt wasn't exactly appealing.
Seeing the PA light
One day in October 2015 I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a post (rant) by a guy from undergrad that had gone into Medicine after graduating. He talked about what a waste of time it had been enrolling onto his 5-year course when he could have just studied to be Physician Associate saving him a lot of time and money. He'd even put a link to the course that was due to start at Manchester uni in January 2016.
I clicked away and was absolutely baffled by what I was reading. Manchester was starting their PA 'pilot scheme' - a 2 year postgraduate course training people to work with doctors and other healthcare professionals to diagnose and manage complex diseases. Not only that but it was going to be funded and salaried for their first intake. How had I not heard about this before? Why hadn't I been told about this? And why wasn't everyone talking about it?!
Obviously, I thought this is too good to be true. I did some research online although the information was limited. Mostly had to base things off what was happening in America where PAs are huge. They seemed to be doing similar things to doctors and being successful at it. I decided to apply because it meant another opportunity to get the career I wanted and since I met pretty much all the criteria I thought I’d be a good fit.
I was interviewed a month later and in December 2015 was told I had been accepted onto the Manchester course. I was so happy but also conflicted as I still had my Kings interview coming up in February. In the end I went with what I thought was the best course for me.
I couldn't really afford to go back to uni and pay my way through 5 years. On the other hand, the PA course considered that I had already done 4 years at uni and aimed at building on that life sciences knowledge. Finally, it wasn't important to me to have the title of 'Dr' as long as I got to work in a clinical setting and work to achieve the best care for patients. I never did go to my Kings interview…
Now I can look back and say that I made the right choice! If you’re still unsure, here are some points to think about:
Do you want a job in front-line healthcare where you are interacting with patients on a day to day basis and helping make medical decision and management plans as part of a medical team?
Do you want to be a part of a pioneering group of healthcare professionals that is trying to combat the lack of skilled workers in the NHS?
Want to be able to flexibly move from specialty to specialty, primary care (GP) to secondary care (hospital) and vice versa?
Would you like a good work-life balance eg. working Monday - Friday 9-5pm? (this could change in the future as PAs become more autonomous but these are the hours I and many of my PA friends work at the moment)
Can you dedicate 2 years postgrad to make this happen?
If you’ve answered yes to these questions, then it sounds like you’re the kind of person that would suit being a Physician Associate. If not, then maybe medicine or another career choice would be better suited for you 😊
I hope this has been helpful!
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