How to Choose the Right Specialty as a Physician Assistant

PA Coaching, PA School • November 3, 2023

Choosing the right specialty as a Physician Assistant (PA) is a crucial decision in your career path. PAs have the flexibility to change specialties, but finding the one that aligns with your interests and goals is essential for long-term professional satisfaction. In this article, we will discuss the steps and considerations that can help you make an informed choice about your PA specialty.

How to Choose the Right Specialty as a Physician Assistant?

1. Self-Assessment: Identifying Your Interests and Strengths

The first step in choosing the right specialty as a PA is to conduct a thorough self-assessment. Reflect on your experiences during PA school and clinical rotations, and consider what aspects of patient care and medical practice you enjoyed the most. Take note of the following:

a. Procedure-based or Non-Procedure-based: Determine whether you are more inclined towards procedural work, such as surgical procedures and suturing, or if you prefer non-procedural medical care.

b. Patient Interaction: Evaluate whether you thrive on the personal connection with patients or if you enjoy the fast-paced environment of the Emergency Room.

Your experiences during clinical rotations and pre-PA school experiences can provide valuable insights into your preferences. For instance, if you found yourself drawn to primary care settings during rotations, it might indicate a preference for a primary care specialty like Family Medicine or Internal Medicine.

2. Seek Mentorship: Learn from Experienced PAs

Seeking mentorship is a valuable step in your journey to finding the right PA specialty. Experienced PAs can provide guidance, share their experiences, and help you gain a deeper understanding of different specialties. Here are some ways to seek mentorship:

a. Shadowing: Reach out to PAs working in your areas of interest and ask if you can shadow them in their practice. Shadowing allows you to observe the daily responsibilities, patient interactions, and the overall work environment in a particular specialty.

b. Rotations: During your PA school rotations, make an effort to interact with PAs from various specialties. Engaging with different healthcare teams will help you gain insights into the roles and responsibilities in those fields.

c. Informational Interviews: Connect with PAs through informational interviews. These conversations can help you understand the pros and cons of specific specialties and give you a sense of what to expect.

Mentorship not only provides valuable information but also allows you to build relationships with experienced PAs who can guide you as you explore different specialties.

3. Keep an Open Mind: The Power of Adaptability

As you seek mentorship and explore different specialties, it’s important to keep an open mind. Be willing to consider specialties that may not have initially piqued your interest. Sometimes, your preferences can evolve over time, just as they did for many experienced PAs.

For example, even if you didn’t enjoy a particular specialty during your rotations or pre-PA school experiences, don’t rule it out entirely. A change in perspective or new insights may lead you to embrace a specialty you hadn’t considered before.

A personal anecdote from a seasoned oncology PA demonstrates the importance of keeping an open mind. Initially disliking oncology during rotations, they later fell in love with the specialty after spending time with a mentor and experiencing the daily workflow. This story emphasizes the unpredictability of one’s path and the value of remaining adaptable.

4. Consider Work-Life Balance and Hours

The choice of a PA specialty also involves practical considerations like work hours and work-life balance. Different specialties can vary significantly in terms of work schedules, on-call requirements, and the number of hours worked per week. These factors can influence your overall satisfaction with your chosen specialty.

Consider the following when evaluating work-life balance:

a. Work Schedule: Determine whether you prefer a full-time or part-time position and if you’re comfortable with variable or extended work hours.

b. On-Call Duties: Some specialties, such as emergency medicine, may involve frequent on-call responsibilities. Assess whether you are willing to be on-call and how it aligns with your personal life.

c. Weekends and Holidays: Certain specialties require working on weekends and holidays. Make sure the specialty’s work schedule aligns with your personal commitments and preferences.

5. Research Practice Settings and PA Utilization

In addition to evaluating the specialty itself, it’s essential to research the practice settings where you may work. Different specialties can be practiced in various settings, such as academic medical centers, community hospitals, private practices, or specialty clinics. Factors to consider when evaluating practice settings include:

a. Previous PA Utilization: Investigate whether the specialty has a history of employing PAs. If the specialty is PA-friendly, you are more likely to have a well-defined role and opportunities for growth.

b. Team Dynamics: Understand the dynamics between PAs, physicians, and other healthcare professionals in the practice. Collaborative and supportive teams often lead to a more satisfying work experience.

c. Autonomy: Consider the level of autonomy you desire in your practice. Some specialties may allow PAs more independence in patient care, while others may require closer supervision by physicians.

By researching practice settings, you can gain a better understanding of what your day-to-day work may look like and how you will fit into the healthcare team.

Your Journey to the Right PA Specialty

Choosing the right specialty as a Physician Assistant is a highly individualized process. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, and what’s right for one PA may not be right for another. Your decision should align with your interests, strengths, and lifestyle preferences.

To make an informed choice, begin with self-assessment and reflect on your experiences during PA school and clinical rotations. Seek mentorship from experienced PAs to gain insights into different specialties, and be open to new perspectives and specialties that may not have initially appealed to you.

Consider the practical aspects of work-life balance, such as work hours and on-call duties, and research practice settings to ensure that you will have the support and opportunities you need to thrive in your chosen specialty.

Ultimately, the right PA specialty for you will be the one that allows you to make a meaningful impact on patient lives, provides a fulfilling work experience, and supports your career and personal goals.

Also read: How to Own a Practice as a Physician Assistant

About me:

I’m Michele Neskey, aka The Posh PA. Welcome to my YouTube channel! My mission is to provide personalized guidance, education, and motivation to build confidence and promote wellness for aspiring physician assistants and beyond.   

Having been a PA for 17+ years and helped hundreds of students gain acceptance into PA school,  I understand the admissions process. I know what they are looking for, and I can help you tailor every component to make you shine, giving you the BEST chance of getting accepted to a program.  But it doesn’t end there. I create personalized plans for PA students and practicing PAs including test-taking strategy for the PANCE, contract negotiations, and tools to overcome and prevent provider burnout. 

My goal is to get you into a physician assistant (PA) school & survive the rigorous program, help you prevent burnout as a practicing PA, and help you take care of yourself so you can be the best version of YOU for your patients, family, and most importantly YOU!