PRE-PA • BY ANNE, CCPA

Benefits of Working as a Canadian Physician Assistant

If you ask a PA why they chose to work in the “PA Profession”, they’ll list more answers than the “work life balance” you often hear about on Career websites. Here we outline many reasons PAs choose to pursue a career in medicine in terms of career flexibility, hours worked, quality and return on education, opportunities for growth and the work you do with patients and other health care colleagues.

1. PA Quality of Life

Work-Life Balance

  • PAs practice medicine, but do not spend 6-10+ years in school the way physicians would, can work contracts that include part time, evening hours, no call, overnight shifts etc.  This is not to say that there are PAs that do choose positions (e.g. ER, different surgical specialties) that take on the same shift work, evening hours, call, full time schedule, but that there is the flexibility not to depending on the practice institution.
    • Example 1: A full time PA at a busy downtown Emergency may do shifts from 8 am to 4 pm, then 4pm to midnight – but do not do the overnight shift
    • Example 2: A PA at an Orthopaedic Surgery department, hired by the hospital works 9 am to 5pm, but does not do overnight call (unlike their staff physicians who are required to do 1 call every 6 week weeks as an example).
    • Example 3: A family PA who formerly worked full time, may negotiate with their employer to work 3-4 days per week after returning from a paternity leave to spend more time with their little one at home, with one day being evening hours – no weekends.
  • PAs are hired on as employees, and can take advantage of benefits offered through their employers (paid vacation, paid CME, medical, dental, vision, etc.). Some PA contracts pay in lieu of benefits. Physicians (unless salaried through a hospital/university) must pay for their own benefits.
  • PAs do not “run a practice” the way a physician would. There is a business side of medicine that isn’t often discussed. When a physician practices, they must pay rent for office space, telephone and internet, electronic medical record bills, pay for a medical secretary and billing to be done, accounting software to pay your employees  in addition to paying for yourself.

Flexibility of Hours

  • PAs can work regular office hours (eg. 9 am to 5pm), evening hours (4pm to 9pm), shift work, and call (day call, overnight call, or weekend call).
  • I get to work in a specialty practicing medicine, with the option of choosing a contract that has no call, working 8 hours during the day, and no shift work. There are some PAs who choose to take on contracts that include night or evening shifts, call and more fast-paced environments. Work-life balance is what you choose to make of it.

Table 1 – Comparison of a Sample Family PA, vs Ortho PA, vs Orthopaedic Surgeon

This is a table comparing a “sample PA” in family, Orthopaedics and then the schedule of an Orthopaedic Surgeon. Note that this is sample – PAs in Family and Ortho can have schedules, hours, and responsibilities that are different than what is presented here. This is just an example of a full time family PA that works regular hours (no evenings), and an Ortho PA that is one day a week in fracture clinic, OR, two days Orthopaedic outpatient clinic, and one day with a physiatrist one day per week. There are some Orthopaedic PAs who are strictly inpatient/ward management, those who work outpatient only, or others who are a combination of the different Orthopaedic settings depending on their practice location, and supervising physician.

Family Medicine PA Orthopaedic PA (in clinic, fracture clinic & the operating room) Orthopaedic Surgeon
Monday Full day clinic Full day clinic 7 am rounding on inhouse patients @ hospital, then full day clinic
Tuesday Full day clinic Fracture clinic 7 am rounding on inhouse patients @ hospital, then Fracture Clinic
Wednesday Full day clinic Full day clinic 7 am rounding on inhouse patients @ hospital, then full day clinic
Thursday Full day clinic Assisting in the OR 7 am rounding on inhouse patients @ hospital, then

  • Performing Surgery
  • On Call from 8 am to 8 am the next day – this includes consults int he ER and other floors, doing surgeries in Orthopaedic Trauma Time (OTT) once per week
Friday Full day clinic Full day clinic with another specialist (physiatrist)  7 am rounding on inhouse patients @ hospital

*On call 1 week per month (once ever 6 weeks), weekend call starts at 8 am Friday and finishes Monday at 7 am. This includes critical call (in hospital transfers & ambulance)

Saturday  Off Off
Sunday Off Off
Total Hours 40 hours per week 40 hours per week, no call, no rounding full time schedule  A Staff physician working call hours ~ 60 hours per week (note: residents often work more hours)
Notes * some family PAs do weekend & evening hours as part of their contract *Kimberly Scott, Orthopaedic Surgery does call, however her call is between the hours of 8 am to 5pm while she is also doing inpatient/ward management  Source: My supervising physician who works in Orthopaedic Surgery – Sports Medicine, Upper Extremity and Trauma

Adding a PA to an Orthopaedic Surgery practice helps to reduce time in clinic (PAs do follow ups, consults, pre-ops, post-ops, injections), while increasing volume of patients seen and reduces administrative work (paperwork, medical dictation, medical legals, insurance papers, teaching, facilitating referrals, answering patient questions over phone, etc.).

2. Physician Assistant Education

Return on Education

  • Time in School – You spend 24-25 months in PA education, and then get to practice medicine (no “residency” to apply to) as a staff member. This means you get to pay back your student loans sooner.
  • Earnings after Education – for a Master’s (in Manitoba) / Bachelor’s (in Ontario) PA degree, and 2 years of your time, you earn $75,000 to $130,000+. To see how this compares to other health care careers, be sure to download our PA Education and Earnings Comparison Chart which compares 19 other health care professions. It’s a challenging career, making a difference in patient’s lives with good flexibility.
  • Student Debt – Due to the duration of time you are in PA school (2 years), and subsidized university education, you accumulate less debt. In November 2017, McMaster PA program tuition is $13,922.53 per year for 2 years, the McMaster University Medical program is $28,201.34/year for 3 years of their medical school.

Quality of Education

  • PAs are trained under the medical model, this means you are trained to think, speak the same terminology, and diagnose the same way physicians do. PA education is essentially the medical school curriculum compressed into 24-25 months, and instead of completing a “residency” the way physicians do you go straight into practice, where learning takes place on the job.

3. Physician Assistant Career Flexibility

Flexibility in Specialties

The term ‘lateral mobility’ refers to the ability for a PA to easily switch specialties.

  • Switching full time positions – One my mentors actually started in Plastic Surgery as a PA, then switched to Cardiothoracic Surgery, then finally settled on a position as a PA in the Emergency Room.
  • Another benefit is that when you leave a practice, you do not have to shut down your practice and transfer your patients to another provider.
  • Compare this to an MD, if they decide to pursue family medicine after medical school, and several years down the line they wish to go into Cardiology – Cardiology is a subspecialty that is not available to a family medicine physician to practice unless they have completed a residency in Internal Medicine.

Working in two specialties at once

  • I work full time, however four out of five days per week I work in Orthopaedic Surgery practice, and 1 day per week a I work with a physiatrist.
  • My PA colleague works 3 days a week in a family medicine practice, and two days per week at an Orthopaedic Surgery practice. What she learns in Ortho supplements her practice in family medicine. Prior to the Ortho Job, she worked 3 days per work in family medicine and two days per week in a Dermatology practice.

Table 1Sample schedule of Canadian Physician Assistants who have different schedules
PA work schedule calendar

4. Physician Assistant Work Culture & Environment

Practicing Medicine (working as a Diagnostician)

  • PAs practice medicine, and we function as diagnosticians. PAs perform histories and physicals (information collecting), but they also use the information collected from their history, physical and investigations (imaging, blood work, etc.) to diagnose and formulate a treatment plan – which is the same medicine that physicians practice. You get to see a wide variety of problems that range from routine common conditions that walk in to your family medicine office, to medical “zebras” that are not common to your region or area.
  • A PA position is not “the same thing, over and over again”. Each patient is different and requires individualized approach and treatment plan.

PA/MD Professional Relationship

  • PAs work under the supervision of physicians, but can also function relatively autonomously.  Some PAs see patients autonomously, and only speak with the physician should there be a complex case or concern. Other PAs see patients alongside the physician for every single case – this depends on the practice setting, country, province and billing model of that practice/specialty.
  • In addition to being my boss/employer, my supervising physician is my mentor. Even after several years of practice there are always opportunities for learning.

Patient Education

  • PAs do have the time to spend with patients to educate on acute and chronic disease (i.e. Diabetes, COPD) and preventative health (i.e. smoking cessation, cancer screening) in a variety of settings.

Team-Based Work

  • Medicine is moving away from one provider providing all treatment and having many allied health providers. Physician Assistants are extensions of the physicians, can can assess, interpret investigations, diagnose and manage patients. This includes facilitating referral to other health care providers (e.g. dietitians, physiotherapists, massage therapists, social work, other specialists like Orthopaedic Surgeon).
  • PAs can conduct family meetings in collaboration with other health care providers
  • PAs often communicate with other health care providers if any questions come up about care. For example, at my Orthopaedic Surgery practice I often answer questions from physiotherapists who have questions about when to advance physio exercises depending on patient’s progress from a surgery they recently underwent.
  • PAs work with nurses by helping to facilitate discharge, clarify medication orders, and answering questions about patient care.

Life Long Learning

  • You’re always learning and developing your knowledge, as medicine is an ocean. The PA programs promote evidence-based medicine, and problem-based learning whether its the foundation or a component of their education program.
  • If you wish to experience a large learning curve after many years of practice in one specialty, you can switch specialties (e.g. going from family medicine, to Emergency medicine) to see a different acuity of patients.

5. Advancing your PA Career

PAs work regular hours and, if not juggling too many other responsibilities (whether personal or professional commitments) have the margin in their life to be able to pursue other areas of focus:

Research

  • PAs can (and do) publish research. Topics can range from case studies, research commentary, conducting their own studies about PA productivity and education, or doing research about disease processes and treatment options.

Entrepreneurship

  • PAs can (and do) start their own businesses, this is especially apparent in the United States. Examples:
    • Medelita is a company that sells scrubs and white coats to health care providers, was started by a PA.
    • Medcomic, a PA who is also a author and illustrator for medical illustrations.
    • Some PAs author books, write medical textbooks and study guides.
    • Some work on businesses that are unrelated to medicine.

Higher Education (Master’s, PhD)

  • Some PAs opt to take on additional education, including a Master’s of Public Health Policy, Master’s of Medical Education, an MBA, or PhD in an area of interest.

Masters for Physician Assistants

Leadership and Management

  • PAs, with their clinical experience, can serve on the Board of Directors for different organizations (whether health related or not). This includes hospital boards, national/provincial health association’s, office manager team leads, advocacy for the PA profession or patient populations, and AFHTO board

Teaching

  • A lot of alumni from the PA programs go back and help teach the programs.
  • Doing one-time workshops – I have helped to teach the Orthopaedic Surgery Fracture, Casting and Splinting Workshop, in addition to speaking to 2nd year PA students and contracts, medical directives and medical billing as part of preparation for employment.
  • Taking on a long-term teaching commitment – My colleague Ohood teaches IER, which focuses on teaching clinical skills in the 3rd medical foundation at McMaster. This commitment is once per week for several months.
  • Taking on student observers – Whether these are Pre-PA students for shadowing of 1st year PA students who are there to complete horizontal electives, longitudinal placements (LPs), longitudinal clinical experiences (LCEs). Taking on a 2nd year PA student is more involved as you are taking them on 2-6 weeks on at a time everyday as a clinical clerk.

29 Comments

  1. Vismitha Shetty August 2, 2021 at 8:18 pm - Reply

    I’m an Indian. And I’m doing my bachelors in psychology. Can I apply to a Canadian college for Masters in Physician assistant?

    • Anne Dang August 3, 2021 at 12:13 am

      Hi Vismitha! You must be a Canadian Citizen or Permanent of Resident of Canada in order to apply to PA school. Please see canadianpa.ca/img and https://canadianpa.ca/becomeapa/ to learn more!

    • Alex June 28, 2022 at 4:00 pm

      I am a UK trained Physician Associate with 2 + years of experience.

      Can i work in Canada as a PA

  2. Gaurav Kumar August 3, 2021 at 7:02 am - Reply

    Hi,
    I m an BAMS graduate(Regular) with post graduate diploma in Healthcare Management (online) from India.
    Can I apply for post graduation in Physician Assistant as an International candidate.
    I’m having 15 years of clinical experience as I’m practicing.

    • Anne Dang October 13, 2021 at 5:58 pm

      No, you must be a Canadian Citizen or Permanent Resident of Canada to apply to PA programs. There are some American PA schools that accept international students.

  3. Abbey October 9, 2021 at 7:34 am - Reply

    Hey Anne! I’m abbey, a third year biomed student and I am passionate to pursue my future career in the field of medicine. I am however worried about my average for acceptance into PA school or even medical school. Any tips on staying motivated and destroying self doubt? As well, do you have any recommendations for volunteer oppourtunities (it’s hard because it covid!) thank you!

    • Anne Dang October 13, 2021 at 5:49 pm

      Hi Abbey thanks for your questions! I think the important thing is to be mindful of what application stats are, but do not get caught up in comparing yourself to others.

      There are many examples of SUCCESSFUL PA school applicants who have shared that they almost didn’t apply to PA school because they didn’t feel good enough to get in (for whatever reason, GPA, life or work experience, etc.). Instead of focusing on this internal pressure to succeed and do well, think about applying to PA school like a “personal development” journey. Everyone has different starting points, but what can you do to help yourself now to improve small areas of your soft-skills to make your competitive? In addition to working towards good grades and balancing work-life-school-extracurriculars, what other areas or soft skills do you want to improve? (Looking at CanMEDS-PA competencies: https://capa-acam.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/CanMEDS-PA.pdf – Communication, Collaboration, Leadership, Problem-Solving, Scholar, Professional…).

      Because PAs come from so many diverse backgrounds and walks of life, there isn’t really a cookie-cutter “ideal PA applicant”. Think about what makes YOU unique and how being a PA will help you fulfill your long-term goals, and values (compared to other health care careers that you may be considering), instead of focusing on what admissions is looking for and trying to figure out the ‘right things to say’ when it comes to supplemental application and the PA school interview. You’ll come across as more authentic, and I think it takes a lot of stress and pressure off of applying.

      For volunteer opportunities: you can begin with reaching out to local hospitals, doctor’s offices, physiotherapy clinics, long-term care centres, COVID-19 screening and more. I outline a few examples over at canadianpa.ca/hce and in our PA Facebook Group some students have shared what they have found works here: https://www.facebook.com/hashtag/healthcareexperiencehours/?__gid__=1279122405459500

  4. Prabhjot Kaur October 14, 2021 at 4:54 pm - Reply

    Hello Anne, I am Canadian permanent resident and I did BSc in biotechnology . I am just curious that you accept undergraduate degree in any medical field or you need any specific degree for PA program and what are application procedure .

    Thank you

    • Anne Dang October 15, 2021 at 3:43 pm

      Hi Prabhjot! It can be any undergraduate study. See the PA program websites for more information: canadianpa.ca/paprograms

      You can see admission requirements here: canadianpa.ca/admissions

  5. Pavithra M October 25, 2021 at 4:40 am - Reply

    Hi.. I did my B.S. Physician Assistant at MMM-BITS, Pilani, Rajasthan, India. Do I have any opportunity for continuing my career in Canada. If so what will be the rules and regulations, process.

    • Anne Dang October 25, 2021 at 4:09 pm

      Hi Pavithra,

      At present, only American PAs can practice in Canada. Other internationally trained PAs (whether India, UK, New Zealand, Etc.) are not recognized here yet. You can read more here: https://canadianpa.ca/can-international-physician-assistants-practice-in-canada/

    • Mobutu jean Baptiste November 6, 2021 at 6:51 pm

      Dear Anne

      I am a Congolese trained Doctor, a Canadian PR holder who is struggling to get into medical career with CMC. It seems that it may take longer than expected.

      Is there a way to do a PA program in shorter period for internationally trained Doctors?

      Thank you

    • Anne Dang November 7, 2021 at 8:44 am

      Hi Mobutu,

      You can follow steps outlined here to become a PA in Canda if you have a background as an IMG: https://canadianpa.ca/img

      You cannot skip any part of PA education, and you cannot shorten the PA training period no matter what your background us (medical doctor, physiotherapist, etc.). Good luck!

      I hope that answers your question!

      Anne

  6. Neha Patel December 2, 2021 at 2:51 pm - Reply

    Hello,
    I am a Graduate Dentist from India and Canadian Citizen. I have Dental Reception experience for 2+ years. What are the chances of getting admitted into PA Program? WES GPA 3.67
    Dental Receptionist Program GPA 5/5

    • Anne Dang December 2, 2021 at 4:36 pm

      Hi Neha, It sounds like you qualify to apply to a PA Program! It’s difficult to determine your chances, since admissions looks at the candidates holistically (not just work/life experience and GPA, but also soft skills and CanMEDS-PA competencies). You can choose to post in our Canadian Pre-PA Facebook Group to get some feedback from others!

  7. Pooja December 14, 2021 at 4:04 am - Reply

    Hi Anne,
    I am a BHMS Homoeopathy graduate doctor in India with experience of 2 years as a junior doctor under Physician in India. I am immigrating to Canada with my husband and I will be a PR holder by August 2022. Am I eligible to apply for BScPA? I have 2 years of experience, a bachelor’s degree (BHMS) from India, and am willing to continue my work assisting Physicians.

    Another doubt I overheard is WES doesn’t recognize BHMS as a bachelor degree most of the time. But IQAS does recognize BHMS as a bachelor’s degree. Please let me know, can I apply even if I don’t have a bachelor’s degree from India but have WES of higher studies up to 12th class and Canadian PR. Please help Anne.
    Thank You
    -Pooja.

    • Anne Dang December 14, 2021 at 3:58 pm

      Hi Pooja, so this is a VERY specific question about whether or not your degree qualifies. I recommend you check out the PA program websites, or get in direct contact with the PA programs to find out if your degree qualifies. You can find the contact info here: canadianpa.ca/paprograms

  8. Lexe December 16, 2021 at 1:29 pm - Reply

    Hi Anne! Thank you for such an amazing article that motivates me to pursue this career.

    I’m interested in becoming a PA, but there isn’t much recognition in Canada compared to the US. I’m scared to take a risk because I know Canadian PA schools accept a very small amount of students for each graduating class.

    I’m in my last year of high school, so I still have time to consider. I’m worried about my chances of getting accepted into a Canadian PA school and the job opportunities that’ll be available once I start practicing. I would really appreciate if you have any advice for me and any plans I might want to make to pursue this career. 🙂

  9. Amy January 12, 2022 at 11:49 pm - Reply

    Hi Anne!

    I am in my last year of undergrad studies (4th year) at an Ontario university and want to apply for PA school at McMasters. I was wondering if it would be better to complete a masters program before I apply or does it matter at all? I understand the admission requirements say at least 2 years undergrad but does having a masters degree make a difference?

    • Anne Dang January 23, 2022 at 10:58 am

      Hi Amy,

      When you look at requirements for PA School (canadianpa.ca/admissions), PA programs only require undergraduate study to APPLY – and for McMaster’s pA program, grades earned only during undergraduate study counts towards your cumulative GPA (which means if you earn grades in a Master’s Program, it doesn’t count towards GPA calculation for PA school).

      We had students that got into PA school straight out of undergraduate with no Master’s (like myself), some of my former classmates had Master’s degree before getting into PA school, and others had worked another career before getting into PA school (e.g. nurse or paramedic).

      It is not a requirement. A Master’s Degree may make a difference to you in that it could theoretically make you a strong candidate – more life experience/maturity. However there are candidates that get in after 2 years of undergrad, 3 or 4 years of undergrad, undergrad + master’s. My recommendation is not just to “take a Master’s” because you think it would make you more competitive. Rather, take it if its something of interest to you, and will help you in your goals to develop personally and professionally.

  10. Natalie January 13, 2022 at 6:06 pm - Reply

    Hi Anne!

    I was wondering where I can view the PA Education and Earnings Comparison Chart. Thank you so much your website is very inspiring especially with the chart comparing different day to day schedules of PA’s

  11. Zoya January 22, 2022 at 3:12 pm - Reply

    Hello, I am a Canadian high school student that is interested in being a PA in the future, I just have some questions about being a PA:

    In high school, I am planning to take the Healthcare (TPJ3M and TPJ4M), English, Biology, Chemistry, and Nutrition and Health (HAF4U1) courses in grade 11 and 12. Will the healthcare and nutrition course be ok to take and would it be accepted in uoft or mcmaster?

    To be a PA, does it take 2 years of undergraduate degree in either mcmaster or uoft and than something else after that, or you can go straight into being a PA?

    What are exactly all the steps to be a PA?

    What do you do after getting bachelors degree? What schools offer both PA bachelors degree and graduate degree?

    • Anne Dang January 22, 2022 at 3:30 pm

      Hi Zoya!

      If you are interested in becoming a PA in Canada, I recommend getting started with the articles outlined here: https://canadianpa.ca/prepa

      Some of the specific articles I wanted to draw your attention to are:
      – How to become a PA here: https://canadianpa.ca/becomeapa – Once you complete the PA program, you go straight into practice as a PA.
      – PA Admissions here: https://canadianpa.ca/admissions – this outlines which PA programs give you a Bachelors of Master’s of PA Studies.
      – How to Prepare for PA while in High School: https://canadianpa.ca/highschool/

      The undergraduate study can be at any university in Canada, and there is no specific major to recommend. If you have more questions about what courses to take or what area to major in, visit this guide: https://canadianpa.ca/undergradcourses/

      PA programs also do not look at courses you take in high school.

      I hope that helps!

      Sincerely,

      Anne

  12. Noel February 18, 2022 at 11:01 am - Reply

    Hello Amy,
    So I recently graduated from undergrad but I had no idea what I wanted to do until recently. But my grades are not high enough them meet the minimum but I also went to paramedic college and currently working as a paramedic what would be my chance of getting in with a lower CGPA. Is there anything I can do to improve my chances ?

    • Anne Dang February 19, 2022 at 2:07 pm

      HI Noel, To clarify – is your GPA at our above 3.0 out of 4.0 on the OMSAS scale when considering all of your university -level undergraduate coursework? (not college?).

      If Yes – they you can still apply.

      If not then you would have to take additional university-level courses to raise your GPA (and thus must weight the pros and cons of time, cost, energy, etc. of taking additional coursework).

      I have a few helpful articles on GPA here:
      – Approach to GPA: https://canadianpa.ca/approachtogpa/
      – Importance of GPA when Applying to PA schools: https://canadianpa.ca/importanceofgpa/
      – How to Calculate GPA for PA programs: https://canadianpa.ca/gpacalculation/

  13. Sofia March 22, 2022 at 5:51 pm - Reply

    Hi Anne!

    I am in my second year for my bachelors of science in Kinesiology. I recently started looking into becoming a PA because med school was always my dream, however, now I would prefer to be a PA for the sake of time in school lol. I am a Canadian resident, and from the qualifications I read, I do believe I can apply for the program. I just had 2 questions:
    1) Does volunteering in a research lab count as health care experience? Or does it truly need to be in a hospital setting?
    2) If I wanted to take a year or two off after my bachelors degree to travel the world, would that affect my chances of getting into the program?

    Thank you so much!! 🙂

    • Anne Dang March 24, 2022 at 7:30 am

      Hi Sofia,

      #1 – Health Care Experience Hours: So you can visit – https://canadianpa.ca/hce to learn more about what counts for health care experience hours. You can also post the question to our Canadian Pre-PA Facebook Group (which s free to join!) asking if it qualifies, and you’ll likely get feedback from current UofT PA students and alumni. Otherwise, research lab work *may* count if it relates to patient care (e.g. are you handling patient specimens or samples? Are research participants patients that you work and interact with?

      #2 – It’s hard to say. I think you should absolutely take time off to travel the world! It may indirectly help by giving you exposure to different cultures and people, life experience is always something I personally encourage. Again you can ask in the Canadian Pre-PA Facebook Group (we also have the option to post anonymously as well) to get feedback from other PAs/PA students.

      Canadian Pre-PA Facebook Group: http://facebook.com/groups/canadaprepa

  14. Reema April 3, 2022 at 3:19 pm - Reply

    Hey,
    I was wondering, are PA’s eligible to perform botox injections?

  15. burton August 11, 2022 at 11:09 am - Reply

    I was trying to find the earnings comparison chart referenced in this post? can you post a link to it please?

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