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Medical Sales vs PA Career? Mid-Twenties Woman who Eventually Wants a Family


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Greetings All,

 

Hoping for a little insight here from those who are PAs and understand the opportunities available today and in the future. I currently work on the business side of healthcare: I'm in business development for the corporate health sector of a hospital system. It's actually a pretty cool job: I sell things like onsite clinics, bundled surgery packages, etc. to employers to aid them in lowering their health care costs. Also, the pay is great. 

 

I got into PA school to start in May, but I'm having a hard time with the idea of leaving my high salary to take out student loans (I have some savings but will still need some), to go back to school for 2 years. I have no debt right now and have been enjoying my life : ) My motivation would be that PA would be a more interesting and fulfilling career than sales, and that it would be something I could do part time when I'm a mom someday. However I've read a lot about burn out and with what the ACA has done to the healthcare industry, I'm wondering if I should stay on the business side of health care instead of going clinical. 

 

Anybody have any similar experiences or insight? Would appreciate any feedback!

 

Thanks!

 

Emily

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This is exactly why so many recommend strong health care experience with patient contact and shadowing hours before going to PA school. Regardless of your financial and familial goals, sales vs PA are so entirely different and one person happy in one field could easily be miserable in the other and vice versa.

 

I'm not sure what you make in sales but for planning purposes if you are already making 6 figures, from a purely return on investment standpoint PA school may not "pay off." You should go into this field only and only if you enjoy the day in day out hands on gnitty gritty aspects of health care as for most intensive purposes we are proudly the "house staff" of medicine. There are no cozy offices or 9-5 hours in any specialty. Don't want to discourage you but I strongly recommend you volunteer in a hospital and shadow a PA or at least physician ASAP and be sure you want this before beginning the journey. It's normal to have doubt but seems you may not have the experience to know your answer. Personally I hated working in an office and love what I do but as they say YMMV.

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I agree with winterallsummer, don't become a PA for purely financial or 'lifestyle' reasons; you have to love the actual work, which is all clinical, all the time. Working in team environments for the most part. The $$ is pretty good and the lifestyle can be comfortable depending on the specialty, but make sure clinical work is really what you want to do, before undertaking the long road to becoming a PA. Even the first few years out of school, you are still learning and 'comfortable lifestyle' may not be possible.

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It sounds to me like you may be basing your decision on the wrong thing, as mentioned above.  We as PAs are blessed with the training and certification to take care of people.  People are messy, smelly, whiny sometimes.  Sometimes they're reasonable and appreciative.  They have diseases that we need to treat, they have psychiatric illnesses that our treatments are often ineffective for.  But people are our focus, making them better.  Now, "people" may be your current focus as you are doing your part to drive down healthcare costs, but if you like what you're doing and you feel you are a contributing member of society, there is little reason to sacrifice that unless you want to help people in a hands on, tangible way which bears with it a lot of sacrifices, a lot of interpersonal challenges, and there is a financial aspect to it.  It will cost you money to earn the privilege that we as PAs share.  But if you want to take care of people, there are few ways to accomplish that to the level that we can and it is very, very worth every sacrifice and challenge, in my opinion. 

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When looking at a career change the two main questions that should come up are 1) Do you enjoy the work? 2) Can you maintain/improve upon your current salary?

 

Only you can answer #1, but for #2 I'd say being a PA probably comes out ahead, financially, than being in medical sales. From my knowledge of medical sales, the salary can vary widely but a person smart/hard-working enough to get into PA school can probably expect to make between 70-90k. There are a lot of variables I am not taking into account but a typical career trajectory might look like this: start off at 50k and work your way up to 75k in ~6years. Then get promoted or find a higher paying job for ~80k and slowly move up and cap out at ~90k working 40-50hrs/wk.

 

As a PA you could definitely make more money. It's typical for new grads to pull in around 85k and after about 2-5 years experience you could certainly be making ~120k+ a year. That's ~20-30k/yr more than what you would make in medical sales so I think the financial incentive is strong.

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The other option is getting a MBA in Healthcare.  I have seen executives making $250k and walking around, taking their time, serving cake to employees, going to the gym for two hours at lunch and etc. Of course they have to make some hard decisions but to me, it seems like a piece a cake no pun intended.  If I were 30 or 40, I would do that now.

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The other option is getting a MBA in Healthcare.  I have seen executives making $250k and walking around, taking their time, serving cake to employees, going to the gym for two hours at lunch and etc. Of course they have to make some hard decisions but to me, it seems like a piece a cake no pun intended.  If I were 30 or 40, I would do that now.

 

Those who actually practice medicine and deliver the healthcare to the patient should never have ceded administrative control of hospital or clinic operations. I just don't understand how these admins and managers have justified inflating their salaries to this degree.

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As a PA you could definitely make more money. It's typical for new grads to pull in around 85k and after about 2-5 years experience you could certainly be making ~120k+ a year. That's ~20-30k/yr more than what you would make in medical sales so I think the financial incentive is strong.

 

If you're making a financial calculation you also need to factor in the cost of PA school tuition (varies, but let's say $80k), as well as the lost salary while in PA school/looking for a job/waiting for credentialing.

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Like most industries, healthcare has a continuum of jobs. If you are a provider, someone designed, produced, shipped, and stored all the meds you use, devices, beds, meals, sheets,... And other people manage/sell/order at every step in the process. There are good jobs to be had.

 

The real question is what do you want to do with your life? If you have to be at the tip of the spear, then you want hands-on exposure to real patients. If that's less of a deal for you but you want to be in healthcare instead of, for example, designing weapons or ad campaigns for Happy Meals, then a job anywhere along the healthcare continuum might work for you. (BTW, weapons and Happy Meals have their legitimate purposes and good jobs, too.)

 

As others have noted, you should probably spend more time shadowing and learning the pros and cons of being at the tip of the healthcare spear.

 

The challenge of your life is to figure out what you want to do. You may have to do what you have to do for a time, but having a goal and doing the research is often the key to finding your place.

 

Good luck.

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The other option is getting a MBA in Healthcare.  I have seen executives making $250k and walking around, taking their time, serving cake to employees, going to the gym for two hours at lunch and etc. Of course they have to make some hard decisions but to me, it seems like a piece a cake no pun intended.  If I were 30 or 40, I would do that now.

Getting a job as an executive is also very competitive. MBAs are a dime a dozen. You would have to stand out in a pool of hundreds of MBA job applicants.

 

 

If you're making a financial calculation you also need to factor in the cost of PA school tuition (varies, but let's say $80k), as well as the lost salary while in PA school/looking for a job/waiting for credentialing.

Ya i didn't write out the opportunity cost. I was just showing that she'd make ~30k a year more so that means she would come out ahead after ~7 years.

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I'm not sure you should even factor in money........unless you really like the practice of medicine (love it 98% of the time at least in the beginning) you probably should not go into it.   There are so many painful moments in so many different ways during training and practice.  You can be stressed in sales but......at the end of the day.....no one dies because you missed something.  When you practice medicine, even part time later on in your career (and part time in medicine is frequently 40 hours a week including medical records) your mind is constantly focused on the fact that there is the potential to do catastrophic harm but also tremendous good for the person in front of you.  Practicing medicine is intensely personal.   You can't turn off your worry at home all of the time.   You can make good money in both fields if you are smart and work hard, it's the other stuff that will be with you throughout your career.   I think it's worth it in the long run but that's a very individual choice. 

 

 

A colleague once said......"you pay for the privilege of practicing medicine" and this is indeed true.  You also get back an immense amount, but sometimes the balance can be  really out of wack for extended periods. 

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I'm not sure you should even factor in money........unless you really like the practice of medicine (love it 98% of the time at least in the beginning) you probably should not go into it.   There are so many painful moments in so many different ways during training and practice.  You can be stressed in sales but......at the end of the day.....no one dies because you missed something.  When you practice medicine, even part time later on in your career (and part time in medicine is frequently 40 hours a week including medical records) your mind is constantly focused on the fact that there is the potential to do catastrophic harm but also tremendous good for the person in front of you.  Practicing medicine is intensely personal.   You can't turn off your worry at home all of the time.   You can make good money in both fields if you are smart and work hard, it's the other stuff that will be with you throughout your career.   I think it's worth it in the long run but that's a very individual choice. 

 

 

A colleague once said......"you pay for the privilege of practicing medicine" and this is indeed true.  You also get back an immense amount, but sometimes the balance can be  really out of wack for extended periods. 

This is great insight rpackelly. I have wondered if being a PA would be worth the emotional stress that would come along with knowing if I make a mistake I could kill someone versus what I do now. What if you're having an off day, or didn't get enough sleep the night before, and you make a mistake at the expense of your patient? Human error is inevitable, and this thought does scare me.  However, I know there are specialities like derm, etc. that are perhaps less life-threatening but also hard to get into. I'm shadowing a derm PA in the next couple weeks, so hopefully I can get some better insight into that speciality.

 

To be transparent, I made $90k this past year at my sales job, so I'm not sure of the finances make sense once you factor in school + cost of living loans for 2 years, and loss of income during that time. My main motiavtors to go back to school are that the work would be fulfilling and interesting, and being able to work part time when I have children. However, your comment about  part time being 40/hours a week once you factor in charting does concern me. What about doing virtual visits? Do any PAs work from home doing this? I would hope there would be options as medicine continues to advance. My goal is to have a flexible career I can continue after having a family. Thanks!

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Stick with your sales career. 

 

It sounds like your true interests lie in children and family. PA school is stressful as hell and you wont get much family time for 2 years. After that, you need to work full-time to develop your skills and fund of knowledge, and that will be more stressful and probably time-consuming than your sales job. You wont likely be making more money to start. And you will owe a good $100K in loans.

 

I will reiterate what was said earlier in this thread about having real patient care experience before school. Sick people, annoying people, hurting people...preferably all at once, on more days than not. Because that's what being a PA is. I just don't get the sense you are interested for the right reasons. There are less costly and stressful ways to have a career that is "fulfilling and interesting", and if you are thinking you will be able to get some kush job working from home or strolling into the office at your leisure you will be sorely disappointed.

 

Beyond that, the level of responsibility is not even comparable to any pre-PA job. And that's not make us sound all self-important, it's just not something you can really appreciate until you are being held accountable for this work. Yes there is a ton of routine, but also many chances to screw something up and do serious harm to someone, directly or indirectly. 

 

Keep making your big pharma coin and have your family without the debt. The grass isn't greener over here unless you truly want the responsibility.

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Thanks for this insight Bruce. You definitely make some good points. I may be mistaken to think that once I'm done with the 25 months of school, it's all downhill from there, but sounds like the first couple years of working are also stressful as you're acclimating to a new job and adjusting to a higher level of responsibility. Important things to consider.

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I can somewhat relate to your dilemma as far as which career path to take.  I worked for a year as an orthopaedic sales rep right out of my undergrad.  I LOVED being in the OR, covering cases, working with doctors, PAs, nurses, etc.  I didn't like the sales part as much - that industry can be shady, at times.  Throughout my time as a rep, I found myself wanting more on the medical side...working with patients, having the knowledge to diagnose and treat problems, even scrubbing in to surgeries.  

 

Additionally, I was working 50-60 hours a week, sometimes more, so I already felt used to the long hours.  As far as pay, I made what a traditional entry-level rep would make, so the pay increase for me when I finish PA school will be substantial.  I will be starting this May as well, by the way, and will turn 25 shortly after beginning, so I am similar to where you are in terms of timing.

 

I guess I don't really have any advice to add from what others have said.  If your goal is to have a family with flexible hours, though, I'm not so sure PA school is the right path.  Then again, I know plenty of PAs, and to a larger extent MDs, who have made this work-life balance happen.  Sales just wasn't right for me.  I wanted more, craved being the tip of the spear, as others have said.

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  • 2 weeks later...

You will make more in sales. I know device reps making 300k

LOL yah all my reps make at least double what I earn and I have soo much more training.. I dont understand why all the money is in sales.  I also saw a comment on here about PA salary starting at 50-60k.... TO ALL PA's.. DONT. JUST DONT you just devalue yourself and all PA's.  Out of school i was making 85K and in 2 years I broke 100K if you include weekend part time work over then almost 120K and I still feel I am undervalued.  Looking to change things up with a $70hr job here in the next couple months.  If you accept low ball offers it makes it harder for all PA's as it brings down the average that so many employers love to use when they negotiate. 

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