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Although I’m not a PA yet, I hope posting in this forum is fine, as I’m seeking info on existing surgical PA’s.

So, what’s your specialty?

I’m very interested in surgery, but I also would like to have a decent lifestyle outside of work. I’d also prefer to do more lower-risk surgeries versus something like trauma patients.

The only PA I know personally specializes in urology. She works a normal schedule, is married, and has a child. I love the aspect of surgery, the idea of savings lives, and even working weekends when they need me - I hope I don’t give off the vibe that I don’t want to work.

Any PA’s out there in surgery that care to comment on your work-life balance? Any insight is very appreciated!

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I'm in Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery.  I work for a fairly busy private practice group consistent of 4 CV Surgeons and 2 Vascular.  I do about 80% OR and 20% ICU, no floor work or clinic-although I do clinic occasionally. I was told early in my CV Surgery career that it's not a career but rather a :"lifestyle" which is very true.

Some days I am in the OR from 0630 to Zero-dark thirty (0030), and some days I am in and out and home by 11a.  It varies and that will depend on your specialty.  I take call, I work weekends, I miss family obligations here and there.

It's not a 9-5 job, at least in my specialty and my group.  We work hard, but we also take time off occasionally.  I like to workout when I can, and sometimes a week will go by and I haven't seen the gym or the trails.  Like I said before, there will be times you barely see your family all week, and others you will see them every day, its all in the specialty you choose.

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I'm in orthopedic trauma surgery and my experience is similar to TheDude's. I agree that it's more of a lifestyle rather than career. Some weeks I have a life and some I don't. It usually balances out and the work is fulfilling which makes it worth it to me.

My "schedule" is essentially work whenever there's work to be done. Some days are long, some are short -- it really just depends on what comes into the hospital, the OR schedule, how many inpatients/outpatients there are to see, etc. I work with one surgeon, I do all of the rounding, and I have my own clinic schedule. I don't technically take call but I usually get calls anyway. You'll find that in surgery, you're never really "off." That is unless you have a shift schedule or literally carry the call pager. 

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You can see if those outpatient surgicenters are hiring. Or plastics, or elective stuff like that.  Anytime you work for a group or field where emergencies happen, you can kiss a "regular" schedule goodbye.  

Maybe its the masochist in me, but it reminds me of this scene in The Comedian:

How do people live like this?

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I work in Ortho outpatient clinic, pretty much 50/50 split between clinic and OR. Usually work from 7-3:30, although sometimes I'm out at 5 and sometimes at 2. No call/weekends/nights/holidays. Works for me, I like doing things outside of work like spending time with family.

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@AbeTheBabe so are you hourly or salary? If you’re out early, do you get paid less? Ortho seems like it has more normal schedules sometimes. Maybe some minor general surgery specialty would too. My main concern with a hospital is all the extra calls. Which are fine to an extent. I work 58 hours a week currently, but at some point, I’m looking for a more traditional 9-5. But I love my surgeries.

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I work in ortho surgery. 80/20 clinic/OR.  Clinic days are 9-5, surgery days are unpredictable but it all elective cases so we try to schedule cases to be out at a reasonable hour but ORs don't usually follow schedules well. Call days muck everything up because we will have consults, rounding,  and potential surgeries to try to fit in somewhere. 

General ortho (Not trauma) is generally good lifestyle depending on how much call you take.

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I'm salary + bonus (collections percentage). We have fellows which means less work for me but also less money as I'm not first assist when they're there. Everything is very surgeon dependent, the surgeon I work with is fast and efficient and does a lot of stuff on his own.

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11 minutes ago, AbeTheBabe said:

I'm salary + bonus (collections percentage). We have fellows which means less work for me but also less money as I'm not first assist when they're there. Everything is very surgeon dependent, the surgeon I work with is fast and efficient and does a lot of stuff on his own.

How much is your salary and bonus? If you don’t mind me asking. And that’s nice. I’ve never really looked into ortho much, but I’m starting to lately solely on the fact of the lifestyle. I’d rather make $80k a year and work 3-4 days with optional overtime than $100k a year and 60 hour weeks.

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@Orthohand do you get salary or hourly? And if hourly, do you get paid time and a half for over 40? My thing is that I’m okay with calls and all, but I’d prefer a more normal schedule. Working a lot of overtime and extra hours when I’m young and saving for a home, laying back a little when I decide to start a family. I know that would be hard with certain specialties though.

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13 hours ago, cemetra said:

How much is your salary and bonus? If you don’t mind me asking. And that’s nice. I’ve never really looked into ortho much, but I’m starting to lately solely on the fact of the lifestyle. I’d rather make $80k a year and work 3-4 days with optional overtime than $100k a year and 60 hour weeks.

105K is my base salary and I will make about 20K in bonus (a lot of post-ops and second assist = no pay). 2 years of experience. In LA though so high cost of living.

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16 hours ago, cemetra said:

How much is your salary and bonus? If you don’t mind me asking. And that’s nice. I’ve never really looked into ortho much, but I’m starting to lately solely on the fact of the lifestyle. I’d rather make $80k a year and work 3-4 days with optional overtime than $100k a year and 60 hour weeks.

Workload and work-life balance in surgical fields really depend on how much call you take and your surgeon/practice. Some practices want to "move the meat" while others are more reasonable. Some practices see you as an asset while others will want you to do all the filler work.

Ortho is notorious for breaking new grads and there aren't many 3-4 day per week ortho surgical positions. Those kind of positions are usually part-time and mainly just clinic with almost no OR time. There are positions out there that will fit what you're looking for, but those aren't usually the ones being posted on job boards. Gen ortho is also pretty limiting for new grads, and ortho surgeons (and actually surgeons in general) can be difficult to work with. If ortho isn't something you really care for or are excited about, I'd recommend looking elsewhere in all honesty. Consider gen surg, urology, gyn, or first assisting.

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@Sed I would actually prefer something like general surgery, I just was under the impression ortho may offer a little less hectic schedule. I enjoy surgeries, I just wanted to have a decent lifestyle as well. That’s one of the main reasons I’ve decided to go PA over a surgeon. My time is the most important thing to me. I’d love to spend my work time helping others and in surgeries though. And I’m also okay with hectic hours for a couple years until I get that initial experience. I just wouldn’t want it to stay permanent after saving for a home and starting a family.

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4 hours ago, cemetra said:

@Sed I would actually prefer something like general surgery, I just was under the impression ortho may offer a little less hectic schedule. I enjoy surgeries, I just wanted to have a decent lifestyle as well. That’s one of the main reasons I’ve decided to go PA over a surgeon. My time is the most important thing to me. I’d love to spend my work time helping others and in surgeries though. And I’m also okay with hectic hours for a couple years until I get that initial experience. I just wouldn’t want it to stay permanent after saving for a home and starting a family.

If that's your goal and you're not particular about the actual field you'd be working in, I would encourage you to look at the ideals of the practice and surgeon you are interviewing with. You'll find a gamut of work schedules in every field, so finding the right practice and work schedule for you rather than field will be paramount.

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Thank you @Sed! I was thinking the same thing. I've been told by PA's to make sure when interviewing that you and your physician are on the same page. If he's a workaholic, it's going to make me one. If he values his time off, I'll have more time off myself. Ultimately, I'm a few years away, but I like planning these things out in advance. So thank you for your help. Really!

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1 hour ago, cemetra said:

Thank you @Sed! I was thinking the same thing. I've been told by PA's to make sure when interviewing that you and your physician are on the same page. If he's a workaholic, it's going to make me one. If he values his time off, I'll have more time off myself. Ultimately, I'm a few years away, but I like planning these things out in advance. So thank you for your help. Really!

You're welcome. That train of thought is true for the most part. Some surgeons require that you take PTO when they do while others may not.

When you're out on rotations, absorb as much as you can, including work dynamics, practice setup, billing/coding, etc. These are very important components of practicing as a PA but not necessarily taught in school. Good luck!

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@Sed , I've heard this before! I know a lot of PA's who wished they majored in other things with their undergrad since a lot of stuff isn't shown. Especially ones that want to open their own practices in the states that allow it. I'm in the process of obtaining two degrees simultaneously - one to be a surgical technician and one for my undergrad degree. I'll probably text some extra courses when I can, hopefully stuff related to billing and coding.

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6 hours ago, cemetra said:

@Sed , I've heard this before! I know a lot of PA's who wished they majored in other things with their undergrad since a lot of stuff isn't shown. Especially ones that want to open their own practices in the states that allow it. I'm in the process of obtaining two degrees simultaneously - one to be a surgical technician and one for my undergrad degree. I'll probably text some extra courses when I can, hopefully stuff related to billing and coding.

Working as a tech is great experience if you plan on becoming a surgical PA. You can start networking with surgeons and PAs early, get great references, and learn and work in just about all of the surgical fields, which is something not many people get to do. And even better is you get first-hand experience in what your future as a PA might be like, which is extremely valuable. 

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      References

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      8. Facts about AAs. American Academy of Anesthesiologist Assistants website. http://www.anesthetist.org/factsaboutaas/. Accessed Dec. 27, 2011.

      9. Weis MK. The first assistant and collaborative practice. In: Rothrock JC, Seifert PC. Assisting in Surgery: Patient-Centered Care. Competency & Credentialing Institute; 2009: 387-405.

      10. American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants website. www.aaspa.net. Accessed Dec. 27, 2011.

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