Why some people choose the lower pay of a midlevel career
When my wife slipped on some angry ice and cracked her wrist last winter, she dutifully rushed to a hospital emergency room for repair. Surprisingly for us, the repair person was not a big-time, lavishly paid medical doctor, but a well-skilled though somewhat more modestly rewarded “physician assistant.”
He had earned a university-awarded certificate qualifying him to set fractures, administer injections, read X-rays and perform many other challenging medical tasks associated with her ten weeks’ treatment — without a doctor.
Physician assistants constitute a rapidly expanding category of professional that is like a warrant officer in the armed forces — somewhere between an enlisted man and an officer. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that physician assistants are the fourth fastest-growing profession in the country.
More than that, physician assistants embody a major trend in job markets throughout the nation. Not only in medicine but in many other fields as well, people are finding alternatives to the daunting demands of traditional white-collar professions.
They are going into fields that require less paperwork and shorter hours than the 60 per week that have become the norm in many fields. Small wonder then that talented people are choosing to become paralegals instead of lawyers, electricians instead of electrical engineers, bookkeepers instead of accountants, opticians instead of ophthalmologists.
Choosing less stress — and less pay
Here are some typical cases:
Anthony Fresquez, 46, of San Francisco, says that as a kid, “I just loved to draw and sketch, and my goal was to become an architect, but there were financial reasons that I did not go to university. My family did not stress education, and I wasn’t prepared to go into significant debt.”
So he attended the Denver Institute of Technology for two years and earned an associate’s degree in architectural drafting. Today, he manages twelve people and earns just under $100,000 a year as a computer-aided design (CAD) draftsman at a large engineering firm. He could get somewhat more authority — and money — if he went back to college and became an architect, but that would require more work, more investment, and longer hours on the job for only marginal gains, and he has no desire to do that.
Leo Caamano, 32, of Port Chester, N.Y., wanted to be a doctor, but figured that he could never raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for a medical degree. He also worried about malpractice suits and the high cost of malpractice insurance that doctors increasingly confront.
Instead of spending eight or more years studying to become a doctor, he spent four years at university and another two-and-a-half years in a hospital-based certification program for physician assistants. That certification enables him to do many of the things a medical doctor can do, short of, say, brain surgery. He can make diagnoses, prescribe medicines, order and interpret tests, conduct physical exams, and refer patients to specialists.
Says Caamano: “If I can do everything a doctor does, notably taking care of people, why not?” He earns $75,000 a year versus the $140,000 to $160,000 made by young doctors practicing family medicine in New York.
Some day, people like them may go back to college and pick up the roughly two to four years of additional class work needed to become a doctor or lawyer.
But, Fresquez said, “In my experience, people in this field don’t want to invest the time and energy to go back to school.”
More likely, many of them will focus on professions where the pay may be somewhat less but so is the stress.
By Marshall Loeb, former editor of Fortune, Money, and the Columbia Journalism Review, writes for MarketWatch.