I’m a Physician’s Assistant and This Is What My Job Is Really Like

“I love when I treat a patient and they come back saying how their life improved because of it,” Nicole LaCoste, a physician’s assistant in the New York Metro area, said as she summed up why she loved her job.

It probably helps that her hours aren’t totally insane either. As a PA in an outpatient setting for a GYN surgeon, LaCoste is on a Monday through Friday schedule, no nights or weekends. She appreciates the work-life balance, but, of course, that’s only a small part of her job satisfaction and doesn’t explain what makes her work meaningful.

Within the first five minutes of my conversation with LaCoste, I could tell that she was practically made for a caregiver role. Long before she entered the medical field, LaCoste worked as a lifeguard in high school, ready to jump in and save lives. At 18, she was already a certified phlebotomist (a person trained to draw blood from patients for medical testing), and as a college student, she worked as a nanny. Literally every role she held leading up to her current one as a PA involved caring for others in some way, shape, or form.

I was curious about this chosen path. OK, so she wasn’t scared of blood, and maybe she’s got a natural tendency toward helping others, but how did she end up a PA? And what does she find most fulfilling about the career choice? The following is an excerpt from our conversation.

The Medical Field Is Not for Everyone; Did You Always Know You Wanted to Be a PA?

Initially, I wanted to be a doctor like my grandfather. He was a general surgeon in a small Massachusetts town for his entire career, and I was lucky enough to shadow him and work for him when I was younger. I got to appreciate his passion for caring for people, and how [his patients] appreciated his kindness and attentiveness.

I admired him so much and wanted a career I could be as proud and passionate about. When I was in junior high and high school, I started volunteering at the local hospital, and, in time, I started taking on more roles within the medical community.

All of these experiences helped me understand the dynamics of a medical practice, and helped me see where I fit within that world. Being a doctor just didn’t seem like the right path for me.

But, being a PA did; I could have the same opportunities to build strong relations with patients, and have the same passion as my grandfather, all while being in a role that would give me a lifestyle with room to pursue other interests.

As a PA, I can work in a lot of areas of too, also a big factor for me. I’m trained surgically, so i’m able to do small office procedures and assist in the operating room if my job called for it.

What Skills And Qualities Do You Think Matter Most In Your Position, Besides, of Course the Certifications Needed?

I would say being organized is helpful, but having good communication skills is also very important. You’re constantly interacting with colleagues and patients every day. You have to be able to describe medical terms in layman’s terms, and you must be confident and comfortable talking about awkward or uncomfortable things in a way that makes patients trust you, and open up to you. Part of that is having a personable persona and being relatable, and bringing it back to the human side.



What Does A Day-in-the-Life Of A PA Look Like?

6:45 AM: Wake up, make coffee, catch some Good Morning America, stop and grab my favorite croissant on my walk to work

8:00 AM: Normally in office. Check email for any patient messages regarding emergent concerns or medication refills

8:30 AM: First patient is scheduled. Normally, they run 10-15 minutes late, or are impeccably on time—it’s always a gamble

8:30 AM – 12:00 PM: While I see patients, I get emergency calls sent to my phone through the phone triage, and I field any concerns or emergency patients as the office PA

12:30 PM: Run out and grab lunch and bring back to eat at my desk while I see how many patients have called

1:30 PM – 5:00 PM: I have the afternoon to do administrative work. I check all patient results. Call patients with the test results, and call back patients with concerns. Also I manage all of the surgeons’ patients, which consists of test resulting and callbacks for the surgeons.

5:00 PM: Normally leave and head home, unless we have patient emergencies.


What Is Something You Know Now in Your Position That You Wish You Knew and Think Would Be Helpful for People Getting into Their First PA Job?

Dealing with people every day has its challenges. The personalities that you deal with and time involved in communicating with people who don’t understand can definitely be difficult at times, but at the end of the day it feels good to make people understand things and make the scary things less scary.

Interested in pursuing a career that allows you to maintain good work-life balance? One where you feel fulfilled every day by the work you’re doing? Maybe it’s a side gig, something you do outside of your day job, time and energy willing.

This article proves you can pick up a career-changing skill at any point. And this interview with the Manoush Zomorodi of the “Note to Self” podcast is inspiring because of how the host talks about helping people’s relationships with technology.

At the end of the day, you don’t have to be saving lives to be in a fulfilling career. You simply have to be following your passion and feel good about what you’re doing. That, I believe, is the definition of job satisfaction.

By UCLA Extension Career Services
UCLA Extension Career Services