Dearly departing

My dual master’s degrees from the Yale School of Public Health and the Yale Physician Associate Assistant Program cost me three years of my life and (after accounting for tuition cost and income not earned while in school) somewhere between $250k and $500k.

I graduated at the end of 2018 and started my first job as a PA (in inpatient psychiatry) in the fall of 2019, after several rounds of “your interview went great, but we decided to hire someone more experienced” accompanied by mounting alarm over the state of my bank account. It was an exhausting, stressful process — 9 months of swinging wildly between hopeful interviews, depressing rejections, and stressful side-hustling.

My new job came with a reasonable salary, a schedule to my liking, and welcoming and supportive peers. The patients and their families appreciated me much more often than not, and most days I didn’t take my work home. Once a week or so, I thought I made a lasting difference in someone’s life. I was paid well and I slept worry-free.

Going into hands-on patient care, I wasn’t thinking that it would take up the rest of my work life; there are many aspects of medicine that I find unfulfilling or frustrating. (Chiefly the uncreative and repetitive aspects of the work, as well as the widespread adoption of shoddy technology.) I thought that 5-10 years out, I would have enough perspective from within healthcare to meaningfully fuse my engineering background and my healthcare and public health background, hopefully converging on some split-time arrangement in which I spend a good part of my time on healthcare-adjacent tech, while keeping myself involved in clinical work.

About six months into my first PA job — in early 2020 — I was furloughed due to the pandemic and then laid off, joining the 10+% of PAs nationwide in a similar predicament.

I was getting several recruiting emails per day — all of them looking for “experienced PAs”. Applying for clinical jobs while many employers were on a hiring freeze meant another job-search slog, competing both with recent new grads and with other furloughed and laid-off PAs (which amounts to 3× the number of PAs looking for jobs compared to non-pandemic years).

On the other hand, taking a tech job (even a healthcare-adjacent one) would probably mean making myself permanently unemployable in any clinical capacity in the future. By the time the healthcare job market might recover to any meaningful degree, it’ll be two years since my graduation and I’ll have 6 months of work experience — thus having neither the fresh knowledge of a recent grad nor the experience of a seasoned PA.

I decided to give myself permission to apply for both tech jobs and clinical jobs. But when you have 12 years of experience in one field and <1 year of experience in another, guess who calls you back?

I am not dropping out of medicine, I tell myself — I am just expediting my inevitable healthcare/tech convergence. It’s an appropriate adjustment to unforeseeable circumstances, I tell myself — not a path of least resistance through emotional depletion.

Soon I’ll be back to sleeping worry-free, I tell myself.