Agnes Compagnone, a 43-year-old physician assistant based in Beacon, New York, worked for two and a half years in private practice before launching An Ounce of Prevention, a health care–education company that has since provided more than 250,000 health screenings and education services for companies, schools and communities around the country. “I love being a PA for countless reasons,” she says. “But I'm most passionate about the importance of preventive care, which can be difficult to incorporate while practicing as a PA in the current health care system. My business lets me increase public awareness about common health issues that are so much easier and less expensive to prevent than to treat after the fact.”
When she started her business, Compagnone was also planning a family and knew that being self-employed would offer more flexibility. Indeed, while PAs, nurses and dental hygienists have long been able to take advantage of shift work (for example, trading three 12-hour stretches for four days off), experts say this field's real flexibility is in the array of jobs it opens up. “Yes, we have job shares and schedules that let you work and see your family, but to me the true flexibility is all the different things you can do with your license,” says Cindy Lord, a PA practicing family medicine in Lisbon, Connecticut, who divides her time between seeing patients and running the physician assistant master's program at Quinnipiac University. In addition to doing research and teaching, PAs can start their own clinics in places that have doctor shortages, like Maine's Outer Banks or rural Nebraska.
Lord says the ability to customize how and where she practices medicine has helped her keep going. But burnout does still happen, especially in hospital settings, which suffer chronic nursing shortages, often leading to overworked caregivers. “But nurses are getting better at articulating what flexibility looks like to them,” whether in terms of career paths, location, settings or schedules, says Cheryl Peterson, MSN, RN, director of nursing practice and policy for the American Nurses Association. “And employers have to respond because there is such a need.” These fields are open to career changers, who often are motivated by the flexible hours, autonomy, employment security and travel opportunities, says Peterson.
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