Dr. Huckabee's study finds you can't spell 'happy' without PA

by Kalani Simpson, UNMC public relations | December 06, 2012

When Michael Huckabee, Ph.D., director of physician assistant education, worked on his doctorate, he did a study on the subjective well-being of physician assistants.

His passion was servant leadership among health professionals, and he hoped to find that PAs who work in underserved environments were a happier, more personally-satisfied lot. He did not find that.

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Michael Huckabee, Ph.D., found physician assistants have a lot to smile about.
Instead, he found that physician assistants tended to have high levels of subjective well-being no matter where they worked.

A "chicken or the egg" scenario

So this is the question: Does being a physician assistant make one happy? Or do happy people become PAs?

Either way, it's good news.

Dr. Huckabee has revisited this study, lately.

"I'm just starting to recognize people might want to know this, it does speak well of our career," he said.

PAs happy to hear it

He'd like to publish the study as a separate paper, and recently gave a presentation at this year's Physician Assistant Education Association conference in Seattle.

The PAs there -- being their characteristically happy selves -- gave the report high marks, Dr. Huckabee said.

What is happiness anyway?

So, what does it mean to be happy? Dr. Huckabee's survey asked questions that measured a sample of more than 320 respondents' views of the world and their view of their ability to impact the world. Basically, Do they feel like they make a difference?

PAs from both underserved and not underserved environments scored extremely high. In fact, the results were almost identical, both at about 4.5 on a 5-point scale.

Further, Dr. Huckabee sat down with a smaller sample group for in-depth in-person interviews to find out why they were so happy. A few common themes emerged, including professional respect, caring for patients, and the ability to put a priority on one's own family.

The perky perks of the gig

There's a lot to like about being a PA: "It's enjoyable to have people respect what you do, and have the freedom to just care for patients without a lot of baggage around it," Dr. Huckabee said.

The next step is to compare PAs to other professions. Dr. Huckabee may next study pools of physicians and nurse practitioners to see if they, too, are as happy as PAs.

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Gregory M Karst
December 06, 2012 at 8:31 AM

PAs and NPs are going to play an increasingly large and vital role in dealing with the shortage of primary care providers as the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented. Understanding the factors that influence practitioners' choices of where to practice is vital to fulfilling our mission to provide practitioners to underserved, rural areas of Nebraska and the nation. Nice work, Dr. Huckabee! Greg Karst