In our series My 6-Figure Paycheck, women making more than $100,000 open up about how they got there and what exactly they do. We take a closer look at what it feels like to be a woman making six figures - when only 5% of American women make that much, according to the U.S. Census - w ith the hope it will give women insight into how to better navigate their own career and salary trajectories.
Today, we chat with a physician assistant from Yakima, WA. Previously, we spoke to a director of curriculum from Boston, a doctor from Ann Arbor, and a recruiter from San Francisco.
Job: Physician Assistant in Community Mental Health
Location: Yakima, WA
Degree: Bachelor of Science in Biology, Master of Physician Assistant Studies
First salary: $31,000
Current Salary: $107,000
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"Everything! I was always interested in science, but my interests ranged from archaeology to photography growing up. It wasn't until my college courses that I realized I could combine my passion for science and people into a career as a physician assistant."
What did you study in college?
"I have a bachelor of science in biology and a master of physician assistant studies."
Did you have to take out student loans?
"I did take out loans for undergrad. I worked full-time and went to school full-time and ended up graduating with just under $30,000 in debt. For physician assistant school, I earned a scholarship based on my desire to practice medicine in underserved areas and only had to pay for one semester, which was about $25,000. In total, I owed $60,000 at graduation, but in the past seven months of working, I've been able to pay it down $8,000 and am now at $52,000."
Have you been working at this company since you graduated from college?
"This is my first position since graduation, and I love it! I did a lot of research before applying, so I knew this organization fit with my values and had a great culture. Before returning to school for my master's, I worked at a homeless healthcare clinic as a community health worker, and barely made enough for rent and loan payments."
How would you explain your day-to-day role at your job?
"Most of my job consists of medication management for mental-health patients. I work in community mental health, so many of my patients have multiple illnesses, chronic physical illness, or are disadvantaged in several ways. I work with an exceptional team of case managers, therapists, and nurses to provide comprehensive mental-health care for all patients, regardless of their ability to pay."
Did you negotiate your salary?
"I did not. I was just excited to have an offer for my dream job in community mental health as a new graduate. I felt the compensation was generous, and they also offer $90/hour for on-call work. I currently take one weekend of on-call a month, which is roughly 16-18 hours."
Is your current job your "passion"? If not, what is?
"Yes! I love my job and am very passionate about advocating for the less fortunate in our community. Often with mental health, we make assumptions or hold stereotypes about patients who require psychiatric care. I'm very passionate about destigmatizing this field in healthcare, and increasing access to care across all socioeconomic statuses."
If you could, would you change anything in your career trajectory?
"In a few years, I plan to eventually earn my master's in public health to better advocate for change at a higher level, especially for my most vulnerable patients."
What professional advice would you give your younger self?
"Don't be afraid to explore your passions! Just because it may mean more school or an untraditional approach doesn't mean it's not worth pursuing. Be fearless when asking questions and pursuing opportunities. And don't forget to look out for the little guy."
Are you a woman under 35 with a six-figure salary ($100,000+) and want to tell your story? Submit it here.
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