In one or two of your medical appointments, you probably have been seen by a physician assistant and not the medical doctor. Or you want to advance your career in the medical field and stuck between becoming a physician assistant or a doctor.
Although both physician assistants and doctors care for patients, they have different requirements and responsibilities. In this physician (PA) vs medical doctor (MD) debate, you will get to know their similarities and differences to help you determine which career path is best for you.
Basically, physician assistants and medical doctors both aim to keep patients healthy, and their duties often overlap.
In fact, the roles of the PA and MD often overlap and can also be needed for the same patient. From examining patients, diagnosing illnesses, and even creating treatment plans.
However, despite their similarities and overlapping functions, they differ in their own unique ways. The major difference being that the PA-C does not perform surgery and also works under the supervision of the MD
So, this article on physical assistant vs medical doctor has been written in a bid to give you a better understanding of these medical professionals. Here, you get to what they do, the similarities and differences between a PA and an MD.
You also get to know their job outlooks, salaries, cost of becoming one as well as the best med and pa schools.
Here is a table of what to expect:
Table of contents
- Who Is A Physician Assistant (PA)?
- Who Is A Medical Doctor (MD)?
- What Are The Similarities Between A Physician Associate And A Medical Doctor?
- Physician Assistant vs Medical Doctor: What Is The Difference Between Two?
- Which Schools Are The Best For Physician Assistants In The USA?
- What Are The Best Schools For Medical Doctors?
- Which Is Best For Me Between Becoming A PA-C And An MD?
- FAQs On Physician Assistant Vs Doctor
- AUTHOR’S RECOMMENDATION
Before we go on, let’s get an overview of who a physician assistant is and who a medical doctor is.
Who Is A Physician Assistant (PA)?
A physician assistant is a medical professional who operates under a doctor’s supervision. Also known as PAs, they basically practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers.
According to the AAPA (American Academy of PAs), Physician’s Assistants (PAs) are highly trained medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, and can serve as the principal healthcare provider for a patient.
PAs are integral members of the health care team in many hospitals and clinical practices.
According to Wikipedia, a physician assistant in the USA and Canada, or physician associate in the United Kingdom (PA) is a generalist advanced practice provider which is educated in general medicine and trained to practice medicine.
To become a physician assistant, read this: How To Become A Physician Assistant | Descriptions, Salary, Cost, Schools
Who Is A Medical Doctor (MD)?
Also known as a physician, a medical doctor is is a professional who practices medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining, or restoring health through the study, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of disease, injury, and other physical and mental impairments.
MDs are physicians who work in hospitals, clinics, medical centers, or private practices.
Want to become an MD? See how long does it take to become a Doctor Here.
From the definitions above, you will notice that both the PAs and MDs are educated in general medicine and trained to practice medicine. This means that there are some overlapping functions between these two medical practitioners.
Now, lets compare their functions.
What Are The Similarities Between A Physician Associate And A Medical Doctor?
Regardless of the differences that may exist between these two, PAs and MDs are quite similar in some ways.
The major similarity between a PA and an MD is that they are both important members of the medical team.
Secondly, both the PAs and MDs work in hospitals, clinics, medical centers, and so on.
Also, PAs and MDs participate directly in patient care, taking medical histories, examining and diagnosing patients, developing treatment plans, educating patients, and working toward positive patient outcomes.
Physician Assistant vs Medical Doctor: What Is The Difference Between Two?
Many patients and students ask this question a lot, “are physician assistants doctors?”
The simple answer is no, physician assistants (PAs) are not doctors. Although medical doctors (MDs) and physician assistants are both responsible for patient care, PAs are classed as medical support professionals.
This simply means that their work must be supervised by a doctor, although in the case of PAs, this doesn’t mean doctors are hovering at all times.
That is to say that PAs may examine patients, diagnose illnesses, and even create treatment plans, but these may require a doctor’s approval. Also, PAs cannot perform surgeries, however, they may assist the doctors in the operating room.
From the above, we can deduce that the major difference between the two is that unlike the MDs, PAs are not independent medical professionals. In fact, a PA works under the supervision of the MD.
Apart from this major difference, there also other distinctions between the physician assistant and the medical doctor.
So, we are going to be looking at these differences from the following areas:
#1 PA vs MD – Job/Duties
- Licensing /Certification
- Work Place
- Job Outlook
Basically, the main duties of a PA overlap with that of a doctor across several aspects except for a few major procedures such as surgery.
Aside from that, the major difference in job functions between a doctor and a physician assistant is that an MD works autonomously whereas a PA always works in conjunction with a doctor.
In some states, PAs are authorized to write prescriptions whereas in some they cannot. As a student, this is something you need to find out from the authorities in each state before you start practicing.
Now, let’s look at their functions independently.
What Do Physician Assistants Do?
Basically, Physician assistants practice medicine on teams with physicians, surgeons, and other healthcare workers.
The duties of the physical therapist include:
- Taking or reviewing patients’ medical histories.
- Examining patients.
- Ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, such as x rays or blood tests.
- Diagnosing a patient’s injury or illness
- Giving treatment, such as setting broken bones and immunizing patients
- Educating and counseling patients and their families—for example, answering questions about how to care for a child with asthma
- Prescribing medicine.
- Assessing and recording a patient’s progress.
- Researching the latest treatments to ensure the quality of patient care.
- Conducting or participating in outreach programs, talking to groups about managing diseases, and promoting wellness.
What Do Medical Doctors Do?
Just like physician assistants, doctors diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. As a surgeon, the MD also operates on patients to treat injuries, such as broken bones; diseases, such as cancerous tumors; and deformities, such as cleft palates.
Below are some major duties of an MD:
- Taking a patient’s medical history.
- Updating charts and patient information to show current findings and treatments.
- Ordering tests for nurses or other healthcare staff to perform.
- Reviewing test results to identify any abnormal findings.
- Recommending and designing a plan for treatment.
- Addressing concerns or answer questions that patients have about their health and well-being.
- Helping patients take care of their health by discussing topics such as proper nutrition and hygiene.
#2 PA vs MD – Education
Although, the path to both roles starts with obtaining a four-year bachelor’s degree. To become a physician assistant requires fewer years of schooling than a fully-fledged medical doctor.
Education Path of a Physician Assistant
Even though the qualifications for PAs vary slightly among states but obtaining a license to practice usually requires a 4-year undergraduate degree and completion of an accredited Physician Assistant program, which is generally a 27-month course.
Furthermore, to obtain a PA license you will have to have successfully finished a one-year clinical rotation where you will gain hands-on medical experience.
Then as a practicing PA, you will have to complete 100 hours of continuing education every 2 years as well as take a recertification exam every 10 years.
Education Path of a Medical Doctor
Basically, to become a doctor, you will have to invest long years into the education and training for you to become proficient in diagnosing ailments, determining the appropriate treatment options, and prescribing the medication.
Firstly, it takes 4 years to obtain an undergraduate degree from medical school, another 2 years to obtain a medical degree or MD, and then 3 to 7 additional years of residency training before you can obtain a license to practice medicine or surgery.
Generally, doctors are board-certified on the national level however, they must obtain a state license where they practice.
#3 PA vs MD – Licensing/Certification
Basically, it would be best if you were licensed to practice as a physician assistant. However, to become licensed as a PA, you must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).
Basically, a physician assistant who passes the exam may use the credential “Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C).”
For a medical doctor, getting a license is one of the most important requirements to become a doctor. This is because all states in the US require physicians to acquire a license before practicing medicine.
However, you’ll need to graduate from an accredited medical school to qualify for licensure. You must also complete your residency training program and pass several other exams.
The major one being the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE); a three-step examination you must pass to become an M.D.
Furthermore, as an MD, you’ll need to renew your licenses periodically. However, you must complete at least 50 hours of continuing education before sitting for the renewal exam.
#4 PA vs MD – Work Place
Physician assistants in most cases cannot go into private practice. PAs mostly work in the physicians’ offices, hospitals, outpatient clinics, and other healthcare settings.
Meanwhile, Medical Doctors can go into private practice or work in hospitals, in academia, or for the government.
#5 PA vs MD – Job Outlook
According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the employment of physician assistants is expected to grow 31 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.
The statistics go further to explain that as the demand for healthcare services grows, physician assistants will be needed to provide care to patients.
Still from the report, the overall employment of medical doctors is projected to grow 7 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations.
This job growth is projected due to the growing and aging population’s increased demand for healthcare services.
#6 PA vs MD – Pay/Salary
As of May 2019, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics report says that physician assistants earn $112,260 per year. That is to say, a certified Physician Assistant (PA-C) earns $53.97 per hour.
In contrast, BLS reports that wages for physicians and surgeons are among the highest of all occupations, with a median wage equal to or greater than $208,000 per year. In other words, medical doctors earn $100.00 per hour.
On the other hand, Glassdoor reports that the national average salary for a Physician Assistant is $106,611 in the United States. They also reported that the USA‘s national average salary for a Medical Doctor is $143,698.
#7 PA vs MD – Cost
According to GlobalPremeds, the average cost of resident tuition for a 27-month physician assistant program is $71,369 (27 months is the average program length).
On the other hand, the average four-year cost of medical school is $278,866 for private schools and $207,866 for public schools.
#7 PA vs MD – Accrediting Body
The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) is an independent accrediting body authorized to accredit qualified PA educational programs leading to the professional credential, Physician Assistant (PA).
However, for physicians or medical doctors, the main accreditation body is the American Medical Association (AMA).
Now, you know the accrediting bodies and cost of becoming either a PA or an MD, let’s look at some of the best pa and med schools.
Which Schools Are The Best For Physician Assistants In The USA?
Here is a list of some of the schools that offer the best physician assistant programs in the USA. Do well to click on each of the pa schools for more information on the program.
- University of Utah
- George Washington University
- Wake Forest University
- Interservice Physician Assistant Program
- Drexel University
- University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
- The University of Colorado
- University of Southern California
- Jefferson College of Health Sciences
- Oregon Health and Sciences University
- Emory University
- Baylor College of Medicine
- University of Iowa
- Duke University
- Kettering College
See PA School Requirements And How To Get All Prerequisites Ready For Physician Assistant Degree
What Are The Best Schools For Medical Doctors?
Various universities all over the world offer programs in medicine. However, if you want to attend an Ivy med school, here are the best Ivy medical schools. Click on each of them to know more.
- Harvard Medical School
- Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
- Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons
- Weill Cornell Medicine
- Yale School of Medicine
- Geisel School of Medicine
- Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University
Furthermore, we have awesome content on the best med schools all over the world on our platform. Below are some categories of medical schools you may like. Also, click on each of them to know more.
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You may also want to know the Top Medical Schools In The World; Click Here
Which Is Best For Me Between Becoming A PA-C And An MD?
Generally, these two medical professionals are unique and distinct to each other. However, knowing what to pursue depends on your individual and career goals.
If you really want to work in the medical field but can’t dedicate a lot of years nor invest a lot of money into studying, you can become a PA. If the reverse is the case for you, you can pursue a career as an MD.
Furthermore, if you want to don’t mind the years but want to do your job and also earn more, you can compare the salaries of the two and go for the higher on.
FAQs On Physician Assistant Vs Doctor
A major difference between an MD and a PA is that doctors can legally practice independently while a PA always requires supervision. Both can do the following: Diagnose and treat patients. Perform medical procedures in the office.
No, you do not call a physician’s assistant doctor.
A physician’s assistant is not a doctor. If you want to address a physician’s assistant in a formal manner, you use the honorific of “PA” before the physician assistant’s name.
Both physician assistants and medical doctors are integral members of the medical team. However, despite the fact that they both treat similar conditions and tend to have overlapping functions, they differ.
For instance, a PA diagnoses illness, develops and manages treatment plans and can serve as the principal healthcare provider for a patient just like the MD. But a PA-C cannot perform surgeries like the MD. Also, PAs normally work under the supervision of a physician.
Furthermore, if you want to pursue a career in the medical field, knowing your career and individual goals will help you decide what is better for you to become a PA or an MD.
I hope this article on PA versus MD helps you in your decision making.
Good Luck And Success!!!
- US BLS – Occupational Outlook Handbook of Physicians
- US BLS – Occupational Outlook Handbook of Physician Assistants
- Global Pre-Meds – What is the difference between a doctor and a physician assistant?
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