Sep 21, 2023

Doctor vs Physician Assistant: What's the Difference?


As a medical student, you might be at a stage of choosing your career path and deciding between becoming a doctor vs physician assistant. Before you choose, it’s best to learn the similarities and differences between a PA vs MD to better understand which profession suits your goals and interests. 

Doctor vs Physician Assistant

For both roles, you need to obtain a four-year bachelor’s degree. 

To pursue being a physician assistant, you then attend a PA master’s program which includes required hours of direct patient contact and clinical rotations. You begin working once you complete your education, pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE), and get your state license.

To be a doctor, you attend medical school for four years, three to seven years of residency, and additional training for your specialization. You also need to pass the USMLE and acquire board certifications to solidify your expertise. 

Doctors and physician assistants work closely with one another. The primary difference between a PA vs MD is that a PA works under a doctor’s supervision, while an MD works autonomously with full patient care responsibility. 

A PA’s duties generally overlap with that of doctors, including:

  • Developing treatment plans.
  • Educating patients on healthcare plans.
  • Diagnosing and examining patients.
  • Providing pre- and post-operative care.
  • Taking patients’ medical history and records.
  • Working towards positive patient experiences and outcomes.

State laws play a part in the scope of a PA’s duties. Depending on where you practice, the amount of supervision required, the authority to write prescriptions, and the ratio of PAs to MDs will vary. As such, it’s best to learn about the regulations in your state before you start practicing. 

Limitations of Physician Assistants

While PAs may assist doctors during surgical procedures, there are some rules on what physician assistants are not allowed to do.

doctors performing surgery

They are not licensed to perform surgery by themselves. They also cannot take on complex or acute medical conditions. Likewise, MDs have more knowledge and expertise in treating complicated or less-common medical issues. 

Salary and Lifestyle

One of the biggest considerations when deciding is the physician assistant vs doctor salary. Keep in mind that this can vary widely depending on the state and healthcare setting you pursue.

According to statistics, the average doctor’s salary can range from $200,000 to $300,000 annually, with specialists earning even more. On the other hand, physician assistants can earn anywhere from $86,000 to $120,000 every year.

Similarly, doctor vs physician assistant lifestyle can vary. PAs are more likely to have a regular schedule, averaging about 40 hours per week. At times, you may be required to work additional hours or be on call. 

On the other hand, MDs tend to work longer hours, averaging 40-80 hours per week. It’s also common for them to work nights, weekends, and holidays, and to be on call.

Now that you know more about doctors vs physician assistants, you’re better able to decide which path is right for you. If you need further assistance in your clinical experience as a medical student, C.H.H.A can help. 
Contact us today to learn more.

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