Mar 14, 2024

What's a PA?


If you want to work in the medical field, you have a number of options. For example, you could become a physician, nurse, or a PA. But what's a PA, exactly?

"PA" can stand for physician associate or physician assistant — terms that are often used interchangeably. These professionals are licensed clinicians, and they can practice medicine within any specialty or setting.

In terms of their education, PAs must obtain a master's degree. They go through thousands of hours of training both in the classroom and through direct contact with patients during clinical rotations.

While their exact duties will depend on where they work, generally speaking, PAs are able to:

  • Conduct exams.
  • Diagnose and treat patients.
  • Aid in surgeries.
  • Perform certain procedures.
  • Prescribe medication.
  • Order and analyze tests.

Are PAs Actually Doctors?

Importantly, while they can manage some of the same duties as physicians, PAs are not doctors. However, they work closely with doctors and other healthcare providers, including nurses. And speaking of, what about nursing? Are the two fields similar? A lot of people think that PAs are the same thing as nurse practitioners (NPs). However, there are two main differences. First, PAs train in general medicine, whereas NPs are more specialized. Second, when PAs go to school, their training is based on medical school material. On the other hand, nurse practitioners are trained based on a nursing school curriculum. So, their training and education are quite unique.

Becoming a physician assistant has proven to be an appealing option for students. This field is expanding rapidly, with the PA profession growing about 28.6% from 2016 to 2020 and showing no signs of slowing down. This means that the field is also becoming increasingly competitive.

physician assistant wearing scrubs

Should You Become a PA or MD?

Now that you know a little more about what a PA is, you might be wondering what the right path is for you. While there are many similarities, doctors will have more experience treating less common health issues. They're also the only professionals who are licensed to perform surgery. (Again, PAs can assist.)

The time commitment for training/education is also different. After getting a four-year degree, a PA will spend two to three years in their designated program, while a future doctor will go to medical school for another four years.

The ultimate difference between the two comes down to autonomy and independence. If you want to have more say in the care and treatment of your patients, you might find a career as a physician more fulfilling.

CHHA helps prepare international medical graduates (IMGs) for rotations and employment in the US. Our goal is to combat the physician shortage while helping IMGs form meaningful relationships with our affiliates and partners. Ready to take the next step in becoming a doctor? Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.

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