What is the Difference Between a Physician Assistant and Doctor


Are you contemplating medical school but unsure if you actually want to commit to becoming a doctor? After all, that’s a long time to be in school; the job can be extremely stressful, and what if you change your mind halfway through? You’re not alone. Many people weigh out the pros and cons of working as a doctor vs. choosing a different license type in healthcare. A common comparison people toss around when they’re in the midst of this decision process is comparing physician assistant vs. doctor. Don’t worry – you don’t have to make this decision alone. We are here to help you. Although we can’t tell you your personal preference or life goals, we can help you make a few key comparisons. We did a little digging to figure out exactly what is the difference between a physician assistant and doctor. Here are the top five differences between physicians and physician assistants!

Physician Assistant Vs. Doctor | The Difference Between a Physician Assistant and Doctor

difference between a physician assistant and doctor

Check out the top five differences between a doctor and a physician assistant!

Length of Schooling

For starters, if you go to school to become a physician assistant, you’ll be committing to less class time. Doctors have to go to school for about nine years, whereas physician assistants typically need to attend about four years of schooling and then one year of clinical rotation. Clinical rotation gives physician assistants the opportunity to gain hands-on experience before they accept a full-time position. Both physician assistants and doctors need to be licensed in the state in which they want to practice.

Cost of Education

With that said, the second difference between a physician assistant and a doctor is the cost of their education. Obviously fewer years of school means fewer classes, books, and living expenses to pay for. But, to put that into perspective, the average cost of a standard physician assistant program is $71,369. Now, compare that to the average four-year cost of medical school. You’re looking at $278,866 for private schools and $207,866 for public schools. So, it’s definitely cheaper to become a physician assistant.

Job Functions

A big difference between a physician assistant and doctor is not necessarily in their job functions but in how independently they can perform them. A doctor can practice independently. A physician assistant can only practice medicine partnered with a doctor. If you go to school to be a physician assistant, keep in mind that even though you can essentially fulfill the same role as a doctor, you will have to have a licensed physician working in the practice with you. That’s not to say they are constantly looking over your shoulder; just that they will be there if you need a second opinion or to co-sign medical charts.

Salary Ranges

Salary ranges are different between a physician assistant and a doctor. Doctors tend to make more money. However, that’s not to downplay how much a physician assistant makes. Although slightly less than a physician, physician assistant salaries are still sufficient. For example, a physician will make somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000 a year and it is essentially one of the highest paying jobs in the United States. A physician assistant, on the other hand, will make an average annual salary of $86,000 to $120,000.

Job Outlook

The job outlook is promising for both physicians and physician assistants. For example, on AllPhysicianJobs you can search for openings for both. However, the availability of jobs will vary depending on the state and specialty you want to work in. As with most healthcare jobs, there is extremely high growth predicted in these career choices, especially compared to other industries. There is also the option to travel. Both physician assistants and physicians have the option to take what are called locum tenens assignments. Check out LocumJobsOnline to look for travel physician or physician assistant jobs.

Why do you want to work as a physician assistant vs. a doctor? Share with us in the comments below!

Author: Lenay Ruhl

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Lenay,

    I’m not sure if in writing this article you actually interviewed a PA and MD or just did a lot of Googling.

    In any case, I’m a PA and I’d just like to point out a couple of things in this article that may come across as insulting to a PA and may deter future PAs from the field.

    1. “Many people weigh out the pros and cons of working as a doctor vs. settling for a lesser license type in healthcare.”

    The word “settling” can be seen as offensive considering how hard PAs have to work to obtain their licensing. For many it is a lifestyle choice that includes factors such as not wanting excessive debt or having a more flexible work schedule with which to raise a family. Using the word “settling” makes it seem that a PA was unable to get into medical school, rather than choosing not to go and it gives off the notion that the Physician Assistant field is less than worthy.

    2.”A physician assistant can only practice medicine under the supervision of a doctor. If you go to school to be a physician assistant, keep in mind that you can’t practice on your own but will always have to work under someone who has their medical degree.”

    This sounds like the physician is constantly hovering over the PA which certainly is not the case. The PA has their own patients and is able to examine, diagnose, and treat without directly consulting with their attending physician. The attending does, however, regularly co-sign charts and is available should the PA request a second opinion.
    Lastly, PAs do have a medical degree and are required to pass a board exam, as are MDs. The way in which it is phrased in this article makes it sound like PAs are not licensed to practice medicine.

    Should you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

    Brittany Wilson, RPA-C

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    • Hey Brittany,

      Thank you so much for your feedback on my blog post! I definitely see how the way I worded things could come across as insulting, and that definitely was NOT my intention! One of my closest friends works as a PA. I adjusted the wording in my blog, so hopefully, now it doesn’t come across that way. With that said, I am always looking for people in the field to interview, as your perspective is immensely valuable to me and to our audience. If you are interested in being interviewed, please let me know! Again, I truly appreciate you taking the time to reach out to me.

      Lenay

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  2. I agree with Brittany. This article paints a skewed image of the difference between PAs and MD/DO.

    Topher Bradshaw, PA-C

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    • Hi Topher,

      Thank you so much for reading my blog post and chiming in with feedback. As I told Brittany, I can see how the way I worded things would come across as insulting, and that definitely wasn’t my intention! One of my closest friends works as a PA. I changed some of the wording in my blog, so hopefully, now it doesn’t come across that way. With that said, I am always looking for people in the field to interview, as your perspective is immensely valuable to me and to our audience. If you have an interested in being interviewed, please let me know! Again, I truly appreciate you reaching out.

      Lenay

      Post a Reply

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