Getting into medical school and completing your MD degree gives you a lot of career choices to pursue. You will get the opportunity to work with patients and improve their lives, no matter which medical career you choose. When it comes to choosing a medical profession, many medical students are wondering about the similarities and differences between a physician assistant (PA) and a Doctor of Medicine (MD).
Before making the right career choice, it is important to clearly understand the educational requirements and job responsibilities of PA and MD. If you want to know what is the difference between PA and MD, which is the better career choice for you and how do you become a PA or MD? You will get answers to all your questions in this post.
Both physician assistants (PA) and physicians (MD) can provide the best possible patient care and work collaboratively in the same team. PAs perform 80% – 90% of the same duties that a physician can perform, especially in a primary care setting. They can perform patient’s assessment, diagnostic procedures and treat less-common issues.
The only difference between PA and MD is that PAs are dependent on MDs to review their work. PAs work under the supervision of MDs and they can’t prescribe medicines without the direction of an MD. In short, they are dependent practitioners.
In contrast, MDs have more expertise to treat complex cases and deal with medical emergencies. They are licensed medical professionals who can work independently without any supervision. Unlike physician assistants, they have full authority to treat their patients by prescribing medications, making diagnosis, and offering tests. MDs can perform surgeries and act as a more responsible healthcare provider.
When it comes to education requirements, both PA and MD need to complete a four-year college degree. During the undergraduate education, aspiring PAs and MDs are required to complete the science prerequisite courses, gain shadowing experience and perform clinical work. Aspiring MDs have to take advanced science courses in order to gain admission in medical school.
After completing an undergraduate degree, you have to enroll in a two to three-year PA program in order to become a PA. Aspiring doctors do their best to get into medical school and complete the four-years MD degree program.
After completion of a PA program, PAs are required to pass the certifying exam and obtain a state license in order to get a good job. There are many additional training options available for PAs to choose from. They can enroll in a training program or simply hone their work skills on job-training.
In order to become an MD, you have to complete a four-year MD degree program that requires two years of basic sciences program and two years of clinical sciences program. Depending on the medical specialty you choose, you need to complete at least three to seven years of residency program to start your career as a MD. Pursuing highly specialized areas of medicine require you to complete additional fellowship training programs to get in-depth residency training. MDs have to pass USMLE Step 1, 2 and 3 in order to obtain the state license.
All in all, becoming an MD takes approximately 11 years, while PAs need three years to complete a PA program.
In order to enroll in a PA school, applicants must have at least 2,000 hours of healthcare experience. You can gain hands-on clinical experience by working part time or full-time. Many physician assistant programs require candidates to have extensive clinical experience that can be gained by working as emergency room technician, registered nurse, medical assistant, or medical technologist.
However, there is no need to get extensive healthcare experience to get into medical school. Shadowing a doctor or performing volunteer patient care positions is not a prerequisite to attend medical school. Gaining as much hands-on clinical experience as possible is enough to become a competitive applicant for medical school.
A physician assistant is a medical professional who works under the supervision of an MD. They can perform following job duties:
Physician assistants are not trained enough to perform surgeries or deal with the most complex medical cases. They can’t prescribe medications and are supervised by the MD.
An MD can perform all the duties a physician assistant performs without direct supervision. They maintain independent medical practice, and provide patient care in highly specialized medical fields.
After completing a PA program, which is two-three year long, you can enroll in additional fellowship residency programs and get on-the-job healthcare training. They mainly work in primary care and different other clinical settings. They have expertise to perform common procedures and treat common medical cases.
PAs can specialize in different fields and switch to specialties, depending on their interest. The best part is that PAs have to get on-site training, which means there is no need to get started from scratch or get additional training after years of training.
MDs have a myriad of choices available when it comes to choosing medical specialties. But you don’t have the same flexibility to change to specialty once you are practicing. If you want to switch to the specialty, you need to complete the residency training in a particular field.
Whether you want to become a physician assistant or MD, both are rewarding healthcare career options that have pros and cons. The short length of the PA program, smaller debut burden, specialty transition, and dependency on the MDs to review the work are the major pros and cons of becoming a PA. On the other hand, becoming an MD has its own advantages. Higher salary prospects, better career opportunities, more in-depth residency training and independent practice but long educational requirements are the pros and cons of becoming an MD. PA or MD, if you are not sure which medical career is right for you, hopefully, this guide will help you make the right decision.