Many physician assistants or PAs consider stepping up their career to become a medical doctor. After all, there are many commonalities between the two professions. If you’re a physician assistant wondering how to transition to an MD, this article is for you. We’ll go over the differences between PA and MD, and how you can make the career jump.
How Is PA Different From MD?
A physician assistant is a trained professional who works under the supervision of experienced doctors. They provide assistance with caring for patients, conducting interviews, performing physical examinations, counseling patients on preventing illnesses, prescribing medications, and even assisting during surgeries.
Physician assistants do a lot of things that doctors do, but without the same level of accountability and responsibility that doctors carry. MDs have a lot more autonomy in caring for patients.
The education and training to become a PA is a lot less daunting than it is to become an MD. It can take about 3-4 additional years after an undergraduate degree to become a PA, whereas it can take an additional 8 years to become an MD. While the cost of a PA education is less, the salary of a practicing PA is also much less than that of an MD.
How to Go From PA to MD
The journey from a physician assistant to an MD is a long and arduous one.
The first step is to go to medical school. But to get into medical school, you need to have certain prerequisites. Every medical school will have different admission criteria, but most of them require that you complete an undergraduate degree in relevant subjects, take the MCAT and achieve the required score, submit letters of recommendation and a personal statement, and nail the personal interviews.
Research which colleges you want to apply to and their specific admission criteria to help you plan your next moves. You can also refer to the Medical School Admission Requirements (MSAR) from the Association of American Medical Colleges. You’ll be facing stiff competition as thousands of candidates apply every year. The good thing is medical schools are open for admission at different times in the year so you have time to prepare well in advance and apply when you’re ready.
Once you’re in medical school, the next steps are to complete the coursework, complete the clinical rotations in your final two years, and then pass the first two stages of the USMLE, which is the medical licensing exam required to be an independent medical practitioner.
Towards the end of medical school, you will need to apply for a medical residency in a specialisation of your choice. You will take the last stage of the USMLE, and then the board certification exam during residency.
Once you meet the licensing requirements, you will be officially permitted to practice medicine independently. You will, however, be required to stay updated with the latest developments in medicine and regularly take licensing exams to maintain your licensure.
Your PA Experience Helps
You might find many steps in the transition process of becoming an MD (like personal statements, interviews and licensing exams) similar to that of a PA. Since you’ve already been through some of these experiences when applying for PA, they’ll help you when you’re applying to medical schools. Your history with medicine will not only give you more confidence in applying, but also give a stronger reason for med schools to trust your motivation for applying. Your past experience with interviewing for a PA program will help you ace your interview when applying to a medical school. Your PA experience will make the practical components of your medical education easier as you may already be aware of the various medical terminologies, and are familiar with how hospitals work.
The path to becoming a doctor by transitioning as a physician assistant to an MD program is challenging, yet rewarding. It certainly is possible with the right amount of hard work and dedication. As a doctor, you will have more autonomy when treating patients and also be taking home a higher paycheck, making the struggle worthwhile.