Are you a physician assistant (PA) looking to take your career to the next level by becoming a medical doctor (MD)? If so, you’re not alone. Many PAs consider making the transition to an MD due to the similarities between the two professions. However, the journey from PA to MD is not an easy one and requires careful planning and preparation.

In this article, we will discuss the differences between the two professions and provide guidance on how you can successfully transition from PA to MD.

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How Is PA Different From MD?

The main difference between a physician assistant (PA) and a medical doctor (MD) lies in their training, scope of practice, and level of autonomy.

Training and Education

    • MD: Medical doctors have to complete a rigorous education process which usually involves four years of undergraduate education followed by four years of medical school. Once they finish medical school, they undergo residency training in a particular medical specialty. The duration of the residency program varies from three to seven years, depending on the chosen specialty.
    • PA: Physician assistants also undergo rigorous training, but their educational path is typically shorter. PAs usually complete a bachelor’s degree (although some programs accept candidates with an associate’s degree) and then enter a PA program, which typically lasts two to three years. PA programs include classroom instruction and clinical rotations.

Scope of Practice

    • MD: Medical doctors are licensed to diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications, perform procedures, and provide treatments across various medical specialties. They can work independently or in collaboration with other healthcare professionals.
    • PA: Physician Assistants work under the supervision of a licensed physician, although the extent of supervision can vary depending on state laws and practice settings. PAs are trained to perform many of the same tasks as MDs, including taking medical histories, conducting physical examinations, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests, and developing treatment plans. However, they always work under the oversight of a physician.


    • MD: Medical doctors have a higher level of autonomy in clinical decision-making and patient care. They can establish their own practices, lead medical teams, and make independent medical decisions within the scope of their specialty and state regulations.
    • PA: Physician Assistants work collaboratively with physicians and other healthcare providers. While they can perform many medical tasks independently, their practice is ultimately overseen by a physician. PAs typically have less autonomy compared to MDs.

5 Steps to Go From PA to MD

Going from PA to MD requires a significant amount of time and dedication. Here are the five steps to follow:

1. Obtain a bachelor’s degree

To become a medical doctor, you will need to pursue an undergraduate program and obtain a bachelor’s degree. This typically takes four years, and entails taking courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and other related subjects. The courses you take during your undergraduate studies will help you build a strong foundation for your future medical studies.

2. Take the MCAT

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a standardized exam that assesses your knowledge of the sciences and critical thinking skills. The MCAT is a computer-based test, and it’s offered multiple times a year at various testing centers. You will need to take this exam to apply to medical school.

3. Apply to medical school

Medical school programs typically take four years to complete and are designed to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the human body, diseases, and treatments. During the first two years of medical school, students focus on coursework and laboratory work, while the last two years involve clinical rotations where students get hands-on experience working with patients.

4. Complete a residency

This residency program is a crucial part of your medical training, and it helps to prepare you for a career as a medical doctor. Depending on your chosen specialty, residency programs last between three to seven years. During this time, you will receive on-the-job training, working alongside experienced physicians, and treating patients.

5. Obtain your medical license

In order to become a practicing physician, it is essential to obtain a medical license in the state where you plan to work. This license is required to diagnose and treat patients legally. Obtaining a medical license typically involves passing a licensing exam and meeting other requirements, such as completing a certain number of medical training or residency hours. Once you have obtained your medical license, you must renew it periodically to maintain your ability to practice medicine.

Benefits of Transitioning from PA to MD

Transitioning from a physician assistant (PA) to a medical doctor (MD) comes with several benefits. As an MD, one has more autonomy and control over patient care and can diagnose and treat patients independently without supervision. Additionally, MDs have more opportunities for career advancement, such as pursuing a specialty or sub-specialty.

Another benefit of transitioning from a PA to an MD is the potential for a higher salary and increased job security. However, it is important to note that becoming an MD requires a significant time commitment, financial investment, and a rigorous educational and training program.

The Bottom Line

Transitioning from PA to MD requires dedication, hard work, and a solid plan. Whether you are just starting or have been working as a PA for years, the journey to becoming an MD is challenging but also rewarding. At AUA College of Medicine, we offer a comprehensive program designed to help you achieve your goal of becoming a physician.

If you are ready to take the next step in your career and become a medical doctor, we invite you to learn more about our program and how we can help you achieve your dream.


Is MD worth it over PA?

It depends on your personal and professional goals. MD is a longer and more intensive program compared to PA, but it also offers more opportunities and higher earning potential. PA can also be a rewarding career, with a shorter education time and a more flexible work-life balance.

Is PA harder to get into than MD?

It’s difficult to compare the two programs directly, as they have different admission requirements and selection processes. Generally, MD programs are more competitive and have a lower acceptance rate, but PA programs may have more specific prerequisites and require more healthcare experience.

How many years from PA to MD?

The length of time it takes to go from PA to MD depends on the specific program and the individual’s academic background and experience. Generally speaking, it can take around 4-5 years to complete a PA program and another 4 years to complete an MD program. However, some programs offer accelerated options or allow for prior coursework and experience to be counted towards the program.

Can you bridge from PA to MD?

Yes, it is possible to bridge from a PA program to an MD program, but it requires additional coursework and prerequisites. Some medical schools offer special bridge programs for PAs, while others require PAs to complete a bachelor’s degree before applying to medical school.

Can you be a surgeon with a PA?

PAs can specialize in a variety of medical fields, including surgery. However, they have more limited scope of practice compared to a physician surgeon. PAs in surgery assist with procedures, manage patient care, and perform pre- and post-operative evaluations, but they are not able to perform certain surgical procedures independently.

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