In medical circles, you might have heard the terms PA (Physician Assistant) and MD (Doctor of Medicine) and wondered what they mean. While both work in the same environment and have a lot in common in terms of their job descriptions, you’ve surely been curious about what the difference between a PA and MD is.

If you want to know the similarities and differences between a physician assistant and a doctor, here’s some information for you.

What Does a Physician Assistant Do?

A PA or Physician Assistant, like the title suggests, is a medical professional working under the supervision of a physician. They perform most of the duties that doctors do, such as providing patient care, recording medical histories, examining and diagnosing patients, counselling patients, and coming up with a treatment plan. PAs do not perform surgeries or any complex medical procedures. They can, however, assist doctors during these procedures.

What Does an MD Do?

Doctors are at the forefront of patient treatment. They’re the “shot-callers” in diagnosing an illness and prescribing treatment. They supervise med school students in clinical rotations and physician assistants. They do all the things that PAs do, and can even prescribe medications and perform surgeries. They have the autonomy and ultimate responsibility when dealing with patients.

Differences Between PA And MD: Education

To become a PA, you have to complete an undergraduate degree, followed by an accredited PA program, which lasts about 2-3 years. PAs also have to obtain a license to practice and pass a certification exam. You must regularly take licensing exams to maintain the status of your license.

To become an MD, you have to complete a bachelor’s degree, followed by four more years of medical school, followed by a residency, which can take an additional 3 to 8 years. Similar to a PA license, you have to take a licensing exam to practice medicine and regularly take the exam to maintain licensure.

The difference between a PA and MD is that studying to become an MD clearly takes longer and involves more rigorous training. Medical school requirements are also more stringent than that of PA programs. Some PA programs may require you to take the GRE, while MD requires you to take the MCAT.

Differences Between PA and MD: Specialisation

PAs typically work in primary care and similar settings, treating common illnesses and assisting in general procedures. PAs can work in a specialized field, and often switch fields. As most of their training is done on-the-go, switching jobs allows them to train under different specialisations and gain new skills.

MD students have to choose their specialisation during med school. The opportunities to switch fields after practicing as a licensed doctor is rare and involves additional years of rigorous training. Most doctors tend to stick with the specialisation they chose in med school throughout their career.

Differences Between PA and MD: Job and Salary Expectations

PAs have a more relaxed work schedule than MDs. It’s common for PAs to have a typical 40-hour work week, whereas MDs tend to work irregular hours and sometimes up to 80 hours in a week. Due to this, PAs have a better work-life balance and overall job satisfaction than MDs.

MDs may run their own clinics or be on-call in hospitals for long periods of time. Their work is more dynamic than PAs and due to their hectic work schedule, MDs may reach burnout sooner than PAs.

As the training and work involved in being a doctor is more intense, it’s obvious that they are more highly compensated than PAs. The average salary for a doctor in the US is between USD 200,000 – USD 300,000 per annum, whereas for PAs the average salary is USD 80,000 – USD 120,000.

The bottomline is, PAs work under doctors so if you like being the decision-maker, then being a doctor is the better choice. But if you don’t want the responsibility and liability that comes with being a doctor, then being a physician assistant is right for you.