So, Are You The Doctor? -- Physician Assistant vs Physician

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So, are you the doctor? How many Physician Assistants have heard that? How many times have you had to explain to your patients, families, friends and strangers the difference between a Physician Assistant and a doctor.


There are starch differences between a Physician Assistant (PA) and a Physician. A PA is a medical provider who operates under a doctor’s supervision. Like a physician, a PA share patient care responsibility.



The scope of a PA’s duties includes: examining patients, diagnosing illness, taking the patient’s history, developing and carrying out treatment plans, counseling patients on healthcare plans, etc. The main duties of a PA overlap with that of a doctor, except for major procedures such as surgery. PAs may assist physicians in surgical cases but they are not licensed to perform surgery as a sole provider. The major difference between the two profession is that a physician can work autonomously whereas a PA ALWAYS works under the supervision of the doctor. Unlike physicians, who can only work in a single specialty, PA’s have the lateral mobility to switch specialties without any additional residency requirements

Educational Requirements to become a Physician
To become a doctor, many years of education are required to have MD/DO behind your name. You must complete a bachelor’s degree prior to entering medical school. No specific major is better than the other, but make sure that you take the required prerequisites for medical school. You also must take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), which is a 4-section exam. Most schools require a minimum school. You will spend 4 years in medical school, and an additional 3+ years in a residency program. In total, this is approximately 11+ years of education before you are a licensed physician.  Along with the traditional training, medical schools must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Part 1 after their second year of medical school, and upon completion of the next two years of medical schools, students must take USMLE Part 2. Upon completion of Step 1 and Step 2, USMLE Step 3 is taken. On average, the cost of medical school over 4 years is approximately $200,000 according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Educational Requirements to become a Physician Assistant
Like physicians, PAs are required to obtain an undergraduate degree, and no specific major is required but all prerequisites need to be taken. Most PA programs require healthcare hours prior to applying, and most schools also require taking the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The type of classes is similar to that in medical school but they are condensed into 27+ months, depending on the program. The first year of PA school is called didactic year, which is spent solely in the classroom. The second year is your clinical year, and this is spent doing your rotations. At the end of PA school, graduates take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE), and earn a Master’s degree. Once you are certified, you are able to work immediately.  As you can see, it takes about one-fourth of the time to become a PA than a physician. On average, the cost of PA school that is 27-months is approximately $89,000

Salary Gap Ranges
Another difference between physician assistants and physicians is the pay. According to the BLS, the average salary for PAs in 2015 was $98,180. This, of course, varies, and those PAs that work in the Emergency Department and surgical department earn the highest salaries with a median salary of $106,010. Primary care physicians, in 2015, made a median salary of $241,273, and those physicians that worked in specialty areas earned a median salary of $411,852, with Anesthesiologists earning the highest salaries. As you can see, there is a big gap between the salary for physician assistants and physicians, but it is not about the money. There a lot of other factors such as quality of life, benefits, etc.

So, the next time you go to the hospital, annual check, etc., you will now be able to differentiate between the PA and physician! Both the PA and physician play imperative roles in the medical community and are invaluable to provide optimal care that the patients deserve.






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