Physicians and physician assistants (PAs) have largely overlapping knowledge bases and sets of clinical skills. They interact with the same patients, prescribe the same medicines, and participate in the same medical procedures. However, the training and careers of physicians and physician assistants are quite distinct. Many people who are unsure of whether to pursue medical school find that the role of a PA fulfills many of the same career criteria that attract them to the role of a physician but that the PA role also avoids some of the less attractive aspects of physician careers.
Here are 5 reasons that the PA role may be a more suitable fit for you than the physician role.
- Becoming a PA is much faster and less expensive. PA school tends to be just 2 or 3 years long, compared to the traditional 4 years of medical school. Critically, once you have completed PA school, there is no residency or fellowship requirement to practice. From the time you begin your training to the time you are ready to practice is therefore sometimes less than half when a PA is pursued versus an MD or a DO. Additionally, the years of low pay as a resident or fellow can be avoided with a PA degree. Those with PAs therefore tend to accrue far less debt than do MDs and Dos.
- PAs are not restricted to one specialty. Unlike physicians, who train to practice in a medical specialty, PA training lends itself to multiple areas of medicine. If a PA finds that he or she does not enjoy practicing one area of medicine or develops an interest in another specialty, he or she can easily change course without significant obstacles. If a physician changes specialties, on the other hand, years of training to do so tends to be required.
- PAs earn higher salaries sooner. As soon as PAs are done with school, they tend to make a 6-figure base salary. Though depending on their specialty, MDs and DOs tend to eventually earn more than PAs, these professionals will not reach the 6-figure mark upon completion of medical school. Instead, they will have to wait until years later when they have finished residency training and potentially fellowship training as well.
- PAs generally have better work-life balance. MDs often spend at least some of their career or training working long hours and are increasingly experiencing burnout as a result. PAs, however, can often work a more typical 9 to 5 work schedule and maintain what may be perceived as a more manageable and predictable work routine that is conducive to a better lifestyle.
- PAs medical liability insurance is less expensive. Physician’s medical liability insurance can be 5 to 10 times that of PA’s medical liability insurance. This difference is because in general, the responsibility falls more on the physician.
Takeaway: While MDs and DOs ultimately have more autonomy in their practice, there are several aspects of a PA career that may make the PA role more attractive than an MD or DO role to those pursuing careers in medicine. PAs command 6-figure salaries that can be earned faster and with an arguably better lifestyle than what MDs and DOs face.