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Difference Between MD and PA

MD vs PA

Many prospective medical students find themselves confused as to the clear differences between a Medical Doctor and a Physicians Assistant. In order to make the differences clear, we need to understand the requirements that will lead one to either to a PA or a MD profession and the duties involved with each.

In basic terms, to qualify as a medical doctor, one has to attend and graduate from an accredited medical school, which is licensed as well. As for a PA, one needs to finish the Physician’s assistant course and depending on state, get an authorization to perform most of the tasks carried out by the MD, including patient examination, making diagnosis and giving prescriptions. But most importantly, a PA must always work under a medical doctor’s supervision, meaning every work done by a PA is to be reviewed by the MD.

However, the trend is that a number of hospitals and clinics hire Physicians’ Assistants for the sole reason that this is cheaper than hiring Medical doctors. But the best recommendation would still remain for one to visit a Medical Doctor for some serious medical conditions.

The education requirements for a medical doctor are a bachelor’s degree with the suitable math and science pre-requisites, four years of medical school that are split into 2 years of classes and 2 years of internship. In addition to this, and depending on the specialization chosen, one may need to take a 3 year residency. That would add up to 11 years of post high school training.

For the Physician Assistant, one needs to pursue a PA program, which can take approximately 2 years (26 months). Although a bachelor’s degree is not essential, majority of the a applicants who get accepted to the PA program have a bachelor’s degree and some experience in health care. During the course of their work, PAs may be required to take refresher courses and have their clinical skills be tested regularly.

The main duties a PA carries out include examining patients, treating them, taking the patient’s medical history, diagnosing conditions, prescribing medication and many of the duties that a MD would do. However, all of these are supervised by the MD.
The MD is the highest level in the field of medicine and therefore a Medical Doctor should carry out all medical related duties wholly and autonomously.

Summary
1. MD is a Medical Doctor while PA is a Physician’s Assistant.
2. An MD works autonomously while a PA always works under the supervision of the MD.
3.A Medical Doctor requires almost 11 years of post high school to qualify as one while a PA needs approximately 2 years and some health care experience.
4.It’s cheaper to hire a PA than an MD.


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7 Comments

  1. I would like to expand on this as a Surgeon who has worked along PA’s for a number of years and a former adjuct Professor for A&P in a PA Program. Most of my PA’s are just as smart if not smarter than many doctors I encounter. I dont beleive it is the case that one’s severity of symptoms dictate who they should see for a given ailment. There is a misconception as to the interaction between PA’s and MD’s. In my practice, depending on the procedure to be carried out, Most of the surgeries can be handled by the PA on their own. In more technical surgeries, I may have a PA there to assist as they are more skilled than the nursing staff and actually taught under the Medical Model of Medicine ( not the Nursing Model of Medicine). This is where the “supervision” takes place. During my 1st residency as an Internist, The PAs were completely autonomous, had their own set of patients and picked up the slack for doctors who were out. I dont know of any hospital hiring PA’s with 2 years of education. Maybe back in the 60′s but now most if not all the programs are Masters Programs. The selectivitya nd competition of these programs make them even more difficult to enter than some medical schools. Two of my past students now own their own practice.

    I love the medical field and all it has to offer. Its ever changing and there are new innovations that assist us in bringing quality healthcare to patients. My advice to anyone planning on going into medicine is strongly consider why you want to enter the field. If money is a motivator, as it is for many people in deciding up on fields to enter in the workforce, I would look deeper into what it takes to become a Physician-MD. The time and money will far outweigh the post-residency earning power one has. If you are undecided as to what you want to do, or specialize in the Medical field, I would highly consider the growth potential and ease of changing specialties found by becoming a PA. If you are certain that you are going into Internal Medicine, Family Medicine or Pediatrics. Save yourself the trouble and go to PA school. It is not worth it to waste the time and money to become and MD in these fields and earn less than some PA’s and NPs are earning.

    It may be hard to believe but there are specialized Physician Assistants and Nurse Practioners who have greater earning power, with far less debt than many physicians. This is a world of practicality and though the medical profession is in my opinion, the most honorable and rewarding fields to work in. The reality of the matter is, the amount of debt one takes on in this field to be making far less than those who merely complete a bachelors and work in finance is not worth it in many respects.

    With all that said, I cannot now say that I regret my decision to go through with my medical training, but had I known of the option to becoming a PA, I would have strongly looked at the pro’s and con’s of both routes to becoming a practioner before delving into such a decision.

    Good Luck to all you future Practioners.

    • I agree with much of what you said and am glad somene is finally respecting our profession
      -Anon PA-C

    • I would like to sincerely thank Dr Haberstein for his comments about his experiences with PAs.

      As for the original explanation provided about the differences between MD and PA, I urge the writer to recheck his facts. I attended school at Alderson Broaddus College in West Virginia, where it is required to have many specific prerequisite courses such as Anatomy & Physiology, Pathology, Chemistry, Calculus, in addition to a Bachelor’s degree. It was a rigorous program following a medical school model as mentioned by Dr Haberstein. I was proud to graduate with my Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies and seven years of education. The premise that any PA anywhere has only two years of education is inaccurate. In the 1970′s it began as a Bachelor degree and now we graduate from and accredited institution with a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies. We also have to pass the PANCE (Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam) to start practice and the PANRE every 6-10 years once in practice. We are required to stay abreast of the latest information with continuing medical education. Lastly, it is a special trusted relationship between a PA and their supervising MD or DO earned through dedication and the sound practice of medicine.
      Lastly, I find the notion that the only reason hospitals are hiring PAs is secondary to funding insulting to the efforts and skills of Physician Assistants everywhere. We are increasingly important to the field of medicine and I suspect you will see a rise in the number of Physician Assistants because many MDs, like Dr Haberstein, as well as patients, have realized our merit.

  2. Thank you for such an informative response! I’m an undergrad right now and I started looking towards a medical career since I was in high school. After doing more research in determining where I want to go within medicine, a lot of issues and questions cam up, especially the debate between a NP,PA, and MD. One of the biggest differences between the years spent in school is the model that you learn when becoming a NP or PA/MD.

    What is the difference between the nursing model and the medical model?

    Most PA programs require clinical hours for them to consider you for admission. How would I be able to get clinical hours when I only have a BA in Biology when I graduate?

  3. Most PA programs require a bachelor’s degree. It should also be noted that most PA programs have almost the same math and science prerequisites as medical schools. The only difference tends to be statistics instead of calculus, the absence of a second semester of organic chemistry (which some med schools are now dropping), and the addition of microbiology with lab. Also, most PA programs require thousands of hours of direct healthcare experience (paid, not shadowing or volunteering) which most med school applicants don’t have. While the medical school route is more rigorous and longer, getting into PA school is no walk in the park.

  4. My gripe is that I’m expected to pay the same when I see a PA as I do when I see an MD. This wouldn’t be expected in any other field. For instance, a paralegal cannot charge the same per hour as an attorney. And as for an MD having to supervise and/or review everything done by a PA. That’s simply not true. They only supervise on paper and rarely if ever review. And every time I’ve ever seen a PA, I’ve had to make a repeat visit. I’m not saying they’re not qualified – just saying they are not MDs.

  5. Well while he’s giving the PA’s big heads he’s insulting nurses who work in the OR!

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