How to decide between PA school and med school

November 7, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Maybe you have figured out that you enjoy science and have a desire to work with patients. But there are many options when it comes to working in the medical field. For example, both physician assistants and doctors treat patients and advise them about their medical care. But there are also differences between the professions. So how do you decide whether you should become a doctor or a physician assistant? Consider some of the following factors when making your choice.

Level of responsibility

Physician assistants and doctors do some of the same things on a day-to-day basis. For instance, both examine patients, review medical histories and prescribe treatment. Physician assistants may also do some of the same procedures doctors do. But there are also complex procedures and surgeries, which physician assistants don’t typically perform.


When you work as a physician assistant, you work in collaboration with a doctor. That does not mean the physician is looking over your shoulder or is by your side. But you cannot go into private practice as a physician assistant. Doctors, on the other hand, can work independently in a solo practice if they wish.
Becoming a doctor takes a minimum of eight years. Four years of undergrad education is followed by four years of medical school. But that’s not all. After medical school, doctors are required to complete a residency in their specialty. Depending on the chosen specialty most residencies vary from three to five years. A post-residency fellowship may also be required to become board certified in certain areas of medicine.

Physician assistant school requires much less time. Admission requirements vary, and some programs require a bachelor’s degree prior to starting PA school. But once admitted, most programs can be completed in two to three years. Although a physician assistant residency in an area of interest can be completed, it is not required to start working in the field.


Both medical school and physician assistant school can be costly, but med school will definitely cost you more. Keep in mind; there are options when it comes to paying for med school, such as student loans and loan forgiveness programs. But if you want to start your career with less debt, physician assistant school may be a good option.


Salaries for both doctors and physician assistants are going to vary greatly. The specialty you are working in, your years of experience, as well as your geographical area, are all factors in how much money you will earn. For example, a surgical physician assistant in New York City may make more than a family practice doctor in North Dakota. Because of all the variables, it is difficult to make a definitive statement about salary. According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, the median yearly salary for a PA in 2013 was $90,000. The average salary of a doctor in 2013, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics was $180,000 a year.

Still not sure which to choose? We offer comprehensive Physician Assistant shadowing at all of our Gap Medics destinations, so you can take a look at what the day to day life of this job entails.


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives, and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.