How to decide between doctor and physician assistant

January 12, 2021

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

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If you are a student who is interested in medicine, you may be considering which career is right for you: medical doctor or physician assistant. This article tells you how to decide between doctor and physician assistant. 

Both careers have their pros and cons, and it’s important to understand the differences before you make a commitment. 

The best way to decide is to shadow a doctor and shadow a physician assistant

We know because that’s what we provide to pre-med and pre-health students who want to become doctors, nurses, midwives, or physician assistants. Our Global Pre-Meds programs are designed to give you the best doctor shadowing and global health experience so that you can decide what career is best for you.

Our unique programs can safely put you on the front lines of international hospitals and clinics, which is the kind of experience that can help you stand out from the crowd of other pre-PA and premed students

Shadow a doctor and physician assistant

Most students who are interested in becoming a healthcare professional will find shadowing opportunities with different providers before they decide on a program. If you need help deciding between becoming a doctor or a physician assistant, it’s best to shadow both so that you can observe the differences.

When it comes to shadowing a healthcare professional, you should try and spend a good amount of time with one doctor and one physician assistant, rather than a few hours here and there. By shadowing one person for a consistent amount of time, you will get a better understanding of what the day to day experience is like.

Shadowing allows you to ask questions about work/life balance, see how all healthcare professionals work together, and decide what you like or dislike about the profession. You want to be able to explain why you do or do not want to pursue that particular field.

You can also build more of a relationship with the doctor or PA you are shadowing if you spend more time with them. They can become a reference for you – no matter what career you choose. 

To find a doctor to shadow, you should ask people you know in the medical field. You can also ask advisors or see if your school has a health club or shadowing program.  

Our hospital doctor shadowing program in the Dominican Republic gives you two weeks of shadowing under the guidance of a medical doctor, who will show you a broad range of medical cases and surgeries. Your mentor will write you a personal letter of recommendation that you can use as a reference

In order to give you the best understanding of the inner workings of the hospital and the types of cases they see, your mentor may occasionally allow you to observe with a colleague. They will know where your interests lie in medicine, based on our review and the references we collect, so that they can provide the best learning experience.

If you are wondering how to find a physician assistant to shadow, you should also start with any people you may know that work in healthcare. You can also reach out to any state or local PA chapters or even check social media pages. You can also search the internet and cold call or email PAs if personal connections don’t work out. 

Many medical professionals are excited to share their knowledge and help out a student. If it is difficult for you to find a doctor or physician assistant, you can always simply apply to our doctor shadowing program

Doctors and physician assistants are quite similar in terms of their medical knowledge, as you’ll read below. Shadowing a doctor with us at Global Pre-Meds can help you start your journey to healthcare.

What are the responsibilities of a physician assistant?

Physician assistants practice under the supervision of a medical doctor. They are employed in every state and U.S. territory. 

One of the main differences between an MD and a PA is that a PA requires an average of 6 years of schooling, whereas an MD requires a minimum of 9 years. You will need a masters from a physician assistant program and get licensed in your state. Physician assistants require a lot more hands-on medical experience before they are usually accepted as a pre-PA student.

Physician assistants are responsible for many aspects of patient care, including diagnosis, treatment, writing prescriptions, and – depending on the specialty – assisting with surgeries. If you shadow a physician assistant you will likely see even more patient interaction than you would with a medical doctor. 

One of the great benefits to being a physician assistant is the ability to switch between medical specialities much more easily than a medical doctor can. This can be an appealing aspect of pursuing a career as a PA, and another reason to observe a diverse range of medical cases during your shadowing hours.

What are the responsibilities of a medical doctor?

Medical doctors have more responsibility than a physician assistant, as they are independent healthcare professionals. That’s one of the reasons MDs require more schooling. 

Pre-med students must complete an undergraduate degree and then four years of medical school, plus their clinical rotations.

Similar to a physician assistant, medical doctors can be in different specialties which means their responsibilities can vary. They also diagnose, treat, and prescribe medications, including controlled substances. Medical doctors are also able to deliver babies, perform surgeries, and they handle more complicated, risky medical cases. 

There are many factors to consider when trying to decide between physician assistant or a medical doctor. And while the cost and time are important, you first need to know that you’re interested in the work and responsibilities they have.

Shadowing is the best way to learn what a medical career is about. If you can find a good shadowing experience, you will be able to observe and ask questions that can help you make your decision. 

Consider shadowing a doctor in the Dominican Republic with us. You can check out our program dates here