The Pros and Cons of Becoming a Physician Assistant Versus an MD

Physician assistant or a medical doctor

The country needs you. 

There’s a shortage of medical professionals in the United States, and everyone from the president to hospital administrators has put out the call for smart people to step forward and join the ranks of the caring and dedicated individuals who help keep the country healthy. 

So which one are you going to be–a physician assistant or a medical doctor? 

Both play critical roles promoting health and wellness by performing exams, diagnosing illnesses and prescribing treatments. Both professions are well-respected. Both are in high demand.

But they come with different expectations, requirements and pressures. 

If you are considering answering the call for more healthcare professionals, take a look at this list of pros and cons related to becoming a physician assistant versus a medical doctor:

The Pros

  • Fewer education requirements. Between an undergraduate degree, medical school and a residency, it can take up to 11 years before you become a medical doctor. On the other hand, it typically takes only six to seven years to become a physician assistant. 

    The total amount of training required for physician assistants is roughly 12,400 hours. For medical doctors, it is roughly 34,000 hours. 

  • Student loans. Naturally, the less time you spend in post-secondary courses, the less money you’ll have to pay for tuition. The average medical school graduate has about $180,000 in student loan debt upon graduation, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

    A study conducted by the Physician Assistant Education Association found that 75 percent of physician assistant students expected to take on around $50,000 in student loan debt before graduating. 

    A smaller debt load after graduation can go a long way towards improving your overall quality of life while you are establishing yourself in your new career. 

  • Flexibility. One of the biggest advantages of becoming a physician assistant is the professional flexibility the profession offers. After achieving your license, you can easily shift from one medical specialty to another–from an internist to a pediatrician, for example–without going back for additional training. 

    This level of flexibility helps ensure that you can continue to challenge yourself and grow professionally, without leaving the hospital for which you work. 

  • Teamwork. There is a movement afoot in the healthcare industry towards patient-centered, team-based primary care–and physician assistants are an important part of the team. You’ll work with doctors, nurses, licensed practical nurses and others to ensure that patients receive the best care possible. 
  • Financial rewards. According to a recent article published by Forbes, the average compensation for physician assistants in the United States is $100,000. That’s nearly double what the average American household makes per year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau

The Cons

  • Limits on your functions. Even though many physician assistants have the ability to care for patients outside of the clinic or hospital setting, there are rules that prohibit them from doing so. 
  • Lack of understanding. Even though physician assistants have been caring for patients since the mid-1960s, there is still a lack of understanding among some patients about the role they play in health care. Many physician assistants find that they spend a lot of time educating patients about what they do and how they do it. 
  • Lack of autonomy. If you’re a physician assistant, you will be able to work independently with patients, but your work will be closely supervised by a doctor. You also can’t open your own office–but that just means you’ll always be part of a team.

Have you already succeeded in becoming a physician assistant? Consider what Elliot Health System has to off you. 

Apply to Elliot Health System