PA vs Doctor

Physician assistants and doctors share many of the same duties and responsibilities. They both attend several years of school and work directly with patients, treating diseases and prescribing medications. But the two aren’t quite the same. 

If you’re considering a career in the medical field, knowing the differences between a physician vs doctor can help you choose the right career path. Let’s explore what makes each one unique and how to choose which one to pursue. 

PA vs Doctor Educational Requirements

The differences between a PA vs doctor begin long before either start practicing. 

To become a doctor, students are required to complete a minimum of nine years of school and medical training. Generally, you’ll need at least a 3.64 GPA to enter medical school, along with an MCAT score of 508 or greater. 

The coursework is more complex and requirements are stringent. Doctors must complete 3-7 years of residency training, as well as obtain and sustain board certification on the national and state levels.

PA requirements are less intense, but still shouldn’t be taken lightly. PAs face about six years of school, with requirements varying slightly between states and specific schools. PAs are required to gain one year of hands-on medical experience (similar to a doctor’s residency) before operating as a full-fledged PA, as well as complete ongoing education requirements to maintain their credentials. 

With fewer years of school, becoming a physician assistant is becoming a highly desirable option for students who want an advanced career in the medical field.

Job Functions

There’s a lot of overlap in job functions between a doctor vs PA. They both care directly for patients in diagnosing and treating illness and disease. They both review the patient’s health history to make treatment suggestions and prescribe medications. Also, each one administers and carries out treatment plans and counsels patients. 

One of the biggest differences is that doctors are allowed to work autonomously while PAs work under the direct supervision of a doctor. Also, PAs may assist doctors in surgeries but are not allowed to perform them on their own. 

Unlike doctors, physicians assistants do not require additional certifications or intensive training to change specialties, which appeals to many students deciding between the two professions.

Educational Cost

Because it takes several more years of school to become a doctor, it’s no surprise that education is also more expensive. The median cost of education is roughly $207,000 for public schools and about $278,000 for a private medical school. 

PA school isn’t cheap, but is still a fraction of what it costs to become a doctor. The average cost of a 27-month PA program in the US is about $71,000 for residents and nearly $90,000 for non-residents.


The earning capacity for a doctor can easily offset the high price tag of education. Typically, doctors earn between $200,00-$300,000 per year (in other words, a single year of employment can technically pay off med school debt). The actual salary will vary depending on specialty, practice area, bonuses, and profit sharing. Generally, specialists fall on the higher end of the earnings spectrum while PCPs tend to earn less.

The PA salary is significantly less by comparison, but it’s still nothing to frown about. The average PA salary is roughly $92,000, but can easily reach into six figures.

Both doctors and PAs are projected to experience significant job growth in the next ten years. 

Physician Assistant or Doctor: Which Career Path is Right for You?

When choosing between a career as a PA vs doctor, it’s important to consider the total picture. It’s not just about the duties you perform, but also how long it will take you to become eligible to practice, how much it will cost you, and what you can expect to earn over your lifetime. 

It’s not an uncommon debate, nor is the decision an easy one. Consider competing a Pre-Med Internship or Pre-PA Internship that lets you gain deeper experience in the medical field. International Medical Aid offers pre-med internships abroad in a variety of disciplines so you can make a better-informed decision for your future. 

Take time to explore your options and enjoy a fulfilling career you can be proud of.