The healthcare industry is growing rapidly, offering plenty of opportunities for students who are considering a career in medicine. For many, the question becomes, Which career in the healthcare industry should I pursue? In this post, we’ll deal specifically with Physician Assistant vs. Physician – the educational requirements, the similarities and differences in scope of practice, and the differences in salary expectations.
Physician Assistant vs. Physician: Education
Both physician assistants and physicians must begin the road to their respective careers by obtaining a four-year undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university. But this is where the similarities end.
Physician Assistant: Education and Training
After receiving a bachelor’s degree, students wishing to become a physician assistant must attend an accredited PA program. These programs take two to three years to complete. The first half of a PA program is made up of didactics (classroom learning) and the second half your time in the program consists of clinical rotations (on-the-job training).
Upon successful completion of a PA program, aspiring physician assistants must take and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam® (PANCE®) and obtain state licensure. The PANCE is a grueling exam that requires diligent preparation with exam-like PANCE practice questions and informative self-assessments like the ones UWorld offers.
Physician: Education and Training
The road to becoming a physician is significantly longer than becoming a physician assistant. After receiving an undergraduate degree, a student wishing to become a doctor must attend an accredited medical school. Medical school takes four years to complete.
After successfully completing medical school, aspiring physicians must then complete anywhere from three to seven years of postgraduate residency training. This residency time frame can stretch even longer for those wishing to practice in a highly specialized area of medicine.
In addition to medical school and residency, students working to become doctors must take and pass all three steps of the United States Medical Licensing Examination® (USMLE®). Step 1 is a one-day test and is usually taken at the end of the second year of medical school. Step 2 is a two-day test that is usually taken in the fourth year of medical school. And Step 3 is also a two-day test that is usually taken after the first year of the postgraduate residency program.
Physician Assistant vs. Physician: Scope of Practice
With the exception of highly specialized areas of medicine, physician assistants and physicians perform much of the same duties.
Requirements vary from state to state, but generally speaking, both physician assistants and physicians examine patients; order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests; develop a treatment plan based on test and examination results; prescribe medications and other treatments; educate patients and their families regarding disease prevention and healthy lifestyle choices – particularly in a primary care setting.
The main difference is the level of independence. Physician assistants are licensed to practice medicine under a physician’s supervision. This does not mean that a physician has to be present for a PA to see a patient, but a PA must practice under an agreement with a physician and within the scope of practice of the supervising physician.
Physician Assistant vs. Physician: Salary and Growth Outlook
Physician assistants and physicians are both well compensated and highly respected career choices; however, there are differences in compensation. Here is the median salaries and growth outlook for both career choices:
Physician Assistant:Salary and Growth Outlook
According to the U.S. News and World Report, the median salary for a physician assistant in 2020 was $115,390 per year. The highest paid 25% of physician assistants averaged $135,220 per year, while the lowest paid 25% of physician assistants averaged $95,730 per year.
The growth outlook for physician assistants is very strong. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 129,400 physician assistant jobs in 2020. This is projected to increase by 40,100 positions by 2030 – a 31% growth rate.
Physician Assistant was ranked #2 in “Best Healthcare Jobs.”
Physician: Salary and Growth Outlook
According to the U.S. News and World Report, the median salary for a physician in 2020 was $208,000 per year with the top five highest-paying states being Maine ($279,700), Montana ($271,560), South Dakota ($269,100), Alaska ($266,200), and Wyoming ($263,540).
The growth outlook for physicians and surgeons is projected to be much lower than that of physician assistants. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 727,000 jobs in 2020. This number is projected to increase by 24,800 jobs in 2030 – a 3% growth rate.
Physician was ranked #4 in “Best Healthcare Jobs.”
Physician Assistant vs. Physician: the Bottom Line
Choosing whether to become a physician assistant or a physician really boils down to your goals as they relate to compensation and work/life balance. PAs spend less time in school and can begin their careers sooner than physicians. Career versatility for physician assistants gives them the option to switch specialties relatively easily, and the growth outlook is much higher than that of other careers. Physicians, on the other hand, spend more years in training and education, but the compensation is higher on average than that of physician assistants. Either career choice is an admirable one that is highly respected in the healthcare community.
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Physician assistant ranks among best jobs … – US news money. (n.d.). Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/physician-assistant
Best health care jobs | best jobs rankings | US news careers. (n.d.). Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/rankings/best-healthcare-jobs
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, December 14). Physician assistants : Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physician-assistants.htm
Physician salary | US news best jobs – US news money. (n.d.). Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/physician/salary
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021, September 8). Physicians and surgeons : Occupational outlook handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physicians-and-surgeons.htm