Physicians Assistant vs. Doctor


Physicians Assistant vs. Doctor: What You Should Know About Your Healthcare Providers

At some point in your life, you may have entered your primary doctors’ office or an urgent care clinic for an appointment, and were greeted by a physicians assistant instead of a doctor. At that appointment, you may have begun to analyze the differences between a physicians assistant vs. doctor immediately. What does a physician assistant do, and can you trust them for their medical expertise? What are the differences between positions? Were you handed off to a physicians assistant because your regular doctor was too busy for you?


Unfortunately, many people assume the worst about a physicians assistant and are uneducated when it comes to the differences between physicians assistants vs. doctors. Not having the title of “doctor” can be very distressing for some people, and they insist that they should only see a doctor because they believe that a doctor is more experienced in their field. Since many people cannot answer the question “what does a physician assistant do,” they assume a physicians assistant doesn’t know what they are talking about! While physicians assistants vs. doctors have some very distinct differences, physicians assistants can be just as knowledgable and experienced in their fields as the doctors they are working for. The word “doctor” in the title, does not necessarily make that person a better medical practitioner. It takes the right mix of education, experience, and charisma to be a successful healthcare professional, and both doctors and physicians assistants can both be extremely good at their chosen professions.


With so many different professions within the healthcare system, you will inevitably come across a variety of personnel with different medical titles and experiences. To become an informed patient, you must develop a comprehensive understanding of these different medical professionals and the care and service they will provide you. Answering the question of physician assistant vs. doctor and  is the first step in understanding the distinct role of each member in your healthcare team.

Education Requirements: Physicians Assistant vs. Doctor

While both physicians assistants and doctors need a healthy amount of schooling to prescribe and diagnose, doctors are in school and doing clinical rotations longer than physicians assistants. To become a doctor, you must invest an excessive amount of time, money and training to become proficient within your chosen field. On average, it takes the following amount of time to become a doctor:

  • Four years at an accredited undergraduate program
  • Four years at an accredited medical school
  • Three – seven years of residency training

Conversely, a physician assistant can finish their schooling and training in the quarter of the time that a medical student and resident will. On average, it takes the following amount of time to become a physicians assistant:

  • Four years at an accredited undergraduate program
  • One – Three years of healthcare experience
  • Two years at a certified physician assistant training program

Job Responsibilities: Physicians Assistant vs. Doctor

What does a physician assistant do at the office that a doctor does not? While physician assistants day-to-day duties closely resemble that of doctors, there are some distinct differences between the two professions. A physicians assistant is always under direct supervision by a doctor. The physicians assistant does not have the autonomy to make decisions on their own and must consult the doctor with every patient they see. However, both doctor and physician assistant share in patient care and responsibility. For example, a physicians assistant can be responsible to round on patients, diagnose illnesses, identify and study patients history, develop and carry out treatment plans, counsel patients and assist with any surgeries or procedures. It is easiest to remember their relationship in this way: a physician can work independently, while a physicians assistant always has to work collaboratively with a physician.

While physicians assistants vs. doctors have some very distinct differences, physicians assistants can be just as knowledgeable and experienced in their fields as the doctors they are working for.

Salary Ranges: Physicians Assistant vs. Doctor

According to the Bureau of labor statistics in may of  2018, the median annual salary for physician assistants was $108,610. For that same timeframe, the median yearly wage for physicians and surgeons was $208,000 per year. The wages for physicians and surgeons are among the highest of all occupations, and you can see this with the $100,000 salary disparency between physicians assistants vs. doctors salaries. Based on this data, a doctor makes more money than as a physicians assistant. However, the significant time in school and initial startup money it takes to become a doctor might curtail those who seek to work within this profession. Becoming a physicians assistant takes less time, is less money up front and the starting salary is very favorable. The financial gains of a doctor are only realized after schooling ends and the job begins, and some cases that can take over a decade to happen!

Work-Life Balance: Physicians Assistant vs. Doctor

It can be very challenging for doctors to juggle their personal lives with the demands of their profession. If a doctor is not in a clinical setting with patients, they are often analyzing clients charts of working on paperwork in the office. These professionals are often working long and late hours, and many of them are still required to be on call after hours or on the weekends. A physicians assistant is awarded more freedom and can keep a more regular schedule. Since the report directly to doctors, they can work their shift, report to their attending and leave for the day. A lot of the stress and burden of the more difficult decisions rest upon the shoulders of the attending doctor. The physicians assistant, by definition, has less responsibility within the clinical and business side of the job and usually retains a better work-life balance than the physician they are working for.

Remember To Keep An Open Mind

You will come across a variety of medical practitioners in your time, and it is vital to keep an open mind about who greets you at your next appointment! If you are uneasy about a physicians assistant, remember that they still need to report all of their findings and diagnosis’ to a primary physician, so you mostly have two skilled professionals reviewing your case! While both physicians assistant and doctor have varying education, job duties at the office, pay and work-life balance, they are ultimately working towards the same end goal: to provide their patients with high-quality healthcare successfully.


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