Physician Assistant Vs. Medical Doctor

The duties of physician assistants and medical doctors can be the same, but their degree requirements, salaries, and career outlooks are very different.

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Comparing Physician Assistants to Medical Doctors

Physician assistants and medical doctors aim to keep patients healthy, and their duties often overlap. Readers will learn, however, that the degrees required to begin these careers, the money the professionals in each career make, and the career outlooks are divergent. Read about the similarities and differences below.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2016-2026)*
Physician Assistants Master's Degree $101,480 37%
Medical Doctors Doctoral or Professional Degree $208,000 (Physicians and Surgeons) 15% (Physicians and Surgeons)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Physician Assistants vs. Medical Doctors

As medical professionals, physician assistants' responsibilities and autonomy varies by state. They perform many of the same tasks as doctors, but they often work with a physician who may have to look over diagnoses and treatments they prescribed. Medical doctors, however, can work without much supervision from another. Importantly, both may specialize in one area of healthcare.

Physician Assistants

Working with or under the supervision of a doctor or surgeon, physician assistants treat their patients. They can work in hospitals or doctor's offices and specialize in emergency medicine or surgery, as well as family care. Examining patients for routine physicals may be just one responsibility these professionals have. They speak to the patient to learn his or her medical and family histories, as well as symptoms he or she is experiencing. It is important that the physician assistant takes notes during these appointments in order to update the patient's files. To better diagnose an injury or illness, they may order x-rays or blood tests, as well as collect urine for testing. One of their main goals is to educate patients about preventative care and healthy lifestyles.

Job responsibilities of a physician assistant include:

  • Setting broken bones in the hands, arms, or legs and providing a cast or sling to promote healing
  • Removing stitches and assessing the health of the wound
  • Prescribing medications for many conditions, such as blood pressure, diabetes, or asthma
  • Studying recent breakthroughs in treatments and medications

Medical Doctors

On a daily basis, medical doctors can perform minor surgeries, such as gathering tissue for a biopsy, cleaning and stitching cuts, and draining abscesses. Before doing this, they usually explain the steps of the procedure to the patient and identify any risks. They may also care for pregnant women and deliver babies on a regular basis if that's their specialty area. Additionally, these medical professionals may diagnose a patient through tests, such as MRI scans. After getting a patient's test results, a medical doctor interprets any abnormalities. Based on what the patient needs, they may then refer the patient to a specialist who can provide specific treatments. They may also be called upon to offer a second opinion of another doctor's diagnosis.

Job responsibilities of a medical doctor include:

  • Administering vaccines and immunization shots for the flu, hepatitis, and other illnesses
  • Taking patient phone calls to answer questions regarding medications or minor symptoms
  • Attending conferences to learn new patient care techniques
  • Suggesting new protocols for general practices in the hospital

Related Careers

As someone exploring a position as a physician assistant, you could also look into a career as a nurse practitioner, as both provide patient care similar to doctors. However, those curious about a career as a medical doctor could research a career as a surgeon, since both work to save patients' lives.

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