A common question that people have is if a physician assistant goes to medical school. The answer to this question is no – physician assistants are not required to have a medical degree. However, it is important for them to have a strong understanding of the human body and the diseases that can affect it. In this article, we will discuss the training that a physician assistant undergoes and how it differs from what a doctor does. We will also talk about the different career opportunities that are available to physician assistants.
What does a physician assistant program look like
A Physician assistant program is a two year educational program that is completed after a person has received their bachelor’s degree. The first year of the program is typically spent in didactic coursework, which is followed by clinical rotations in the second year. Didactic coursework covers topics such as human anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and medical ethics.
The model is similar to medical schools, just shortened and the information isn’t covered multiple times as it is in medical school, it is typically covered once.
During clinical rotations, physician assistants will work in various medical settings such as hospitals, clinics, and doctor’s offices. They will learn how to take patient histories, perform physical examinations, and order and interpret diagnostic tests. Physician assistants also learn how to counsel patients on preventive care and provide guidance on managing chronic diseases.
Essentially you could call it a shortened version of medical school, instead of 4 years it is 2 years, but with a similar structure.
How long does it take to become a physician assistant?
Most PA programs are 24-27 months long, and after completion, the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) must be passed in order to become certified and licensed.
Once a person becomes a licensed physician assistant, they will need to complete continuing medical education (CME) credits every year in order to maintain their license. The number of CME credits required varies from state to state.
Right off the bat here you can see that a physician assistant does not go to medical school, but they have their own version of condensed medical school that they do.
What is didactic year PA school?
This is about 1 year in duration and students spend their time doing things such as:
- Classroom learning
- Laboratory work
This is all very important for students because it helps give them a broad understanding of the human body, diseases, and treatments. It’s also important for students to understand the ethical implications of their future profession.
Didactic time is where the students will learn what types of things physician assistants perform after training, they build up their base medical knowledge, and start to get an idea of what kind of patient care they want to participate in.
This is similar to medical school in that it is time spent in a classroom learning about the human body, diseases it suffers, and how to treat those diseases.
What is clinical year PA school?
Clinicals are rotated throughout the year and will cover things such as:
- Inpatient care
- Outpatient care
- Emergency medicine
- Subspecialty Rotations
- Family Medicine
This is where students learn to apply their knowledge in a real-world setting. They will work with patients of all ages, in various settings, and with different medical conditions. This is where they start to get a feel for what it is like to be a physician assistant.
This is similar to medical school in that students are working with patients and getting real-world experience. However, it is shorter in duration than medical school.
PA students spend about a year in clinical rotations wheras medical students spend 2 years out on clinical rotations.
Once again, the main difference here is that PA students spend 1 year on rotations in PA school, and medical students spend 2 years on rotations in Med school.
Do Physician assistants go to residency?
Residency is an optional thing for PA’s, but it is required for physicians.
There are 1 year programs out there that are called residencies for PA’s, but these are completely optional and are only for those that want to do them.
If one wants to practice medicine as any kind of physician, then they need to go to residency in order to do this.
The shortest residency out there is 3 years, so this is an additional 3 years of supervised training that physicians have to go to that PA’s aren’t required to do.
This means that if you want to be a physician, you need to go to medical school for four years and then residency for three years. However, if you want to be a physician assistant, you only need to go to PA school for two years.
So, does a physician assistant go to medical school? The simple answer is no, but they do go to a shortened version of medical school. The more important point to make though and where almost all the actual learning of medicine takes place is residency. Physician assistants do not have to go to a residency like physicians do.
Difference between PA training and physician training
By this point I am sure you can see the difference is the amount of time spent in each type of training. PA’s go to school for two years and physicians go to school for four years. But, the more important difference is that physicians have to complete a residency program which is an additional three years minimum of supervised training.
So, this is the difference of 5 years of training, or at least 12,000 hours difference.
If you average and say that a medical student and resident average 50 hours a week in the hospital, then this comes out to 12,000+ hours more of training that a physician gets that a PA doesn’t have to.
This is a pretty big difference and one that helps people decide whether they go to medical school or PA school.
Is PA school harder to get into than med school?
They are both hard to get into, but I would say that on average it is slightly harder to get into PA school.
The reason for this is that there are just more people applying to PA school than there are available seats.
For example, in 2017 there were over 137,000 applicants to PA programs and only about 27,000 seats available.
This means that on average, you have a 20% chance of getting into PA school if you apply.
For medical school, the numbers are a little different. In 2017 there were over 52,000 applicants to programs and only about 21,000 seats available.
This means that your chance of getting into medical school is slightly higher at 40%.
Of course, this does not mean that it is easy to get into medical school. It is still extremely competitive and hard to get in.
The main difference is just that more people are applying to PA programs than there are available seats, so your chance of getting in is slightly lower.
Why be a PA and not a doctor?
Many people have their reasons, but some of the main reasons are:
- want to avoid student debt
- don’t want to spend as much time in school
- still want to help people and make a difference
These are just some of the reasons, but there are many more. If you are trying to decide between becoming a physician assistant or a doctor, then sit down and figure out what is most important to you.
Think about the pros and cons of each and make a decision based on that. If you want to become a PA, then don’t let anyone tell you that you are not good enough or smart enough.
You can do it! Just remember that becoming a PA is a big commitment and requires a lot of dedication and hard work. But, it is definitely worth it in the end.
If you can see yourself becoming a physician, and you can’t see yourself doing anything else, then I typically say you should go to medical school.
If you think you would be equally happy as a PA then by all means become a PA and start enjoying your life sooner.
Can a PA do surgery?
PA’s are typically first assist in surgery, but they are not the primary surgeon.
The primary surgeon is the one who does the majority of the work and is in charge of the surgery.
PA’s can do some surgeries independently, but they are usually smaller surgeries such as biopsies or stitching up a laceration.
In order to do larger surgeries, PA’s have to be working with a surgeon.
Do PA’s make good money?
Yes, PA’s do make good money.
In fact, the average salary for a PA is about $112,000 per year.
This does vary depending on experience and location, but overall PA’s make a very good living.
So, if you are looking to make a good salary, then becoming a PA is a great option.
Can a PA write prescriptions?
Yes, a PA can write prescriptions. This is called prescriptive authority and it varies from state to state.
In some states, a PA can write prescriptions independently while in other states they have to be working with a physician.
The best way to find out is to check with your state’s medical board or look up the requirements online.
Typically though, you can expect most PA’s that are just graduating school will have the authority and ability to write prescriptions.
Do PA students get paid during rotations?
No, they do not get paid during rotations. This is because they are still considered students and are not licensed PA’s yet.
Once they graduate and become licensed, they will start getting paid for their work.
Just like all medical professionals that do clinical rotations, PA students have to pay money to be on clinicals. This is part of the education process and as such you pay for it with tuition.
How do PA students make money?
They typically live off of their student loans and focus on studying while in PA school. There are a few PA’s that I have met over the years that have worked in jobs such as EMS part time while in PA school, but they wouldn’t recommend it.
If you are planning on going to PA school, then you should plan on living on student loans while in school and then pay them off when you get done.
So, does a physician assistant go to medical school?
The answer is no, they do not go to medical school. Instead, they complete a PA program which is similar but shorter in duration.
Becoming a PA is a great way to help people and make a good salary without having to spend as much time in school as you would for becoming a doctor.
If you are interested in becoming a PA, then do your research and make sure it is the right decision for you. It is a big commitment but can be very rewarding. I hope this article has helped answer some of your questions. Thanks for reading!