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Physician Assistant vs. Pharmacist: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

A career in the medical field can be both rewarding and challenging. Two common roles in this industry are that of a physician assistant and a pharmacist. Though both positions require extensive education and training, there are several key differences between them.

In this article, we discuss the differences between a physician assistant and a pharmacist, and we provide additional medical professions you may be interested in pursuing.

What is a Physician Assistant?

Physician Assistants are medical professionals who provide direct patient care services under the supervision of a licensed physician. They take medical histories, perform physical exams, order and interpret diagnostic tests, prescribe medications and provide patient education and counseling. Physician Assistants work in all medical settings, including hospitals, clinics, private practices, nursing homes and home health care agencies. They often specialize in a particular area of medicine, such as pediatrics, surgery or mental health.

What is a Pharmacist?

Pharmacists are responsible for filling prescriptions and ensuring that patients receive the correct medication and dosage. They also counsel patients on the proper use of their medication, including side effects and drug interactions. Pharmacists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, retail pharmacies and nursing homes. They may also work for pharmaceutical companies or government agencies. In addition to dispensing medication, pharmacists also keep track of patients’ medical records, perform quality control checks on medications and order new supplies of medications and other pharmacy supplies.

Physician Assistant vs. Pharmacist

Here are the main differences between a physician assistant and a pharmacist.

Job Duties

One of the biggest differences between physician assistants and pharmacists is the type of job duties they have. While physician assistants can perform surgeries and other medical procedures, most of their work involves diagnosing and treating patients. In comparison, pharmacists study and work with medications to find ways to improve health and treat illnesses. Their job duties include advising patients on proper medication use and providing prescription drugs to patients.

Another key difference is that pharmacists cannot prescribe medications to patients without a doctor’s authorization. Physician assistants can authorize certain procedures for patients, but pharmacists are the only healthcare professionals who routinely advise patients on medication usage.

Job Requirements

Physician assistants (PAs) and pharmacists are both health care professionals who must complete undergraduate and graduate-level education before they can enter the workforce. PAs typically need to earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution before completing a PA program, which usually takes about two years. During their training, PAs learn how to examine patients, diagnose illnesses and prescribe medications. They also complete rotations in various medical specialties, such as surgery, pediatrics or family medicine. After graduating from a PA program, PAs must obtain licensure and pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) before they can begin practicing.

Pharmacists must first earn a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree from an accredited pharmacy school. Pharmacy programs typically take four years to complete and include coursework on topics like pharmacology, medicinal chemistry and pharmaceutics. In addition to their academic coursework, students in pharmacy programs also complete clinical rotations, during which they gain hands-on experience working in pharmacies under the supervision of licensed pharmacists. After graduating from pharmacy school, pharmacists must obtain a license from the state in which they plan to practice. To become licensed, pharmacists must pass two exams: the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE).

Work Environment

Both physician assistants and pharmacists work in a variety of environments, including hospitals, clinics, private practices, research facilities and more. They may also work alone or with other medical professionals to provide care for patients.

A pharmacist’s work environment is typically more structured than that of a physician assistant. Pharmacists usually work in pharmacies, where they have access to medications and equipment to help them perform their job duties. A physician assistant can work in many different settings, but they often work in outpatient care centers, emergency rooms, surgical suites and primary care offices.


Both physician assistants and pharmacists need to have excellent communication skills. They will be working with patients on a regular basis and need to be able to explain medical concepts in a way that is easy for patients to understand. They also both need to have strong interpersonal skills as they will be working with other healthcare professionals on a daily basis.

Physician assistants need to have good problem-solving skills as they often are tasked with diagnosing patients’ conditions and developing treatment plans. They also need to be able to keep up with the latest medical research and developments so that they can provide their patients with the best possible care. Pharmacists need to have strong attention to detail as they dispense medications and need to make sure that they are giving their patients the correct dosage. They also need to be able to troubleshoot any problems that may arise with a patient’s medication regimen.


The average salary for a physician assistant is $106,398 per year, while the average salary for a pharmacist is $128,828 per year. Both of these salaries can vary depending on the location of the job, the type of employer and the level of experience the professional has.


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