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Physician Assistant vs. Physician: What Are the Differences?

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

A physician assistant (PA) is a medical professional who works under the supervision of a licensed physician. A physician, on the other hand, is a medical doctor who has completed medical school and has a license to practice medicine. Both PAs and physicians provide patient care, but there are several key differences between the two. In this article, we compare and contrast PAs and physicians, including their education, job duties and salary.

What is a Physician Assistant?

Physician Assistants are healthcare professionals who provide patient care services under the supervision of a licensed physician. They examine patients, order and interpret diagnostic tests, diagnose illnesses and injuries, prescribe medications and provide treatments. Physician Assistants also educate patients on how to prevent and manage illnesses and injuries. They may work in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals, clinics, private practices and nursing homes.

What is a Physician?

Physicians, also called Doctors, are medical professionals who diagnose and treat patients for various health conditions. They examine patients, order and interpret diagnostic tests, prescribe medications and provide other treatments. Physicians may specialize in a particular area of medicine, such as family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine or surgery. They typically work in hospitals, clinics or private practices, and some may also conduct research. Physicians typically complete a four-year undergraduate degree, followed by four years of medical school and a three- to seven-year residency program.

Physician Assistant vs. Physician

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

Job Duties

One of the biggest differences between physician assistants and physicians is the type of job duties they have. Physicians are medical professionals with extensive training who take care of patients at every stage of life. They perform diagnostic tests, develop treatment plans and consult with other medical professionals to determine the best course of action for their patients.

Physician assistants also work in medicine, but they have more limited job duties. A physician assistant’s job duties are determined by their level of training and certification. Typically, a physician assistant performs routine exams and provides basic medical services like vaccinations. They may also assist the physician during surgeries or examinations.

Job Requirements

Physician assistants (PAs) and physicians both need at least a bachelor’s degree to enter their respective fields. PAs typically earn a Bachelor of Science in Physician Assistant Studies or a related field 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 different medical specialties, such as surgery, pediatrics or family medicine.

Physicians must first obtain a bachelor’s degree before attending medical school. Once they have earned their Medical Doctor degree, physicians must participate in a residency program to complete their training, which could take several years. Finally, physicians must obtain licensure from the state they plan to practice and pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination.

Work Environment

Physicians and physician assistants both work in a variety of environments, including hospitals, private practices, urgent care centers and more. However, physicians typically work in settings that require them to have more advanced skills than physician assistants. For example, they may work in emergency rooms or intensive care units where they need to make quick decisions about patient care.

Physician assistants can also work in these types of settings, but their responsibilities are usually less complex because they’re supervised by a physician. They may also work in outpatient clinics, which allow them to provide routine care for patients without the same level of urgency as an inpatient setting.


Both physician assistants and physicians need to have excellent communication skills. They will use these skills when they are interacting with patients, discussing cases with colleagues and presenting research findings. Both groups also need to be able to work well under pressure as they often deal with time-sensitive situations.

Physician assistants benefit from having strong organizational skills. This is because they often work with a large number of patients and need to keep track of each one’s medical history, symptoms and treatment plan. Physicians also need to be organized, but they may have more opportunities to delegate tasks to other members of their team.

Both physician assistants and physicians need to have critical thinking skills. Physician assistants use these skills when they are diagnosing patients and developing treatment plans. Physicians use them when they are researching new treatments, evaluating the effectiveness of existing treatments and making decisions about patient care.


Physician assistants earn an average salary of $106,398 per year, while physicians earn an average salary of $204,276 per year. The average salary for both positions may vary depending on the type of physician or physician assistant you are, the state in which you work and the level of experience you have.


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