There are several different career paths within the broad field of healthcare and medicine, and some of the job titles can sound similar and even overlap in responsibilities. Physician and physician assistant are two examples of these careers, as it may not be clear to some what exactly each type of medical professional does. Here’s a look at the job responsibilities of each medical professional, along with their typical salaries and the educational requirements to become each.
What is a Physician?
The word “physician” is another name for the more commonly used word “doctor”, and doctors are medical professionals who diagnose and treat diseases and illnesses. Physicians must receive a Bachelor’s degree, complete medical school, and a residency to earn an MD (Doctor of Medicine). Becoming a doctor can take anywhere from 11 to 15 years to achieve. Undergraduate education usually takes four years, medical school takes another four years, and a residency can last anywhere from three to seven years.
Physicians can also specialize in a variety of areas, with some examples including:
Obstetrics and Gynecology
Radiation and Oncology
Physicians are also some of the highest-paid people in the U.S., with the median salary for a physician being around $200,000 per year. Of course, this depends on your specialty and where you practice medicine. Typically surgeons are the highest-paid types of physicians, but again, this varies.
What is a Physician Assistant?
As the name suggests, a physician assistant (PA) works under the supervision of a physician. PAs are also medically trained and can even write prescriptions for patients and perform other tasks independent of a physician. However, PAs don’t have to go to school as long as physicians do— they still have to obtain a Bachelor’s degree, but they only have to complete two to three years of a physician assistant program instead of going to medical school. There are even residency programs available for those completing a PA program, but they’re not required as most PAs acquire adequate skills through on-the-job training.
PAs also make significantly less than physicians, but they’re still very well-paid medical professionals, making (on average) $100,000 per year. They can also specialize in a specific area of medicine as physicians do, which will influence their salaries.
Should You Become a Physician or a PA?
Both are very rewarding career paths, and not just because they pay well. Both of these medical professionals make a positive impact on their patients’ lives. It’s also very likely to become employed as a physician or physician assistant because both career paths are in high demand. All you have to do is conduct a physician or physician assistant job search on physician job search platforms.
If you’re having trouble deciding which career to pursue, you should try to choose the path that more closely aligns with your goals. If you want more independence as a physician, you’ll want to go the physician route, as this career path will also allow you to open your own practice. However, this career path is much more rigorous because you’ll have to complete medical school and a residency. It takes a lot of commitment (as does becoming a PA), so make sure that you’re truly passionate about this career path.
On the other hand, as a PA you’ll get to do many of the same things physicians do, but you won’t have to complete the same amount of schooling. This can be an option if you can’t afford medical school, but still want to work in the medical field. This option also allows you to get into the medical field much quicker, and you can even choose to work towards an MD while you’re a PA.
Other Careers in Medicine
If the idea of medical school simply overwhelms you, there are other medical careers you can pursue that don’t require you to earn an MD. These job titles include nurse anesthetist, nurse practitioner, radiation therapist, and genetic counselor.
Overall, you should pursue your passion when it comes to a career in medicine or any other field. If healthcare, medicine, and helping people get and stay well is something you’re passionate about, take the time to research multiple careers in this field to determine which career path is best for you. Each career in medicine is equally important, especially to your patients who want a medical professional who listens and cares.