Advantages of being a PA vs a doctor

5 Advantages of Being a Physician Assistant (vs a Doctor)

Most people assume being a physician is a better career option than being a physician assistant.

And while there are some advantages to being a doctor…

There are also several advantages to being a PA over being a doctor.

In this post I’ll share five of the most obvious advantages of being a PA, based on my personal experience.

Let’s get started.

1. Job Versatility

Unlike physicians, as PA’s we have a lot of flexibility about where we can work.

For example, once a doctor completes their residency, they’re pretty much locked into a specific specialty. 

As a PA, not so much.

As PA’s, we have the unique ability to work in just about any medical specialty, and continue switching between specialties throughout our careers.

For example, I’ve worked in both family practice and emergency medicine. Most physicians never do that, because technically they are different residency programs (see point #3). So a doctor would basically have to start over in order to do both.  

If I wanted to, I could go out today and start looking for a job in something like dermatology, or even orthopedics.

I probably won’t, but I could. 🙂

And that’s one of the advantages of being a PA over a doctor.

2. PA School is Shorter than Medical School

This one is pretty obvious:

Medical school lasts four years, but PA school usually lasts somewhere between two and three years.

So basically you’re cutting off a year or two of the time you would spend in school. And I think you can pretty much learn the same stuff that a doctor would learn in medical school (at least the most important parts), just in a slightly shorter amount of time.

On a related note, I’ve heard various physicians say that the fourth year of medical school is often squandered. They’ve described it as “the most expensive vacation of your life”. I know this probably varies a lot, but point taken.  

Overall, I think it’s an advantage to have schooling that only lasts two or three years, versus four.

Here’s the bottom line:

PA school is shorter than medical school, and there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of downside.  

3. PA’s Don’t Have to Do Residency

As you probably know, after a doctor finishes medical school, the next step is to do a “residency”.

I guess the term residency comes from the time when doctors practically lived in the hospital during their training. Hence, residency.

medical residents rounding in the hospital

While they don’t generally live inside the hospital anymore, they do spend a lot of time in the hospital (and perhaps other nearby clinics) during their residency training program.

Three years is kind of the standard duration for residency, but it also varies by specialty.  And sometimes doctors have to do additional years of training, which may be called a “fellowship” or other names.

In contrast, as a PA we don’t do residency.

Instead, we “learn on the job”. So we go get a job somewhere, we start doing it, and we learn the ropes as we go along.

In a sense, that’s the same thing a physician trainee is doing, just that they’re doing it during a residency instead of a regular job. Which means they’re working longer hours with lower pay, during those years.

The good news (for PA’s)?

As a PA, you skip that whole step and can jump right into your job as soon as you graduate (and pass the board exam, get your license, etc).

4. Less “Responsibility” (sometimes)

While physician assistants still have plenty of responsibility, there are some situations where a doctor has more responsibility.

For example, when I work in the emergency room, I see all sorts of patients and take care of a wide variety of different medical problems. And in those situations, I basically do exactly what the doctor would do.

However, it’s generally accepted (at least where I work) that the physicians will see some of the “sickest” patients.

In other words, if somebody’s heart stops, or they have a stroke, or they can barely breathe, usually the physician will handle that case.

Part of the reason is because they’re more practiced in some of the “advanced” procedures–like intubation. And part of it is just the assumption that they might be more experienced with some of those types of cases. 

Whatever the reason, physicians often have a bit more responsibility in the ER.

There are other settings where this is not necessarily true, or only barely true. 

For example, when I worked in family practice, there was very little difference between what I had to do on the job versus the doctors I was working with. Other than perhaps a little paperwork.  

Speaking of which…

5. Less Paperwork

Overall, PA’s have less paperwork to do versus doctors.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a ton of annoying paperwork to do as a physician assistant. It’s a frustrating part of the job. But physicians get to do even more paperwork than PA’s.

For example, there are various forms that require a signature specifically from a doctor, so the doctors get to be the one to fill out or sign those particular forms.

physicians do a lot of annoying paperwork

And at least where I live, doctors have a few additional continuing education requirements, which means they need to spend a little more time signing up for courses, submitting certifications, etc.

Whether you’re a PA or a doctor, you’ll still have plenty of annoying paperwork and other red tape to sort through. But overall, physicians have it a little bit worse.

Final Thoughts: Advantages of Being a PA Over a Doctor

Overall, there are a variety of pros and cons of being a physician assistant, as well as pros and cons of being a doctor. 

But there are several advantages of being a PA over being a doctor. And you could certainly make the argument that being a PA is a better career.

Not everyone would agree, of course. But it’s open for debate.

In this post I shared five of the biggest advantages of being a PA over a doctor. But certainly there are others out there to consider.

Hopefully that was helpful and understanding a little bit more about how the PA career compares to that of a doctor.