The differences between a physician and a physician assistant include job function and the education needed for these connected professions. While there are substantial similarities between the professions, there are some notable differences between a physician and a physician assistant.
A person interested in a career in the medical arena needs to fully appreciate the similarities and differences between these two interconnected professions. These professional distinctions are found in preparatory education and in professional practice.
Key Differences Between a Physician and a Physician Assistant
- Specific Job Functions
- Median Salary
A key difference between a physician and a physician’s assistant can be found in education. A physician spends four years obtaining an undergraduate degree from a medical school. This is followed by two more years of instruction to obtain a medical degree. Once a medical degree is earned, an individual must then spend between three to seven years in a residency program in order to qualify for a license to practice medicine or surgery.
A person desiring to become a physician assistant does have a rigorous course of study, but one that is not as long or challenging as that of an individual studying to become a physician. An individual seeking to become a physician assistant first must obtain a 4-year undergraduate degree. Following graduation, an individual must complete an accredited physician assistant program that typically takes 27 months.
Professional autonomy is another aspect of practice in which there is a difference between a physician and a physician assistant. Once licensed, a physician is fully autonomous. On the other hand, a physician assistant must always work under the supervision of a physician.
3. Specific Job Functions
There is a great deal of overlap between the job functions of a physician and a physician assistant. Generally speaking, a physician assistant is able to do many of the tasks undertaken by a physician. The only real exceptions are certain major medical procedures like surgery. A physician assistant can assist during surgeries but cannot perform them.
Examples of job functions that do overlap between a physician and a physician assistant include:
- Examining patients
- Diagnosing illnesses
- Taking patient histories
- Developing treatment plans
- Counseling patients
- Suturing wounds
Another difference between a physician and a physician assistant is the cost of education. The average cost of medical school at a private university is approximately $280,000. The average cost of a public school is about $210,000. Tuition associated with a physician assistant program is about $72,000.
5. Median Salary
There is a significant difference between the salary of a physician and that of a physician assistant. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a physician in the United States is $208,000 and the median salary of a physician assistant is $104,000.
The demand for physician assistants across the United States is significant, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The projected 10-year growth rate in this profession is an astounding 37 percent according to the agency. This contrasts with a 13 percent demand for physicians nationally during the same time period. Despite the differences between a physician and a physician assistant, the similarities between the two professions underscore the value of physician assistants in today’s world.