Difference between Physician Assistant vs. Other Medical Fields

Do you know the Difference between Physician Assistant versus Other Medical Fields? We break it down for you one by one in this article.

What is the Difference between Physician Assistant and.....

Difference between Physician Assistant vs. nurse practitioner vs md

If a career in medicine interests you, but medical school sounds daunting, how about considering a career as a physician assistant instead? Physician assistants have many of the same responsibilities as doctors – including examination, diagnosis and treatment – but physician assistant training entails only a two-year master’s program at most pa schools. As such, “PA’s” must practice under a doctor’s supervision.

Most PA’s are employed in hospitals, physicians’ offices, and other related health care settings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, physician assistants’ median annual wage in 2012 was $90,930, and job growth between 2012 and 2022 is projected to be 38% (significantly faster than average for all occupations). All states require physician assistants to be licensed.

A key difference between physician assistants and other medical professionals is because of their unique training. They perform more diagnostic and prescriptive tasks than nurses, yet they are not quite medical doctors. People interested in a career in healthcare might be interested in exploring the following careers in addition to that of a physician assistant. These jobs all offer a unique combination: the opportunity to provide human service and give to others along with a salary that ranges from very comfortable to excellent.

Difference between Physician Assistant vs. Doctors and Surgeons

A key difference between physician assitants and M.D.s is that Physicians and surgeons must hold a doctoral degree, which takes at least four years to complete, from an accredited medical school. Following graduation, they must complete a residency which provides hands-on training in their specialization of choice. Residencies last a minimum of three years and can last up to eight, depending upon the resident’s area of focus.

Once physicians and surgeons complete their rigorous training, they may find work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, private offices, or clinics. They examine patients, order and interpret tests, prescribe medication, and diagnose and treat illness. Surgeons also operate on patients.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2012 primary care physicians earned a median annual wage of $220,942, and specialty physicians earned a median annual salary of $396,233. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth for physicians and surgeons to be approximately 18% between 2012 and 20202, which represents faster than average growth. Physicians and surgeons must hold a current license.

OccupationDegree LevelEducational Background2012 Median Annual Salary
Physician AssistantMaster's DegreeAny$90,930
Doctors & SurgeonsMedical DoctoratePre-Med or Biological Sciences<$187,200

Difference between Physician Assistant vs. Nurse Practitioner

Both nurse practitioners and physician assistants have advanced medical training (usually a master’s degree) and are qualified to examine patients and prescribe medications. The difference between Physician Assistant vs. Nurse Practioner lies primarily in the nature of their education and their role in various medical specialties.

Graduate programs for nurse practitioners are geared for registered nurses who want to work with patients in a particular specialty – most likely one in which they already have some experience. As such, the clinical requirements are usually not as extensive or broad-ranging as those for aspiring physician assistants, who are typically required to rotate through several key specialties as well as a few optional ones during their graduate studies. As a result, physician assistants may take on a more substantial role in certain specialties such as surgery – an area where nurse practitioners generally receive less training.

OccupationDegree LevelEducational Background2012 Median Annual Salary
Physician AssistantMaster's DegreeAny$90,930
Nurse PractitionerMaster's DegreeNursing Sciences<$89,960

Difference between Physician Assistant vs. Registered Nurses

Registered nurses must hold one of the following degrees:

  • A BSN in nursing
  • An associate’s degree in nursing
  • A nursing diploma

The BSN in nursing takes an average of four years to complete; earning an associate’s degree usually requires two to three years of full time study, and a nursing diploma typically takes about 3 years to complete.

The BSN degree tends to be the most comprehensive of the three programs and many RNs holding associate’s degrees or nursing diplomas eventually return to school to obtain their BSN. Registered nurses must hold a license.

Registered nurses work in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, physician’s offices, home health care facilities, schools, institutions, and nursing homes. Registered nurses are typically charged with coordinating patient care, providing emotional support to patients and their families, educating patients and the general public on health matters, and providing medical care under the supervision of a physician. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2012 median annual salary for registered nurses was $65,470; job growth between 2012 and 2022 is projected to be 19%, which is faster than average.

OccupationDegree LevelEducational Background2012 Median Annual Salary
Physician AssistantMaster's DegreeAny$90,930
Registered NurseAssociates or Bachelors Degree DegreeNursing Sciences<$65,470

Physician Assistant vs. Physical Therapist

Physical therapists help rehabilitate people who have physical pain and/or impairments in movement. They commonly hold a doctoral degree, or DPT. Less common is the master’s degree, or MPT. The doctoral program takes approximately three years to complete, and the master’s program generally lasts two to three years. Upon graduation, some physical therapists also complete a residency, which can run anywhere from nine months to three years.

Physical therapists generally work in hospitals and other health care facilities such as nursing homes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual salary of a physical therapist in 2012 was $79,860. Job growth between 2012 and 2022 is expected to be 36%, which is much faster than average.

OccupationDegree LevelEducational Background2012 Median Annual Salary
Physician AssistantMaster's DegreeAny$90,930
Physical TherapistDoctorate DegreeAny<$79,860

Physician Assistant vs. Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists help injured, ill, or disabled patients learn to complete activities of daily living. Most occupational therapists hold a master’s degree, which takes two to three years to complete. Some pursue a doctoral degree. Following graduation, occupational therapists must obtain a license in order to practice.

Occupational therapists work in a range of settings. Some operate their own offices, or partner with physical therapists, speech pathologists, and other health care professionals in private offices. Others find employment in hospitals, schools, nursing care facilities or home health services. In 2010 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the median yearly annual salary for occupational therapists was $75,400. Job growth between 2012 and 2022 is projected to be 29%, which is must faster than the average for all occupations.

OccupationDegree LevelEducational Background2012 Median Annual Salary
Physician AssistantMaster's DegreeAny$90,930
Occupational TherapistMaster's DegreeAny<$75,400

Another key differnce between Physicians Assistants and other fields is that PAs are required to have less schooling than doctors and surgeons, they have more responsibilities than nurses, and more expertise in a wider variety of fields than occupational therapists and physical therapists.

Do you understand the difference between Physician Assistant vs. Other Medical Fields better now? Is a career as a physician assistant right for you? If you are interested in having the ability to diagnose and treat patients in a variety of settings, and want to take a more active role in the creation and administration of treatment plans the answer may be YES! If you are interested in applying to PA programs, view our caspa application overview.

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