Physician Assistant And Doctor Differences, Comparison Of The Roles They Play

physician assistant and doctor differences

This guide examines the differences between a Medical Doctor (or Physician) and a Physician Assistant.

Physician assistants (PAs) and doctors (medical doctors or physicians) are healthcare professionals.

However, they have different roles, educational paths, and levels of autonomy in patient care.

Now find all the information you need from the details below.


What Are The Core Differences Between A Physician Assistant And A Medical Doctor?

Physician Assistants and Medical Doctors differ in several ways. In other words, a Physician Assistant and a Doctor have differences in many ways.

Thus, check out some of the areas they differ and the specific differences between them.

Here are some of the key differences between physician assistants and doctors:


Educational Path:
  • Doctors: To become a doctor, individuals must complete medical school after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Medical school typically lasts four years and grants a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree.
  • Physician Assistants: PAs, on the other hand, complete a master’s degree program in the area of physician assistant studies, which typically takes two to three years. Before entering a PA program, most students have a bachelor’s degree and some healthcare-related experience.


Scope Of Practice:
  • Doctors: Physicians have broader training and are licensed to diagnose medical conditions, create treatment plans, and perform medical procedures independently. They can work in various specialties, such as internal medicine, pediatrics, surgery, etc.
  • Physician Assistants: PAs usually work under the supervision of physicians or other healthcare professionals. While they can perform many medical tasks, including taking medical histories, conducting physical exams, ordering tests, and prescribing medications, they always collaborate with a supervising physician.


  • Doctors: Once fully licensed, physicians have a high level of autonomy and can make independent medical decisions for their patients. They can work in varying settings, including hospitals, clinics, private practices, etc.
  • Physician Assistants: PAs work as part of a healthcare team, and their scope of practice depends on state laws, their experience, and their supervising Physician’s preferences. They cannot practice independently and must work under a physician’s oversight.


  • Doctors: Physicians can specialize in various medical fields after their general medical education. Specializations may require additional years of residency training.
  • Physician Assistants: While PAs may work in specific medical fields or specialties, their education is more general, and they are not required to undergo residency training.


Training Length:
  • Doctors: The journey to becoming a fully licensed doctor, including medical school and residency, typically takes 11 to 15 years.
  • Physician Assistants: Becoming a licensed PA takes less time, usually 6 to 7 years.


  • Doctors: Physicians are responsible for diagnosing and managing complex medical conditions, creating treatment plans, performing surgeries, and making critical medical decisions.
  • Physician Assistants: PAs collaborate with physicians to provide patient care, assist with medical procedures, educate patients about their conditions, and manage routine healthcare needs.


Important Facts To Note:

It’s essential to note that physician assistants and doctors play crucial roles in the healthcare system.

In this regard, they often work together to provide comprehensive and effective patient care. 

Indeed, their roles complement each other, with physicians taking on more complex cases and supervising the work of physician assistants.


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