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What’s the Difference Between a Physician Assistant and a Physician?

Many people have heard of a physician, obviously, but fewer people probably have heard of a physician assistant, and with good reason. We all know that a physician is a doctor, a medical professional who invested a lot of years in medical school in order to be able to diagnose patients and treat their ills. However, just what is a physician assistant? Is it really just a person who helps the doctor out, almost like a sidekick or a nurse, maybe even? To find the answer, read on.

Basically, the core difference between a physician assistant and a physician has to do with the education of each professional. We all know that doctors can go to medical school for a really long time, something like 6 to 10 years! This is where the professional calling of a physician assistant comes into the picture: It is for people who want to do much of the same things that physicians can do, but do not want to sacrifice up to a decade of their lives in medical school. At the end of the day, a physician assistant does not differ all that much from a physician.

Since a physician assistant is still just an “assistant,” he operates under the watchful supervision of a doctor. Basically, a physician assistant and a physician share in the accountability of patient care. Just the same, sometimes, physician assistants are allowed to see a patient without their supervising doctor watching over them. The duties of a physician assistant even closely mirror what you can expect from a doctor. Physician assistants develop and execute treatment plans, diagnose sicknesses, suture patient wounds, help out with surgical operations, perform physical examinations and advise patients on healthcare options. As a bonus, physician assistants are legally permitted to even write prescriptions in 39 states.

Although one is a medical professional when one becomes a physician assistant, the amount of schooling is far less for a physician assistant than a real doctor. In sharp contrast to a real doctor who attends medical school for up to 10 years, a physician assistant just gets a 4-year bachelor’s degree, gets some medical experience and goes into a physician assistant program that is accredited (such programs normally take 25 months). In addition, a physician assistant also has to perform a 1-year, clinical rotation to obtain hands-on medical knowhow. Continuing education classes as well as constant retesting of their medical skills are both obligations of a physician assistant, too. A lot of people who train to become physician assistants are actually already nurses, paramedics and EMTs. Now, compare the above education requirements of a physician assistant with the education requirements of a doctor. A doctor usually completes a 4-year bachelor’s degree, a 2-year medical degree and a residency that can last up to 7 years! Obviously, the education requirements for a doctor are a lot heavier.

These days, about half of all physician assistants operate in the area of primary care, which means fields like family medicine, pediatrics and internal medicine.

As you can see, a physician assistant is a legitimate medical professional who is still inferior to a real doctor, though. A physician assistant works under the supervision of his doctor, and he goes to school for far fewer years to become a physician assistant than a doctor does to become a doctor. However, that aside, at the end of the day, a physician assistant still performs a whole lot of the duties that one usually expects a doctor to do. In a nutshell, a physician assistant comes with some of the perks of being a doctor, but without all of that heavy schooling.

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