Skip to main content

Physician Assistant

Many students interested in medicine and who excel in the sciences often see only some of the many paths available to them: medical/dental/podiatry school. However, pursuing an M.D., D.O., D.P.M. or D.D.S. are not the only options to practice medicine and work with patients. Physician Assistants (PAs) examine patients, diagnose injuries and illnesses, prescribe medicine, and perform a host of other duties that M.D.'s do.

How does a PA differ from an MD/DO?

   Training and Salary: PA vs. MD/DO

Category PA (Master's Degree) MD/DO
Years of Study post-Dartmouth 2 years 4 years
MCAT Required No Yes
Residency Optional, 1-2 years depending on specialty Required, 3-8 years depending on specialty
Base Salary- U.S. National Median 2015 $95,750 $208,880

   Duties Performed: PA vs. MD/DO

Duty PA MD/DO
Complicated or High Risk Cases Assists physician
Performs surgery Assists physician
Delivers babies Varies by state
Prescribes controlled substances Varies by state
Writes prescriptions
Conducts physical exams
Diagnoses injury or illness
Treats illness or injury
Orders and interpret test
Patient Counseling

 Source: The Physician Assistant Life

Pre-Physician Assistant's Requirements

Prerequisites and Entrance Exam: Vary a lot by program, so students should research PA programs early by using the American Academy of Physician's Assistants (AAPA) directory and reviewing PA program websites.

Application: Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA)

Physician Assistant Education

Degree: A PA Master's degree and Physician Assistant Certification (PA-C)

Years of Study: At least 2 years of full-time study.

Students take courses in basic sciences, behavioral sciences and clinical medicine across subjects such as anatomy, pharmacology, microbiology, physiology and more. They then complete a total of more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations. More information can be found the AAPA website.

More Information

Last Updated: 8/11/17