A doctor and a physician assistant (PA) often collaborate closely on patient care, and it can be difficult to understand the difference between the two professions.
The main difference between a PA and doctor is that a PA generally works under the supervision of a doctor. PAs also have less clinical training, but they can examine and diagnose patients, order tests, write prescriptions, and provide treatment under the direction of the supervising physician.
PAs are often prominent in treating patients at walk-in clinics and urgent care facilities because they’re qualified to diagnose illnesses or injuries.
The education, experience, and credentials may also vary between doctors and PAs. Still, both play an important role in providing exceptional healthcare services.
Doctors’ decisions about treatment typically carry more weight in complicated situations due to their extensive background, whereas PAs are usually called to treat minor matters.
Knowing what type of clinician is appropriate for your visit can make all the difference in getting quality medical care.
Here’s a breakdown of the difference between a PA and a doctor:
What they can do
The answer largely depends on the setting. At urgent care facilities PAs may have more autonomy while at a hospital they may assist doctors with daily demands.
Generally speaking, doctors and PAs are both qualified to diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medications, order tests, and provide preventive care like physicals.
However, doctors have more autonomy when making decisions about diagnoses and treatment plans. That’s why doctors often take on complicated cases requiring more experience, like surgery or complex treatments.
PAs are also usually there to help with day-to-day medical operations like prescription refills or follow-ups after treatment.
Doctors must complete four years of undergraduate and four years of medical school before practicing medicine.
They must then complete three-seven years of residency training, depending on their specialty, before becoming fully licensed physicians.
PAs are required to complete four years of undergraduate education, followed by two years of graduate training at an accredited program, and pass an exam for certification. Residency for PAs may vary but is typically a 12-month training process.
When should you see a doctor vs. a PA?
In most cases, if you require basic care, such as wound cleaning or flu symptoms, then you may be able to see a PA since they can provide basic care.
However, a doctor will likely be your go-to if you’re dealing with something more severe, like chronic disease or complex medical issues. A physician might be better equipped and qualified to handle these healthcare needs.
While doctors and physician assistants can diagnose and treat illness, it’s essential to understand the difference between the two to ensure that you receive the best care possible.
Doctors are generally considered more authoritative than PAs and must take additional steps to become certified. When deciding between seeing a doctor or a PA, it comes down to your health needs—if you have a severe medical issue, it’s best to see a doctor.
For minor injuries or checkups, a PA may be able to provide appropriate medical care within a shorter amount of time.
A patient’s main job is learning how to stay healthy and keeping up with healthcare needs. Simply understanding what distinguishes a PA from a doctor makes you one step closer to achieving your health goals.
Common services provided by urgent care centers include in-person & virtual care for physical examination, ear infections, allergic reactions, and more.