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MD vs PA Salary: Which Career is More Lucrative?

There are many differences between a Medical Doctor (MD) and a Physician Assistant (PA), including but not limited to their yearly income.

Although both career paths are similar and involve a thorough understanding of medical science and clinical experience, they differ considerably. A medical doctor is different from a physician assistant in areas including;

  • Salaries
  • Education length and type
  • Scope of practice
  • Clinical rotations
  • Certifications, etc.

However, this article will focus on the differences between the salaries of a medical doctor and a physician assistant.

Before we explore these differences, let me point out who a physician assistant and a medical doctor are so that both careers are not misunderstood. Let’s get right into it.

Who is a Medical Doctor?

A medical doctor, also called a physician, is a health professional who practices medicine and is concerned with maintaining, promoting, or restoring health. Physicians play their roles through the study, diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of disease, injury, and other medical conditions.

Becoming a medical doctor involves completing an eight-year undergraduate and medical school program. After medical school, graduates must complete a residency program before they are allowed to practice.

Medical doctors are licensed by the state in which they practice. To maintain their license, doctors must complete continuing medical education courses annually.

Who is a Physician Assistant?

Medical assistant with doctor

As the name implies, physician assistants work under the supervision of licensed physicians. However, the role of physician assistants is broader than just assisting medical doctors.

Like medical doctors, physician assistants are healthcare professionals licensed to practice medicine. PAs are usually trained to perform many of the same tasks as a medical doctor.

Here’s the catch:

Physician assistants do not train at medical school. Instead, they continue their education through PA programs.

Like physicians, PAs can also specialize in specific fields and must pass certain board-certification exams before being licensed. Although PAs are involved with providing direct patient care, they must work under a medical doctor’s supervision.

PA vs. MD Salaries

It is well-known that medical doctors earn way more than physician assistants. However, knowing how much more could help those choosing a career path.

Happy medical practitioners

Due to the nature of both careers, physicians are expected to earn more than PAs, but several factors also influence these figures. These factors include but are not limited to location and speciality.

Generally, physicians in the United States earn an average annual wage of $200,000, while physician assistants earn an average of $100,000. In essence, physicians earn twice as much as PAs.

To give you a more accurate figure, I have compiled a list of the average salaries of MDs and PAs in all states. Let’s find out what they are.

StateMD SalaryPA Salary
New Hampshire$213,255$76,164
New Jersey$152,443$125,187
New Mexico$260,745$120,791
New York$199,105$132,533
North Carolina$146,985$105,343
North Dakota$237,532$133,605
Rhode Island$104,996$111,318
South Carolina$171,477$111,992
South Dakota$206,868$78,633
West Virginia$215,898$114,431

Benefits of Being a Physician Assistant

When choosing a career, you must consider a wide range of options and narrow down to the one that suits you best. You can make this easier by comparing your options with one another.

As much as physicians make more than physician assistants, the latter still has some benefits. You can check some of these benefits out.

1. Flexibility

One of the benefits physician assistants enjoy over physicians is flexibility. As a PA, you may change between medical specialties throughout your career without additional training. Also, it is easier to relocate between states or countries as a physician assistant than a physician.

2. Healthier Work-Life Balance

This may not be a general opinion, but PAs have a healthier work-life balance than medical doctors. As a physician assistant, you tend to work fewer hours than attending physicians who work for extended periods.

Also, PAs are not required to be on call as often as they usually work on shifts. This way, you won’t need to work on irregular days like physicians. As a result, PAs get more time to spend with their loved ones.

3. Shorter and Cheaper Education

To become a medical doctor, it is a known fact that you must spend more time training and, of course, more money. However, you can become a physician assistant without spending as much time or money. Since you will be spending less time in school, you will be spending less money.

In addition, you can begin to earn as a physician assistant in the process of medical training. This means you don’t have to wait till you get a license before you begin making money as a PA. This is not the same for physicians.

4. Better relationship with patients

In most times, physician assistants work in primary care, thus allowing for long-term relationships with patients.

Although you may find some medical doctors also working in primary care settings, they spend relatively less time with each patient. On the other hand, physician assistants spend more time with them and develop better relationships.

If you’re interested in rich, ongoing patient relationships in a primary practice setting, a career as a physician assistant may be the better option for you.

Benefits of being a Physician

Many students prefer a physician career to a physician assistant, and I nd that. While being a physician assistant offers many benefits, it may not be as enticing as being a medical doctor.

Let’s explore some of the benefits of being a physician.

1. Autonomous Practice after school

As a medical doctor, you get to enjoy autonomous practice after school. It is well-known that physicians undergo more rigorous training than physician assistants, which begins to pay off when practice kicks off.

As a physician, you can head a healthcare team and have the ultimate say in a patient’s treatment. However, PAs will have to report to medical doctors occasionally.

2. Physicians make more money

Just as this article explains, physicians make more money than PAs. Although PAs may perform many of the same daily tasks as a medical doctor, they only earn half their salary.

Wrapping Up

Choosing a career as a medical professional could be quite a tough decision to make. However, you can make the process easy by considering some determinant factors.

If you are particular about patient relationships and improving public health, you may want to consider a career as a physician assistant. Physician assistants more often work in underserved areas, which might be another attractive factor in your decision.

On the other hand, you may want to consider a career as a medical doctor if you are particular about leadership and comfortable with the responsibilities of the career.

As a pre-med student, you may shadow physician assistants and physicians to learn about the ins and outs of both professions. This way, you can make an informed decision about which career to pursue.


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