Medical School vs. PA School: What’s the Difference?

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Are you considering entering the medical profession but don’t know exactly which medical profession is right for you? If so, then you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’ll be breaking down and talking about the differences and similarities between medical school and PA school, as well as talking about the differences between those two career paths.

Obviously, these are not the only career paths within the medical profession, but these are two of the biggest. They both require intense education, and both carry great responsibility and great opportunities. We hope that this article will give you some insight into which path might be the best path for you and your life.

What is a Physician Assistant?What is a Physician Assistant?

A physician assistant is a licensed medical professional who works under a doctor but can act independently from the doctor. They are often primary care physicians and will send you to see a specialist or doctor if needed, but are able to do all general duties on their own.

The role of being a PA differs greatly depending on how long you’ve been working with your supervising doctor and how long you’ve been a PA in general. PAs work to help keep a clinic running smoothly by seeing a large number of patients every day. PAs typically will see most general patients or any patient with little to no complications. This leaves time for the doctor to work with patients with complications, meaning that the clinic is able to treat a large number of patients in one day.

Being a PA is similar to being a doctor both in the intensity of the job and with the education required. PAs have been through lots of schooling to be where they are. They have done clinical rounds and completed undergraduate education as well as graduate school. Since they are able to function independently within the medical system, the job carries a good amount of intensity with it, as do most medical professions.

What is a Medical Doctor?

What is a Medical Doctor?

A medical doctor is a licensed medical professional who oversees a clinic’s running, sees patients, and performs their specialty. Generally, medical doctors train in a specialty and work primarily in that area. For example, you might have an OB/GYN doctor. That doctor would only work in OB/GYN and would not see patients outside of that specialty.

Generally, medical doctors either work for a hospital or own their own clinic. They tend to have extended workweeks and are oftentimes under immense amounts of stress. All of that is the cost of running their own space, their clinic, and helping out their patients.

Is PA School Harder than Med School?

Is PA School Harder than Med School?

This depends on how you define something as being harder. Medical school is vastly different from PA school, so while one student might think one is more challenging, someone else might think that the other is harder.

PA school is typically two to three years in length, and classes go from 8 am to 5 pm, meaning that your days are packed, especially during your first year. The second and third years of PA school are where you get a mixture of clinical rotations and classroom time, but PA school is much more general than medical school, so you won’t have a full residency.

Medical school is typically four years in length, but a 3-7 year-long residency follows that schooling. The residency length depends on what type of doctor you are trying to be and what program you are working in. Generally, the four years of medical school are a mixture of classroom time and clinical rotations.

Since PA school is much shorter, PA school days are typically a lot longer than the days at the beginning of medical school. The challenge with medical school comes with how long the educational process is. Since medical school and PA school are so different in structure and length, it is hard to determine which one is harder overall.

How is PA School Different from Medical School?

How is PA School Different from Medical School?

PA school and medical school are different but have some significant similarities. Some of the main differences are in the admission, costs, roles, and salary. In this section, we’ll be focusing on the differences between schooling, not the full job, since we’ll discuss that later on in this article.


PA school actually has a lower acceptance rate than med school, on average, but both are incredibly competitive. In order to get into either PA school or medical school, you will need top grades, a handful of prerequisites, and either clinical hours or research hours, meaning that both schools are challenging to get into. Don’t let admission to the schools be the determining factor for you, though, since this is really not the most significant difference between the two schools.

Another big difference between medical school and PA school is the requirements that they are looking for in potential students. PA school tends to have a more extensive list of requirements than medical school does. PA school wants students to already have a large number of clinical hours working with patients. While medical schools tend to look favorably upon students who already have clinical hours, they really are looking more at research experience.

Education Cost

Since PA school is much shorter than a medical school with its residencies, PA school will be cheaper overall. That being said, PA school is known for being incredibly intense since it is so short, so don’t think that because it’s cheaper and quicker, it will be easy. Medical school is a costly endeavor, and a huge part of that is the length of time that you will be in school to become a licensed medical doctor.

On average, PA school costs between $70,000 and $100,000, but if you choose to specialize and attend a residency after you complete PA school, that will increase the cost. By contrast, medical school costs anywhere from $200,000 to over $300,000, depending on the school, location, and expectations. Again, this cost can vary depending on what you end up specializing in.


Overall, PA school is quicker and much more generalized. While medical school is often characterized by residencies and long nights working in fields that you may not end up working in, PA school is much more like a traditional school. There are options for PA school students to do a residency, especially if they are interested in working in a specialized area of medicine, but this is not the norm and happens in the year after they complete PA school.

After you complete the schooling aspect, a PA can expect to see many patients per day and help manage the treatment of most straightforward cases that their practice sees. While a PA will be working under a supervising doctor, many PAs have relative freedom to treat their patients and manage their own days as they see fit.

After completing medical school and residency, doctors typically either work in a hospital or start their own clinic. A doctor usually calls the shots and manages the more challenging cases, so their days are never likely to be boring or dull. They will be expected to manage their own business if they choose to open their own clinic, so that can be an additional challenge if that is the path you choose.


At the end of your education, you will be looking to see how much you will be able to make in order to determine if the amount of schooling required was worth it. On average, PAs make between $80,000 and $100,000 annually, while medical doctors can make anywhere from $100,000 to over $300,000. Both of these are large ranges since there are so many different specialties within both careers, and each specialty has its own general salary. In general, it is fair to say that a medical doctor will make more than a PA, but neither makes an insufficient salary by any means.

Should You be a PA or a Medical Doctor?

Deciding which option is best for you can be challenging. There is no one right answer to this question since both careers are outstanding and well-respected career fields. Both require large amounts of education and will be quite time-consuming. It is essential to understand each option’s pros and cons and pick which one is right for you.

Generally, being a PA will allow you more lateral mobility, meaning that you are able to change from one specialty to another with relative ease throughout your career. Some PAs love having this option as they say that it always gives them something to do if they ever get bored.

Another significant benefit of being a PA is having a set work week and workday. Since PAs don’t own their own clinic and generally are not on-call, a PA is able to work a traditional workweek. This gives a PA the freedom to raise a family, see friends, and plan things in their free time.

One significant benefit of being a medical doctor is the level of independence. Since you are the one calling the shots, you will be reporting only to yourself. Many medical doctors say that this is one of their favorite things about being a doctor.

While PAs have lateral mobility, this can be a challenge for doctors since it is tough for a doctor to change their specialty once they have established themselves. That being said, doctors have great potential for upward mobility, which many doctors really like. This gives them the freedom to continue working on an upward trajectory for their whole career.

Unlike a PA who has a set work week, a medical doctor is likely to be working at odd hours and to be working for 60 hours a week or even more. This means that it is often challenging for medical doctors to find good work and life balance and manage other activities or family obligations. That being said, a medical doctor’s workweek will look vastly different depending on their specialization, so it is possible to have a traditional workweek as a medical doctor.

One major benefit of being a medical doctor is the salary. Medical doctors tend to make 2 to 3 times more annually than a PA does, but they have had to go through significantly more schooling to get to that point.

When you’re choosing if you want to be a PA or a medical doctor, it is important to consider every aspect of the schooling required and the job required after. Since the PA school curriculum is so different from the curriculum for medical school, it is worth it to think critically about which curriculum and educational experience you would prefer.

Don’t choose which path to follow simply because of which the end salary or the number of years of education is needed. It is important to think about which job sounds the most enjoyable to you and which job you think you will enjoy the most in the long-run.

If you go through each career option’s pros and cons and pick the one that fits you best, you are much more likely to enjoy your career. If you pick the career that you think will be easiest or the career that you think will make people the proudest, then you may be missing the career path that is best for you and will make you the happiest.

Wrapping Things Up: Medical School vs. PA school: What’s the Difference?

While medical school can seem long and expensive, the ending career can be gratifying and has the potential to have a fantastic salary. By contrast, PA school tends to be a shorter and more condensed education, with the ending career being much less overwhelming than being a medical doctor. It can be easy to focus on the financial differences between medical school and PA and the financial differences between the career paths. Still, it is crucial to think about which path is the best fit for you.

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Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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