Both the physician associate program and the medicine program train aspiring students to practice via the medical model to treat patients and uphold values of their respective professions.
There is often discussion about which profession is best for students, and which offers the least stress both at university and on the job.
So, physician associate Degree vs medicine Degree, which is better?
What is a physician associate
Physician associates are medically trained, generalist healthcare professionals, who support doctors in the diagnosis and management of patients.
Physician associates work in GP surgeries, hospitals, outpatient clinics, and wards, are constantly in contact with patients, and work in multidisciplinary teams the same as doctors.
As a physician associate, some task you will perform include taking medical histories from patients, diagnosing illnesses, using test results to develop management plans, and also performing physical examinations. A more comprehensive list can be found on the NHS website.
What is a medic
A medic, also called a doctor or a physician is responsible for using their knowledge of medicine to treat illnesses and make difference in the lives of patients.
This role is more well known and therefore it won’t be elaborated on further. If you want to find out more about being a doctor such as the various routes and the earning potential, you may explore the role on the NHS website.
Similarities between a physician associate and a doctor
Here are a few similarities between being a physician associate and being a doctor.
Both practice via the medical model
Both medics and physician associates practice via the medical model.
This involves abiding by and following certain established procedures such as symptom recognition, taking medical histories, prescribing and analysing test, and the development of proven management strategies adapted to the patients unique condition.
In this way, most trainee doctors and physician associates perform similar tasks and are able to support each other while on shift.
This is in contrast to nurses who perform via a different model, and as such, physician associates and nurses complement each other rather than mimic each other.
However, in many ways, PAs and doctors mimic each other in their practice and training.
Training length is approximately the same in some cases
The majority of doctors in the U.K. will begin their medical training at university on a 5-year undergraduate medical course.
Similarly, most physician associates begin their training on a three undergraduate biomedical science course, and a two-year master’s, bringing up the total time to 5 years.
Of course, there are students who may take a longer route such as through a graduate entry route to medicine and may spend 7 or more years at university.
Equally, physician associates can be mature students who had jobs before enrolling in the program and may hold multiple degrees so it all varies.
Both trained to handle similar tasks
Doctors and physician associates perform nearly identical duties.
Doctors and physician associates are responsible for taking patient medical histories. A physician associate would likely have to consult with a physician afterwards or relay this information to another medical expert.
Both doctors and PAs perform physical examinations to diagnose illnesses.
Both doctors and PAs analyse test results and develop management plans. In a doctor’s case, they will likely manage their own cases as well as have supervision duties over physician associates.
Both are very competitive
Both medical programs and physician associate courses are incredibly competitive!
The physician associate role is relatively now in the U.K. however the competition levels are nearing that of medicine as thousands of students who were unsuccessful in their applications to medical school will end up applying to become PAs.
Doctors and physician associates train at medical school
It is often a misconception that only doctors train at medical school.
This isn’t the case since both doctors and physician associates learn medical theory at medical school.
Even nurses train at medical school, however, it is technically referred to as nursing school.
Doctors and Physician Associates sometimes sit in on the same theory lectures however the years and speed of teaching are different so this isn’t a regular occurrence.
Physician associates in their first year are equivalent to doctors in their third year roughly, and therefore course content can sometimes be shared between the 2.
Since they train at the same place, some may think that there can be rivalry between doctors and physician associates.
This isn’t the case, however, there is certainly some animosity from doctors directed at physician associates about how they get paid more in the first few years of training.
This is pretty much the extent of the “beef” between doctors and PAs.
Differences between physician associate and doctor
Here are a few differences between being a physician associate and being a doctor.
Physician associates have a higher starting salary
One major difference between a physician associate and a doctor,m is that PAs surprisingly have a higher starting salary.
On average, a junior doctor can expect to earn around £28,000 in their first year out of medical school, whereas a practising physician associate may earn around 32-35k per annum.
I have already written in detail about why there is this disparity in wages between physicians. Associates and doctors which you can read here.
Part of the reason why becoming a physician associate is so appealing to people is that the training is much shorter, and as a result, graduates are able to earn a higher salary quicker.
Doctors have more responsibilities
In an ideal world doctors and physicians, associates would have similar responsibilities.
However, the reality of the situation is that doctors rank higher than physician associates on the medical ladder.
Doctors are often responsible for more complicated medical cases that arise in hospitals.
Doctors are also responsible for the action of physician associates.
This is mainly why there aren’t significantly more physician associate places available.
Because significantly increasing the number of physician associates in the workplace will create a bottleneck in the number of doctors that can supervise them.
Doctors often work more unsociable hours
One of the main draws of the physician associate program is that they usually only work 9-5 shifts like regular workers.
night and weekend shifts are available however because there isn’t necessarily a large shortage in PAs, there is not a huge requirement to work unsociable hours.
Doctors on the other hand can find themselves working days one day, then nights over the weekend to cover shortages, then back to days again!
Doctors are the most important members of the healthcare hierarchy and without them, patient safety would be at risk.
This is why they are so important and constantly need to be available, however, this means they will also constantly be called to cover shifts.
Of course, working as a locum doctor can be massively rewarding financially, however, it all depends on if you like knowing your work schedule ahead of time or not.
There are rules to prevent doctors from working too many unsociable hours, and these are typically considered to be anything outside 7-7 on weekdays.
Even with these rules, there are certain specialities that require 24/7 cover, and on-call shifts so the total must reflect this.
Consider this when choosing what speciality you would like to go into!
Doctors can legally practice independently
Physician associates are practitioners working with a dedicated medical supervisor but are able to work autonomously with appropriate support.
Of course, this is simply to protect patient safety and provide a second opinion in less straightforward cases.
Doctors on the other hand are almost always working autonomously, and even with the input of supervisors, they can still make their own decisions.
This potentially opens doctors to the thuggery risk of litigation which can be terrifying. One mistake could be blamed on no one but yourself.
Hospitals have insurance and lawyers for this very reason however you must consider this when deciding which is best for you!
Physician associates accrue less debt during their training in most cases
Whilst physician associates and doctors spend around the same time at university, a lot of medics end up going the graduate pathway where they leave university with 2 undergraduate degrees.
One is their three-year biomedical science degree, and the other is the graduate entry or undergraduate medical degree.
This can be very time consuming and costly and as such, most medical school graduates end up with enormous student loans to pay off by the end of their studies.
Anything south of £90k is a reasonable estimate for students who choose the medicine path.
Physician associates on the other hand can expect to accrue around £54k for their first degree and £12k for their second, bringing the total to £66k in debt.
Graduate entry medics can accrue 54k in debts for their first degree, and depending on the route, can accrue another 45k as a graduate on the undergraduate program, or another 70k if they choose the four-year graduate entry program.
This is certainly not a huge issue since most students will never pay off their loans and they will be effectively written off at some point.
If however, you are a self-funded student, the physician associate pathway is usually much cheaper.
Which is better?
If you would like additional information or advice, consider contacting us!
While medical degrees offer the conventional pathway into practising medicine, the physician associate program is a new and innovative way to tackle the shortage of medical professionals.
It offers a quicker and cheaper route to working in a healthcare environment with patients, doing exactly what doctors do.
Physician associates also get paid handsomely and work very manageable hours making it a very attractive program to study.
At the moment Medicine is still more competitive to enrol on than the physician associate course, however, there are very limited PA spots available.
If you are interested in becoming a Physician associate, check out our interview pack which will surely put you ahead of the competition!
Either way, you will be in very good company. Both degrees are essentially ideal for anyone wanting to work with patients!
If you would like additional information or advice, consider contacting us!