The physician associate program is quickly gaining popularity in the U.K. with competition levels rivalling that of most medical programs!
People see the physician associate role as their way to contribute to healthcare, practice medicine, and secure a good career, all without the need to become a doctor.
Even though physician associates have fewer responsibilities than fully qualified practising physicians, they often start on much higher salaries than doctors.
Let’s explore why this is the case!
5 Reasons Why Physician Associates Are Paid More Than Doctors!
Here are 5 reasons why physician associates are paid more than doctors.
1. Physician Associates often spend longer at university!
While medical degrees are among some of the longest undergraduate degrees any student can take, physician associates do a combination of degrees can lead to more university time than doctors.
The physician associate will generally study a 3-year biomedical science degree, then do a 2-year physician associate course, and a further 1 year of training on the job.
This brings the total time to 5 years at university which is equivalent to the time that most undergraduate students spend in medical school in the U.K.
However, things like foundation courses, longer duration undergraduate degrees, part time study, and course complications might lengthen the route to becoming a PA.
Often PAs are more experienced and well-rounded practitioners by the time they become fully qualified due to this longer duration of time spent in academia.
Of course the medical route isn’t purely undergraduate, and some doctors could spend up to 7+ years in university just to get their license.
It still however remains that generally physician associates are older, have spent more time at university than doctors, and as such, are viewed as more experienced with a lot to offer!
2. Physician associates are under more pressure during their training
This seems like a controversial example to why PAs are paid more than doctors in their initial years but there is justification.
While most medical students have 5 years to learn the contents of their degree, and essentially master medicine, physician associates only have two!
This puts an enormous stress on students on this course and can cause many individuals to break under the pressure.
It can be argued that the contents of a medical degree and a PA masters cannot be compared, since medical degree are slightly more detailed, and thus the average course difficulty is the same, or even more difficult for a medical degree.
It can also be argued that physician associates have largely already studied biomedical science related degrees which make the course content easier to digest.
These are all fair assumptions however they take away from the difficulties and pressures placed on new physician associate students, and the fact that the workload intensity is definitely more than that of a medical degree, which at-least gradually gets more intense rather than starts off tough.
3. Physician associates make fewer mistakes
Junior doctors are sometimes a liability which is why they are very limited in what they can perform early on in their career.
The same goes for physician associates, however, because these healthcare professionals are usually older and more experienced in patient care, they better understand what procedures they are able to confidently do, and what they aren’t.
PAs are also typically handling less complicated cases anyways so by design they will make less mistakes.
PAs additionally are less autonomous than doctors and must report to a supervising physician, usually a consultant which furthers decreases the number of mistakes that are allowed to be made.
4. Physician associates are not trainees
Physician associates, upon graduating their 2 year masters and completing their trainee year are no longer students or trainee healthcare professionals.
Doctors on the other hand are considered in training for the first few years of them practising medicine.
Depending on if they choose to specialise or not, this could be the standard 2 year duration or much longer.
As such, physician Associates are expected to be full-fledged contributors to healthcare and their wage reflects this.
5. Doctors aren’t well compensated during training
Lastly, and potentially the main reason why PAs make more than doctors is that doctors aren’t paid well in the first place.
In the first few years of a doctor’s career, they are considered to still be in training, and as such, their salary is only a fraction of what they may make as a consultant later on in their careers.
Compared to physician associates who are not in training, doctors make less.
Is this right? Maybe! Physician associates nowadays do almost the same jobs as most junior doctors, with the added benefits of offering patients more stable healthcare in a system where junior and locum doctors constantly rotate departments.
In summary, physician associates make more money than doctors because they are fully qualified healthcare professionals not considered to still be in training.
A doctor’s earning potential at the beginning is also a fraction of what they get in later life.
Eventually, a doctor’s salary grows and surpasses that of a physician associate’s greatly!
That is the main difference; physician associates might start at a comfortable salary however their pay will only increase incrementally depending on experience, and will increase at a much slower rate than doctors experience.
Check out our physician associate interview pack if you are interested in becoming one!
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An Author’s Note
This post is an opinion piece intended to provide potential reasons for salary disparities between PAs and doctors (in the UK), and NOT “why PAs should be paid more than doctors”. It in no way claims to be rooted in empirical evidence, nor should it. This blog is intended to provide alternative narratives to get people thinking and start a conversation that otherwise wouldn’t be had.
Most of the points are addressed in this youtube video which provides a junior doctor’s alternative (but also opinionated) perspective on this very blog post, and should hopefully go towards assuring people still interested in medicine to continue pursuing their medical goals!
Here are some more useful links.
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