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Applying to Med/PA School

MD vs PA: The Most Helpful Online Comparisons: One Pre-Med’s Take

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About Ryan

Ryan Hodge graduated from North Central College in May of 2021 as a biology major and Spanish minor on the pre-medicine track. After his sophomore year, he participated in the Atlantis Summer 2019 shadowing program in Tarragona, Spain.

There’s A Difference?

\Believe it or not, you don’t have to go a full four years of medical school to treat patients! If you or a loved one has received surgery in the past, the surgeon who performed the surgery was most likely an MD i.e., a medical doctor. However, during the follow-up appointment, you may have noticed your surgeon was not the person who was seeing you. It’s because that new person is most likely not your doctor-they’re a PA! PA stands for Physician Associate (the updated position name from its previous label, Physician Assistant). While a PA is a different title than a physician, and the duties of the PA do differ from what a doctor does, there are also several similarities that allow the physician and the PA to work hand in hand. Let’s look at a few websites that offer the most beneficial insight into what makes each position unique.  

 What’s the Difference?

The website BeMo initially offers a detailed analysis of what a physician associate truly is before jumping into the similarities and differences between a PA and a medical doctor. A PA is labeled as a medical support professional who works under the guidance, supervision, and delegation of a physician (MD). They participate directly in patient care but don’t have to spend four years in medical school to do so. They study for two years after earning a bachelor’s degree in PA school, where they learn the skills necessary to treat patients. 

The American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine intricately elaborates the differences between a PA and MD in the categories of education and training, demand, lifestyle, roles and duties, and pros and cons. In summary, the MD route requires more education and training than a PA, a PA is more likely to have a regular schedule and not work weekends, and an MD can perform some surgeries where a PA can not. The website states the role of both a PA and MD involve diagnosing, treating, and caring for patients.

St. George’s University offers insight into deciding which career path to choose between MD and PA. The website states that given the demand for health care professionals in general, the outlook for both the MD and PA paths is positive. There are advantages and disadvantages for each career route, but St. George’s University states the best way to know which career path fits you is to gain exposure. Arranging conversations with MDs and PAs can be helpful, but sometimes it takes shadowing to know which career suits you. 

I’m Stuck: What Better Suits Me?

 Reach out to your family’s MD or PA and ask if there will be an opportunity soon to shadow. There are many videos on YouTube that run through each career and outline the pros and cons. Ask your parents, friends, and others close to you what they think about each path, and what they see could see you eventually working as. Additionally, programs such as International Medical Aid, Global Pre-Meds, and Pre-Health Shadowing offer opportunities to shadow MDs and PAs domestically as well as abroad. During my freshman year of college, I was in limbo choosing the MD or PA path. Atlantis allowed me to shadow physicians of several different specialties in Tarragona, Spain. During my three-week trip, I shadowed orthopedic surgeons, general surgeons, internists, and ER physicians. The Atlantis experience exposed me to cases I want to see in my career eventually and thus solidified the idea that I want to be a physician. 

Sometimes, it is aggravating not knowing which career path to choose, but when you conduct your research and place yourself into new situations, it’s all worth it as you realize what you want to be.


Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.

Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook guidebook — download yours.

Our Alumni Enter Great Medical Schools

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John Daines

  • Atlantis '17
  • Brigham Young University '19
  • Washington U. in St. Louis MD '23
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Zoey Petitt

  • Atlantis '17
  • U. of Arizona '18
  • Duke MD '23
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Yong-hun Kim

  • Atlantis '17
  • Stanford '19
  • Mayo Clinic MD '24
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Megan Branson

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Montana '19
  • U. of Washington MD '24
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Sarah Emerick

  • Atlantis '19
  • Eckerd College '20
  • Indiana U. MD '25
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Snow Nwankwo

  • Atlantis '19
  • Catholic U. of America '21
  • Georgetown U. MD '26
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Tiffany Hu

  • Atlantis '16
  • U. of Maryland '17
  • U. of Michigan MD '22
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Lauren Cox

  • Atlantis '18
  • Louisiana Tech '20
  • U. of Arkansas MD '24
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Kayla Riegler

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Kentucky '20
  • U. of Kentucky MD '24

About Atlantis

Atlantis is the leader in pre-health shadowing and clinical experience, offering short-term programs (1-10 weeks) over academic breaks for U.S. pre-health undergraduates. Medical schools want 3 things: (1)healthcare exposure, (2)GPA/MCAT, and (3)certain competencies. Atlantis gives you a great version of (1), frees you to focus on (2), and cultivates/shows (3) to medical school admissions committees.

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Watch Video: The Atlantis Shadowing Experience and How it Helps In Your Med/PA Admissions Future

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Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.
Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook — download yours.