Is a Physician Assistant a Doctor?

When it comes to the question “is a physician assistant a doctor” you’re probably referring to a medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO).

So, is a Physician Assistant a Doctor? The quick and easy answer is no a physician assistant is not a doctor. As the name implies, a physician assistant is an assistant to the doctor. We’re going to highlight more of the differences in this article.

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Before going any further, we do want to clarify something. Many of you if you go to urgent care or your primary care might be seen by a physician assistant.

Just because we use the term “assistant to a physician” doesn’t mean you’re going to get subpar care by seeing one.

Physician assistants are more than capable of handling any medical complications that come up with your care. Alright. Now we’re going to dive a little deeper to show you what some of the differences between a PA and a doctor is.

What is a Physician Assistant?

A physician assistant is a medical professional who practices medicine with direct supervision of a supervising physician.

When we say supervising physician it just means there’s a physician the PA reports to. Depending on the state many times the supervising physician doesn’t even have to be on site.

One of the main things is that the physician needs to be available. But they don’t have to be available in person. It could be through a telephone call. Or some other electronic means if a need arises.

Are Physician Assistants referred to as doctors?

No. Many states restrict what physician assistants can be called. Most patients don’t know the difference. It seems patients assume all medical professionals in scrubs are nurses.

And that all medical professionals in business attire are doctors. Because of the confusion, many times PAs have to continuously correct the patient that they’re not a doctor.

While the fight for independent practice continues and in some ways getting murky between nurse practitioners and physicians. The board of medicine (which is the governing body for physician assistants) considers PAs as an extension of the physician.

Job Duties Between the PA and the MD

All names aside the typical patient will probably have a hard time distinguishing between a medical doctor and a PA. Part of that is because what they can do is very similar.

In general, both a physician and a PA can see patients. They can both diagnose and treat patient illnesses and conditions. They can both prescribe medications and perform procedures.

The distinguishing factor is the medical doctor can work autonomously, and the PA has to work in conjunction with an MD or DO.

What Kind of a Degree is a Physician Assistant?

Physician Assistants can start practicing with a masters in physician assistant studies from an accredited program. It takes about 4 years to get a bachelor’s degree and the prerequisites needed to apply to a PA program.

After which point the person can apply to an accredited program. Most PA programs are about 2 years in length. Once they graduate from PA school, they are awarded a masters in physician assistant studies.

The fun doesn’t end there because they can’t just start practicing right away. For a graduate of a PA program to start practicing as a PA, they need to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE).

Do Doctors Hate Physician Assistant
It would depend on the doctor. But for the most part no. Physician Assistants are an extension of the doctor. A physician could choose not to work with a PA if he or she didn’t want to.

Personalities aside physicians benefit greatly from a PA. If nothing else their productivity is likely to improve which would mean more money for the physician.

Is a Physician Assistant Above a Nurse Practitioner?

The last question I’m going to answer refers to the relationship between a PA and an NP. In most scenarios, a PA and an NP are on the same level.

Many people consider PAs and NPs as “mid-level providers” (though that term is not very popular with many NPs and PAs). Both professions have taken over many of the traditional roles and functions doctors have been doing.


To summarize physician assistants are not doctors. Instead, they are extensions of the physician. They can diagnose and treat patient conditions. They’re also able to prescribe medications.

While there are some differences the primary difference is that physicians can work autonomously and physician assistants must have a supervising physician.

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