PA vs MD Poll: If You’re In PA School, Are You a Medical Student?

Posted By: Paul   |   PA vs MD   |   8 Comments

PA vs. MD: are PA students call themselves medical students?

PA vs. MD: are those in PA school medical students?

PA vs. MD topics always seem to stir peoples’ emotions —

or should I say frappé?

About two weeks ago, I got into an interesting debate with a reader of an article I wrote for the medical blog, (click for the article and comments).  In the article, I referred to myself as a medical student.  I had several reasons for doing this which I won’t share at this point.  Anyway, one of the readers took me to task, saying that I shouldn’t use that title since I was working toward my PA and not my MD.  Some of my classmates and I discussed the issue, and I was surprised at how differently some of us felt.  I thought I would put it out there and see what you think.  Recall my last post, where I argued that PA school may not be right for you if your title is more important to you than what you do at work.

The poll isn’t scientific, and it won’t make policy, but I have to admit I’m curious.  When I have enough data, I’ll report back with the results, and add them to the PA vs MD category.  If you’d like to share your opinion, please do; we’d love to hear what you think!        -Paul

pa vs md poll

What our readers thought


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  2. Agha February 24, 2011 at 7:01 pm - Reply

    That is a tricky question. When someone asks me what my major is and I say Biology they automatically ask me if I’m a Pre-Med and I say “Yes, but I’m not going to medical school. I’m going to a program in medical school for Physician Assistants.” This confuses them even more so I better change my wording (didn’t really realize how this sounds). PA program is part of medical school (I believe) but I don’t think PA students should call themselves medical students. The only reason for that is because PA profession is not yet known by everyone (trust me, when I say I want to be a PA people give me one of the most confused looks ever) so it comes out as a lie to some people. Medical school = physicians and that is how majority of people see it. I hope that some day a conversation will start like this:
    – What are you studying?
    – I’m a medical student.
    – Are you planning on becoming a doctor or a PA (or maybe something else!)
    It’s silly but whatever.
    PS- I’ve been following your blog for quite some time and I love it :] Very informative

  3. Ana February 27, 2011 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    I always say I am a PA student (and if the person doesn’t understand I have to just take some time to explain) but the thing is that I study at DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine. So, it is hard not to say that I study at DCOM but I am not a DO student! We even have osteopathic practice techniques (I think we may be the only program in the country that aggregrates that into the PA program, if I am not wrong. I think saying that I am a medical student, while I am not, is not the way to go.

  4. Pa Online Rates March 5, 2011 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    I’m familiar with Kevin’s blog. He has VERY passionate followers. Of course, I;m not a medical student so I’m not offended either way.

  5. sarah June 29, 2012 at 11:25 am - Reply

    While I agree in *theory* that PA students are indeed studying medicine (what other term do you use for diagnosing and treating illnesses??) I also agree that if I were to hear someone describe him/herself as a PA, I would instantly assume that this person was training to be a doctor. So yes, I do agree that it’s misleading. It would be sort of like if a dentist were to introduce himself as a doctor. (Technically, he is a doctor of dental surgery, but in common language “doctor” is reserved for doctors of medicine). I don’t think this detracts in any way from the point that PA students are studying medicine (just as the dentist is still a doctor), but it is misleading. I sometimes say, “I practice medicine as a physician assistant.” I think this is much more clear and leaves no room for confusion.

  6. Ashlee August 28, 2012 at 1:47 pm - Reply

    To add fuel to your fire. My husband was referred to often as a medical student while going for his doctorate and as a internal medical resident while doing his residency. He’s a vet. He studied medicine in school. Veterinary medicine as opposed to human medicine, but still medicine.

  7. John June 12, 2015 at 8:49 am - Reply

    I am a medical doctor myself and I think that a PA should be considered a medical student because most PA programs are at medical school. Simple as that!

  8. Anonymous December 14, 2016 at 12:05 pm - Reply

    I agree. I think anything related to medicine, such as an athletic training bachelors of science, should be called “medical school.” It’s not fair for people who learn and talk about medically related things in class to not be able to throw out the term, “I’m in medical school” when at class reunions. I mean what would you possibly tell them, that you’re in school to become a physician assistant? That sounds super confusing. Instead we should just make one term to not confuse patients and have all medical professionals (registered nurses, physical therapists, medical assistants, etc) train in “medical schools.”

    I think the most professional thing to do is to let friends/family/patients know what school you are in and explain what that profession is. A huge asset to physician assistants would be for more of the population to know how great PAs are. That’s not going to happen by jumping on the “medical school” boat.

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