Debating about PA vs MD?

Many pre-meds ask themselves, “Should I become a PA, or a physician?”  We have complete respect for both fields, and believe that the PA vs MD question is definitely a personal decision.  Knowing this, I interviewed my classmate Sundance; she had the chance to do both.  She explains her decision-making process, as well as how both paths felt.  The results are enlightening…

PA vs MD Student Interview

Sundance had two notes for me to add here:

  1. She misspoke about the hours she kept as a med (MD) student.  It was 8-5, then study till ~midnight, not the 5-5 she mentions in the video (still pretty brutal).
  2. She would be very willing to answer questions about her PA vs MD experience.  Just post them in the comment section at the end of this post, and I’ll have her reply.  If you’d rather ask privately, you can send us a message through the “Contact Us” link at the top of the page.  We’ll be sure she gets it.

The PA vs MD discussion is complicated – we would love to hear your thoughts about it.

  • beekerleen January 31, 2011, 1:16 pm

    You get “weeks” off to study?? Did I take this wrong? That’s definitely not how it works in my program lol, I wish!

    • beekerleen February 1, 2011, 3:11 am

      That is a truly awesome concept – I like that idea. I have no doubt no matter how the program does it, it is difficult, I had just never heard of that and wanted to make sure I understood what she was saying.

    • Brad24cottrell February 2, 2011, 5:34 am

      Paul, I was curious as to which major I should start off as in order to become a PA or MD? Is it a premed/biology that would take me to the path of then deciding on heading toward PA school or med school?

      • Paul February 2, 2011, 10:29 pm

        If your school doesn’t have pre-PA major (and most don’t), I think pre-med or biology are probably good choices. You should check with a few different schools. Some programs like diversity, and take a certain number of people from who have done studies very different from the pre-med curriculum. Probably more important than major is that you have taken the required courses and the quality of your performance overall. I’ll research this and maybe do a piece on it in the future.

        • Brad24cottrell February 3, 2011, 10:52 pm

          Thank you so much. I am soon going to be graduation high school and I have run into a couple problems. I am unsure of what I want to do, still. And when I have a career choice in mind I am usually lost on how to get to that career (trying to pick the right major and everything)

  • Aaron February 1, 2011, 12:58 am

    Thank you Paul for bringing this to us! I’ve been a faithful reader since you started this blog, yet never posted. Sundance, thank you so much for such a clear, introspective, and honest interview. At around 7 minutes the talk about balance really hit home with me. Ocassionally I kick around the idea of med school as a goal, instead of PA school. I usually come back to not wanting to cheat my two children out of their fathers time while they’re young, also I have so many interests and hobbies, medicine being just one of them. I am a career changer at 35 years old, and hope to apply to a few schools this coming cycle, UCD being one of them. Thanks to the both of you for taking the time for this.

    • Paul February 1, 2011, 4:39 am

      Thanks so much. I’ve passed your comment on to Sundance. As you can see, it’s something that really matters to her. And yes, balance is a very common theme in the PA vs. MD deliberation. When I first heard Sundance’s story, all I could think was: wow the world needs to hear this! Let us know if you have suggestions for content – we aim to please. And let us know how your path unfolds, okay? -P

  • RoseG. February 1, 2011, 6:10 am

    What an insightful and from the heart interview.
    Great job, Paul and Sundance!

    • Paul February 1, 2011, 11:44 pm

      Thanks, Rosie. We love you! Your blog is awesome too. Readers: if nutrition and sports/fitness is of interest to you, we highly recommend our commenter, Rose’s blog, Current Nutrition in Sport and Exercise. You can find it at: It takes a village (of bloggers). -P

  • Mercedes214 February 1, 2011, 10:56 pm

    I really appreciate you posting this interview of Sundance and her experiences with MD and PA school. Initially, I had gone to college planning on going to med school and had applied but had trouble getting in. I had a lot of confusion as to what to do and took a break from planning for med school to serve in the military. When I heard about the Army looking for PAs, I got curious and realized that that is what I wanted to do so from there, I learned everything there was to know about PAs. I’m happy to say that through a lot of hard work and remedial courses, (I’m in my 30s), I will be starting PA school this summer. I’m so excited to be joining this profession and hope to make a worthy contribution to it. I eagerly look forward to the posts, they are very insightful. Keep doing a great job, this is definitely the best blog I’ve read. And I want to thank Sundance again for sharing with us her experiences.

    • Paul February 1, 2011, 11:40 pm

      Wow, thanks – we’re so glad to hear you’re finding IPAT worthwhile. And SUPER CONGRATULATIONS TO YOU. It’s a huge job preparing for and getting into PA school. Please let us know how things go. We’d love to get more discussions going, and I think we’re reaching the point where that might happen – we seem to be getting more comments every day. All it takes is a few people who care enough to give their thoughts! -P

    • Sundance Med February 12, 2011, 5:26 am

      Hello Mercedes214,

      My congratulations on your acceptance!

      I am super thrilled for you. For what it is worth, I think PA school and the “30’s” are a nice fit. 🙂

      I have no doubt you will be able to do all that you set out to do as a PA. Keep those sights high! I look forward to practicing with you, where ever you are.


  • Scarlet February 2, 2011, 6:01 am

    This was absolutely awesome!! Thank you so much! I can relate to Sundance when she referred to what the ego craves when it comes to titles. I come from a family of haitian immigrants. I started college in the criminal investigations field but at the same time I had a major interest in the medical field. Ever since I was very young my parents always seen me as the “golden child”, the child to deliver and change the whole family’s dynamic and that is major weight to carry. And due to this expectation, I’m hard on myself and my ego only expects the best from myself.

    I am now 22 and by my passion and prayer I got into a 2 year Surgical technologist program. I was granted an interview with the president and surgeons of the program and was accepted the same day with absolutely no medical background because when I expressed what my passion, reasons and plans were, they signed and accepted me in that very moment. I couldn’t tell you how many tears flowed that day. God is so good. I graduate this year in August with my associates’ (since my other credits couldn’t transfer)and start my rotations in October. This program is extremely intense and I love it.

    But I’ve been looking into the PA position since my first semester. I’ve contacted many schools and their PA’s for advice and I know 1 PA personally but this video gave me the assurance I was seeking and thirsting for. I was planning on visiting Haiti to aid in surgeries and educate them on ways of prophylaxis and in any other way I can as a CST(Certified Surg Tech). But I feel that with experience as a CST and even more education and having the position as a PA, I would be able to travel with Doctors Abroad and have the ability and freedom to do more. And it’ll be gratifying to be able to obtain more relation with my patients.

    Education for me is insatiable. I look forward to learning for as long as I can and now I know that becoming a PA is definitely a sure thing. If later down the line I want to be an MD, then so be it. But this video taught me to not focus so much on my ego and wanting to obtain such a high status because of what society praises but to focus on what works for and satisfies me: which is being capable and have the power, so to speak, to have more “lee-way” in helping people as much as I can as well as changing my family’s dynamics.

    I was the first and only high school graduate in my immediate family and I plan on being the first college grad. My parents works so hard for so little and deserve to retire and be happy and proud of what they’ve created, as soon as I can take care of them. And my younger brother looks up to me so much. My family is counting on me. I can’t thank the both of you enough for this video. Thank you so much.

    • Paul February 2, 2011, 10:35 pm

      Yes. The attachment to the title of Dr. is big for a lot of us. But Sundance did the smart thing and actually talked with doctors and PAs. Their answers were a little surprising. Maybe the title is less important to you once you have it, but I have to guess it works something like this: most people look up to doctors and put them on a pedestal, then when you become one, you realize how silly that is. Doctors are just as human as the rest of us. And if that’s so, being a PA isn’t any worse than being a doctor – it’s just different.

    • Sundance Med February 12, 2011, 5:34 am

      Hello Scarlet,

      What a beautiful story! You are an inspiration.

      May I just say that your passion for global health and medical service work are close to my heart. I had the privileged of doing some work in Kenya as a medical student, working with HIV positive women and children, and that was it! I came home with new found clarity, “this is why I am in medical school”.

      The ability to do global health has remained one of my criteria in making the swap to the PA profession. It is my plan to find a job that, as part of my hiring contract, allows me a couple months a year to practice medicine in other parts of the world.

      I am excited to think of all the wonderful things you are going to do with your life. More power to you.

      Thank you for your story.


      • Kelsey May 9, 2013, 11:18 pm

        Hi Sundance and the rest of the forum,
        Thanks for the interview!
        I am also trying to decide between MD and PA. I understand the obvious emphasis on patient care, but I personally am also interested in bigger picture situations, such as increasing women’s access to healthcare and family planning, on both domestic (U.S.) and international levels. Is there a difference in a MD or PA’s ability to:
        1. work globally (I noticed you mentioned that was important to you, however, I have generally found that PAs are not recognized abroad)
        2. become involved with social organizations, non-profits or politics? (Would a PA be recognized with equal authority as a doctor?)
        Or do neither generally venture outside the scope of patient care, in which case, what would you recommend then?
        Thank you for your insight!

        • Paul May 14, 2013, 10:38 pm

          MDs can work abroad more easily. But it’s still a hassle for them in many countries. Thankfully, US medical training is well respected abroad and most nations will allow it. PAs are gaining steam overseas (australia, for example), but as you remarked, they aren’t a common thing abroad.

          Social organizations, nonprofits, and politics: as a PA you can definitely do these things. Your authority will never be equal to an MD – your mandate is that you work under an MD! But people tend to trust those who are skilled and experienced. If you become a PA and you are able to impress people, to some extent they will look beyond your degree. Keep in mind that doctors have a hard time “getting to” the three things you mentioned here – they get out of med school heavily in debt and have little time to donate to causes unless they are okay being poor for a long time for the cause.

          Both work outside of patient care. If you are sure you will be working overseas, I would say go to med school (and expect to probably be in debt for a long time, and doing what you love).

  • Aquarian_wit February 3, 2011, 2:53 am

    What a wonderful video! I really enjoyed this and think that Sundance really speaks the same story for all of us in our passion for patient care! 🙂 Thank you Paul for doing this!

    • Paul February 3, 2011, 5:38 am

      It really matters to her, and it seems clear how lost that message can get in medicine. Follow your passion, you know? Thanks for the shout out. -P

  • undergrad February 3, 2011, 6:58 am

    Wow this was truly inspiring and eye-opening for me. I’ve been struggling for a long time (about 2 1/2 years) as to what direction I want to go with in my life: PA or med school. People say I still have time but I still feel like I’m not getting any closer to making a decision. This has definitely helped though with my considerations. Can I ask if there are any other comparisons of the PA school schedule vs. that of med school? Is Sundance feeling she is slammed more frequently with tests in PA school or that the work is much more rushed? I feel people say, because PA school is like med school condensed into two years, the pace and lifestyle is hectic so it may be better or more worthwhile to have it spread out over four years instead? Also, are there PA’s who feel like their education and preparation to work in the medical field may be not as thorough as MD’s, especially those who may not have necessarily worked years as a EMT/CNA already and racked up all those HCE hours?

    • Paul February 3, 2011, 7:24 am

      Thanks for your praise, and I’ll put your question to Sundance. Though I’ve never been a MD med student myself, I can speak to this a little — I my dad was a doc, my sister is a med student, and I’ve talked with a bunch of them here at Davis. Their curriculum is more detailed, and longer than PA school’s. But they have similar gripes to PA students: they thought there would be more lecture and instruction, and instead find that they teach themselves much or most of it from texts; they wish they had time to read much more of the material than they actually do; they often feel they retain very little while in school, and instead try to hold on to the concepts more than than the details, like a bear waiting to seize a fish that jumps from a rushing river. If I had to guess, I’d say that despite having twice as long for school, they feel even more rushed and inundated with material than PA students. But Sundance shared with me that as a PA she feels that although she is learning less about histology and genetics and such, she has actually LEARNED more about concepts that matter to her most (physical examination skills, patient care, etc.). So it seems to be a trade-off. But we’ll wait and see what she says – I’ll invite her back too! -P

    • Sundance Med February 12, 2011, 5:19 am

      Hello Undergrad,

      Sundance here. Sorry it has taken so long for me to get to your question, it is such a good one!! And, aw man, do I wish I had a one-liner for you.

      If I understand it right, your question is a broad one, but there is one thing I think I am hearing you ask, and that is, which would be a harder path, considering you might not have medicine in your back ground. I will say up front that this is a very personal decision. And for me, it had a lot to do with not only WHO I am, but WHERE i am in my life.

      When I was posturing for medical school application, I was young (ish), slightly crazy, down for the all-nighters, single/dating, and with not much else in the way of prospects. I knew I was shooting high, but I had a “what the heck” attitude about it. Because my path was so long to get into med school, by my second year I found myself married (happily), tired (honestly), and then — she-BANG — pregnant! In second year of medical school, the hump is still ahead of you: third year is classically “hell”, where you are up in the hospital at 4am, and done perhaps sometime, or not. And then internship year — the first year of your residency (which all doctors that see patients must do), you are at the lower levels of hell, taking call, running all the patients, and not getting paid much. During these periods especially, it is quite impossible to have any energy for lifel outside of training. Shall we say that it was all quite daunting.

      So that is the “life” part of the decision. Then there is the “personality” part, which is best fit for your personality.

      If you like to know every fact, down to its core; the what, why, how much, etc. the non-abridged version, and you don’t mind being held to that standard in all things, that would point you toward med school (in my opinion). If you don’t mind being thrown in to the mix, and can carry the “I don’t know but I will try my best” card, with a good attitude in stressful situations, knowing your learning curve will be steep, then PA might be best.

      Factors in the 2 years vs 4+3< years too. I know it is hard to see into our own future, but, for what it is worth, I believe that if I had done med school in my 20's, like normal people do, I would have finished and would be happy to be a doctor. For me, now, PA is the best road.

      I can't wait to be with patients, and now I don't have to


      Hope this helps!

  • Ianswift43 February 20, 2011, 5:24 am

    Hello Sundance: Just viewed your PA interview w. Paul…..most excellent! I was particularily taken with your ability to envision what medical path you now chose to follow, and to articulate your position so clearly and wisely. Not an easy choice to make when faced with these great forks in the road! But you seem to have solved the dilemma, the uncertainty you were presented with, and in doing so, found the solution which allows you to be that trained caregiver within the medical arena, as well as be that wife and a mother which carries great significance too. And keep your dreams and aspirations alive and thriving!
    And your video stands as a testament as well for other students of medicine who can now find inspiration in your own personal outlook, and thereby trust themselves to making those choices that are indeed the ones that shall be right for them! As you have done for yourself! Good show! And then stir in some of that Sunny Sundance persona and a winning smile, a touch of humor, to boot, and……..voila! An engaging and stimulating presentation!
    Cheers, Ian (Swift)

  • X_PA_to_MD March 25, 2011, 1:35 am

    I am actually coming at it from a different angle. I am a currently practicing PA making good money (six figures) who graduated in my 20’s, now in my 30’s with a wife and kids. Currently, I am hitting the proverbial wall. I have worked in gen surg, UC/FP, and now in observational medicine (cardiology). It is a personal decision and if you think there is more balance, it really depends on the field. PAs on EM work as much as the docs. PAs in surgical fields work as much as the docs. Unless you are in primary care, there generally is not a great life balance effect for PA vs. MD. But, that is just how I have seen it.

    • Paul March 26, 2011, 5:37 pm

      What can I say – this path doesn’t fit everybody. What do you enjoy doing most? Wall or not, before you go to med school, you should be sure that that thing that makes you get up in the morning is there as a physician. For some it is, for some it’s not. You also have to figure in whether that one or more positive things you get out of it are outweighed by the downsides of being a doc. You’re further along the path than I am, but if I were in your shoes, I might take Sundance’s approach and do some interviewing of doctors. Ask them about what they love and hate about their work. It’s a little campy, but have you seen City Slickers, with Billy Crystal? In the end, he decided to recommit himself to what he was already doing, but to do it better and appreciate the things about it that he hadn’t previously. No judgment on you – I’m sure you’re a great PA. But if the field isn’t thrilling you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that MD will. Just my two cents. Keep us posted. We’d love to hear what you turn up. Drop us a line on the new forum, maybe! -P

  • Barry Wong April 4, 2011, 11:00 pm

    THANK YOU Paul and Sundance for creating this video! Your interview put into words the thoughts that are racing through my mind. I’m so glad I found this site and I’m sure it will help me make my decision of whether to become a physician or PA.

    I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and recently graduated with an undergraduate degree. Like Sundance, I was so ready to devote myself to medicine and become a physician. Promoting and maintaining the health of patients was SO honorable and desirable a goal to me. Things like hobbies and time spent with friends/family I was willing to give up.

    As I wait for my province’s medical school to tell me if I’m accepted to their program or not, I find myself thinking if I made the right choice. This totally shocks me! I never have these kind of thoughts! After getting closer to my girlfriend though, I’m starting to realize there are things other than being a physician I want. It makes me feel less selfish to hear that others have these thoughts as well.

    Your video has made me realize that being a PA is another way to benefit patients as well. Perhaps it would allow me to achieve the balance I so desire (and my girlfriend already has lol ). Please keep us posted with your adventures as PA students, and eventually wonderful PAs!

    Also, maybe it’s early to ask you, but what the relationship is like between nurses and physician assistants? Do they get along? Is there any animosity between them because of differences in pay, or responsibility?

    Thanks again,

  • ChRcc April 10, 2011, 10:42 am

    Don’t know if the question thread is still available, but what did Sundance do for her HCE?

    • Paul April 15, 2011, 8:29 pm

      I passed your question on to Sundance, since I didn’t know the answer. Good question!

  • Jessica June 25, 2011, 10:13 am

    Hi Sundance and Paul,
    First of all I wanted to say thank you for posting this video! It is really interesting to hear another perspective from a non-traditional student in the medical field. I have a few questions regarding the choice between PA and other medical careers and also about becoming a PA in general. I love and have always loved science. I have debated the idea of becoming a vet or md my entire life. I knew I wanted to do one or the other, but I couldn’t decide between working with humans or animals. When I was accepted to vet school I decided that I would take my position there and that would be it, no longer giving thought to med school. I found out I was pregnant the last semester of my undergrad, 4 months before entering vet school. I was told that I would have to defer vet school for a year and the school considered not allowing me to return. Months I waited to hear from the vet school. While waiting for the vet schools decision, I really began to consider the debt incurred by vet students compared to free-time/salary. Everything in my life changed the second I knew I was pregnant. Like Sundance, my career is very important to me, but so is time outside of work. I am having a hard time letting the title of “doctor” go after putting years of effort trying to get into vet school. I started looking into PA school as a healthier/realistic option (for me). I am fearful I will end up finishing PA school and then wishing I would have made vet school work. How did you deal with letting go of med school?

    In general a few questions about getting into PA school. I have a degree in microbiology from a decent university. My grades tanked my last year because I had mono my first semester and extreme morning sickness my second semester. All of my pre-reqs for PA school that I did complete within my degree I have A’s in. When I began getting into more advanced classes–virology, immunology, Eukaryotic cell biology etc. I had straight C’s. I know this isn’t great and I am sure under different circumstances I would have gotten an A. I also did subpar on my GRE, 1170. I have no medical experience and understand that I will probably need to become a phlebotomist etc. (My husband is a paramedic and is trying to push me away from EMS.) To even get into PA school I will need to take about a year or so of classes (physio, anatomy, med term etc). I am sure I will be able to get A’s in those classes. Do I even stand a chance of getting into PA school? If I decide on PA school, where should I go from here? How can I make myself a better candidate? I worked in a lab for 2 years so I have research experience (not published, unfortunately), but I was told that that really is not significant to PA schools.

    Also, is there a difference between PA schools that offer a MS or PhD in Physicians Assistant studies? Should I try for schools that offer the PhD? Or does it not really matter? People have been pushing me towards the NP route also. What are your thoughts on NP vs. PA? (from forums I have read, this seems to be a touchy subject 🙂 )

    Thank you for your help! I greatly appreciate any advice! I apologize for the length and detail of the comment. I am a bit verbose at times. 🙂


    • Paul June 29, 2011, 10:28 am

      Jessica – you bring up a lot of great questions about physician assistant education and the PA school application process. I’ll do my best to answer them. Have you checked our our forum? You’ll find even more thoughts in our young but growing forum community. You can find the forum at Joining is free, and that way everyone can lear from your great inquiries.

      As to your questions, here are my thoughts:
      1) I’ll have to ask Sundance about how it was letting go of med school. Sundance was lucky enough to experience both PA school and MD school, but most of us have to make peace with the fact when we choose one thing over another, we’ll never experience the one we didn’t choose. That’s not so bad, but some of us have a voice in our head that says, “I wonder if I would have been happier if I had chosen PA?” or “I wonder if I would have been happier if I had chosen MD?” You can drive yourself crazy with these thoughts. As a former therapist and teacher of psychology, I’ll tell you that there is much research evidence to suggest that the brain tends to adjust to like the path we choose, no matter what we choose, but until it makes that adjustment, doubts can plague us.
      2) Do you stand a chance of getting into PA school? Of course you do. Want to hear the best advice I ever got about careers? Here goes: apply to any job or school you want, regardless of how qualified you think you are (even if you don’t meet the employer’s minimum qualifications – really!) Get out of the admissions committee member’s heads for a sec and let themdecide. Quitting the race on the way to the finish line is the best way to assure that you don’t get a medal. If that sounds like pop psychology to you, so be it – it’s the truth.
      3) Where do you go from here? I say work on the parts of your PA school application that you have some control over. You can’t change the grades you have any more than you can change your eye color. Find great letters of recommnedation, construct a really impressive and well-considered personal statement (we have several articles on this). I think you should thoughtfully and directly address your grade deficiencies in your essay. Then get as much in-the-trenches medical experience with patients as you can find. Sound too broad? Then call and get information packets from the physician assistant training programs that interest you and get very clear on what types of applicants they are looking for, since each program has its own ideal candidate profile. Call them and ask what you can do to improve your application. Often they’ll tell you just what you need to do – but only if you ask. My program offered a “Webinar” where they addressed just what strong candidates look like, and then I went and followed their shopping list . It took time, but it really wasn’t rocket science.
      4) MS vs PhD: there are few PhD programs in physician assistant science. The interest in these programs may grow, they don’t have a big draw now because of A) cost, B) time to degree, C) most people who become PAs do so because the want to get practicing, and doing more schooling plus a dissertation only gets you further from that. You can sort of see this in the anti-trend of advanced training for PAs: there aren’t many who pursue advanced specialty training (residencies, fellowships, etc.) as PAs because most PAs want to practice, and because the beauty and strength of the physician assistant role is its versatility and ability to move from setting to setting. “Super-specializing” kind of defeats this purpose.

      If you are wondering about certificate vs. Masters, I say either will get you practicing, but get a masters if you have a choice. Someday in the near future, PA will (in all schools) be a gradate degree, and a bachelor’s degree will be a functional minimum. At that poipnt, practicing PAs who have only the certificate will be “grandfathered” in, so don’t worry about being closed out of the profession by getting a certificate in PA science. It doesnt matter much at all in terms of jobs and what you can do. In terms of being able to teach one day or impress people with letters after your name, an MS can be a boost. But again, focus on what you want. Is it to be a practicing physician assistant? If so, then this question is not so important.
      5) NP vs PA: if you don’t have a bachelor’s or masters in nursing (BSN or MSN) now, you will need to get one in order to become an NP. My take: unless you are already in nursing, do yourself a favor and get a PA; it’s a much more direct route to becoming a mid-level provider (2 to 3 years more direct!) Which is better? We’ve talked about this in other posts too, but the short answer is that in most states they are about the same, or equivalent. In terms of what you can do with them, again, there really isn’t much difference (some hospitals prefer one or the other, but there isn’t much rhyme or reason to it). We have 98% of our classes with NP students, and they get the very same curriculum as the PA students, substituting two or three units each quarter that relate directly to nursing. Most of my NP friends feel that these nursing side classes are just hoops to jump through, and don’t give them any particular leg-up over their PA classmates. All of them are simultaneously working towars both NP and PA, since our program allows that, and they figure “Why not have both?” Six of one, 1/2 dozen of the other. The NP vs PA debate is really more about philosophy than about ability or job duties. But the debate about this will rage on.

      Great questions, Jessica, and thank you for getting involved in our growing community. I encourage you to check out the forum, and to register with Inside PA Training via email to be alerted to knew posts. To register, just go to the home page and complete the SUBSCRIBE section at the right, just below the red menu buttons. SUCCESS.

  • Jamie June 27, 2011, 4:09 pm

    Thank you so much for this interview, it was so helpful and interesting. I’m going to be a sophomore in college and currently battling with medical school vs. PA school. I have shadowed a lot of PAs in various fields and really could see myself being a PA. However, I have had SO many people tell me, “if you’re young, you should go to med school. There is no question about it”. I love the idea of practicing medicine and helping patients, but enjoying my 20’s as well as having a happy marriage and children is also very important to me. Would you say that the PA profession is female friendly (more so than a physician career)? Is it true that PAs actually have more flexible hours, allowing perhaps for more personal and family time?

    Thanks a lot for the interview and any advice is appreciated so much!

    • Paul June 29, 2011, 10:52 am


      Most people say that you’ll have more family time as a PA, and I think that’s pretty straightforward. Is being a PA friendlier to women than being an MD? Probably. But I think being a PA is friendlier to everyone. Most people think becoming and being a physician is demanding. But until they do it, most really don’t realize the magnitude of the demanding that is the rule for doctors. If enjoying your 20’s as you mention is important to you, then medical school is probably not going to give you that. Many more dollars, 4-8 more years of training until you have a significant income, many sleepless nights, and true stress and strain on relationships. For some this is worth it. I have spoken with many doctors who have said, in essence, “The only reason I did it was that I didn’t realize what I was into until I was in the middle of it, and it was two late to change paths smoothly.” I have heard several doctors flat out say, “Don’t become a doctor.” or “If I could be a PA, I would.” Of course, there are those who say unequivocally that they vastly prefer being a doctor. But remember, almost no one gets to see what they’re missing, whether they become MDs, PAs, NPs, ODs, etc. The other point to remember: though becoming a doctor is easier when you’re younger, single, without kids, etc, does that mean that one should become one? Just because you’re younger? I mean, really? Not a great reason, as far as I’m concerned. But if you don’t think you’ll be satisfied with anything less than and MD degree, you really shouldn’t become a PA. Being a PA is demanding, and I would hate to think you went through it all and ended up feeling that you didn’t do what you needed to do.

      PAs can be on call (depending on the specialty and setting), but are less likely to be than doctors. PAs have a more 9-5 job than MDs, but that usually still translates to 8-6, or 9-7, and very busy during that time. Easy it isn’t, but it is more in the realm of normal and predictable than being a physician.

      • Jamie June 30, 2011, 3:12 pm

        Thank you for your reply! I am really considering becoming a PA, however I don’t understand how students coming straight out of undergraduate can compete with the older, second career applicants who have a ridiculous amount of health care experience. I’m currently an EMT-b and plan on working as one to gain HCE before applying to PA school when I’m in a senior in college. However, do you think it is more beneficial to take a few years off prior to applying to PA school? Do they discriminate against younger applicants because PA is typically a ‘second career’ profession?

  • Paul June 30, 2011, 4:54 pm

    I think it depends on the PA school. Some, like Stanford, seem to have a preference for younger students. UC Davis is a mix. I think if you have the HCE, age probably isn’t the big issue, but you’re right – it’s hard to accumulate enough HCE if you haven’t been out of school for long. I don’t think there’s any harm in applying, but you may have more luck in a couple years. Why not throw your hat in the ring and see what happens? There is more to an application than HCE…

  • lydia July 11, 2011, 2:19 pm

    GREAT article and right on time..although i must say that i am VERY passionate about science and still chose to purse P.A but Sundance hit the nail on the head. Blessings 🙂

  • CaptainRom September 2, 2011, 6:46 pm

    Sundance and Paul,

    Thanks for putting this up. I, too, am a medical student currently thinking of dropping out and going the PA route. I was wondering if Sundance would be able to answer some questions I have regarding the process of applying.


    • Paul September 3, 2011, 2:31 pm

      Sure. Just put them in a comment and I’ll have her look at them. Glad you found the video helpful.

  • Emily September 6, 2011, 12:22 pm

    Thanks for the great video! Have been going back and forth between appying to med school and PA school (did all the prerequisites for both programs) but have just decided to do PA. I totally agree with the ego factor–the biggest hurdle was wanting that MD at the end of my name and wanting to prove to others that I’m smart enough and passionate enough to be a doctor but PA seems like a way better fit for me and allows for a more balanced lifestyle. Thanks for reaffirming my feelings!

  • Jared September 23, 2011, 2:59 pm

    I just stumbled upon this “blog” today! I’d like to say i’ve bookmarked it and spending an hour just looking at things has been extremely helpful in reconfirming my passion to try to be a PA!! I recently graduated, have a solid GRE/ GPA and currently am taking prerequisites and looking for HCE (very difficult to find though).

    Anyways, my question is for Sundance. Knowing that you realized that life is about balance and that purely committing to an all day MD type of track which is more consuming than a PA track, what do you say in interviews or personal statements? This is the DECIDING factor for me about why I want to become a PA. HOWEVER, I’ve been always passionate about healthcare and medicine. I am truly excited about the prospect of treating patients and being hands on with treatment. I love physiology and the workings of the human body with providing care. I was wondering how you address this in an interview/ personal statement.

    Also, what advice do you have on being able to gain more insight on learning about the PA profession?? (e.g. types of questions to ask current PA’s in informational interviews, experiences that are beneficial, things to think about). Thank you so much and I love this blog! Keep up the blogging Paul & Gabe!

    • Paul September 23, 2011, 5:44 pm

      Dear Jared,

      Thank you for your interest in this blog — amazing isn’t it? Paul is quite the enabler.

      So, about your question. It is a good one. It sounds like you are on the right track (following your passion) and are starting the mental self-training for the interview. If I hear you right, you are wondering: how do I speak to my desire for balance in an interview without sounding like a slacker or that I am not serious about medicine”?

      Let me first say, I have NO IDEA what a PA admission’s board is looking for. My first piece of advice is really mom-ish, but I really believe that speaking from your heart in a setting like an interview will get you quite far. An under qualified person will put all their energy in an interview trying to sound qualified. But a truly qualified person in an interview will shine when they sound genuine and honest. I would put my vote on letting your guard down a little and being real. An “I don’t know” is perhaps an ok thing in an interview — it is vulnerability, which is a good trait.

      It is also a really good job to be super informed about PA’s and your school’s mission. My highest recommendation resource (besides this blog) is a book called “So You Want to be a Physician Assistant”, but Beth Grivett ($17 on amazon). She is very active in the community and with a very clean and insightful perspective. I ended up cold-calling her when I was on the fence and she was incredibly kind and non-biased. She spoke at our White Coat last year, and is a cool chick in person too. The book is a must-read for anyone on your path.

      Don’t model yourself to the school’s mission, but be able to give reference to it: not “I would like to work with the underserved populations in rural area where I live” (if that is exaclty what the mission says) but rather “I know this school has a mission that matches with where I seem myself ending up” or “is in line with my vision” or (and this is what I said) “I honestly don’t know what I am going to do but I do know that my most fulfilling clinical experiences in the past have been with the treatment of whole familes, women, children, and integrating socioeconomic challenge into the clinical setting” (the truth). You will note that this statement includes clinical or service experience. You need that.

      Now, about the whole “balance” thing …
      I don’t know. If you can’t go to medical school, then you can’t go to medical school (and that was my story. It was just not feasible, for my family or financially). And I said that. I would keep reading and meditating on your story until you have your party line down. It may take writing it out, trying it on friends you trust and asking for honest feed back, or doing more reading in the practice.

      There is a lot different and unique about the PA profession. The more you can recognize and verbalize those things, the more genuine your “choice” will be.

      Oh, and what ever you do, don’t say “physician’s assistant”. You will be outed for sure.

      Best of luck!

  • Chelsea November 20, 2011, 1:40 pm

    Do you work with Nurse Practitioners? and if so, how are they different or similar to PA’s?

    • Paul November 20, 2011, 1:52 pm

      I don’t currently, but I have in the past. Their scope of practice (what they do), at least in California, is exactly the same as that of a PA. Both can interview and examine patients, order and interpret labs and imaging, diagnose, treat (medications and procedures), and prescribe. So the major difference is their training. NPs get there by obtaining a Bachelor’s in nursing, then a Masters, and finally passing their licensing exam. PAs go to PA school (which usually requires prior medical experience like being a nurse, EMT, paramedic, respiratory therapist, medical assistant, etc) and pass their licensing exam. The nursing curriculum is based on the nursing model, and the PA curriculum is based more on the medical school model.

      If it helps any, at UCD, the NP and PA students attend 90% of their classes together (the same classes). The NP students also have a few low credit courses that are specific to nursing.

      Short answer: in education and training: some difference. In practice: little or no difference.

  • Callie December 18, 2011, 8:43 pm

    Leading from the last question asked, how much do you know about Anesthesiologist Assistants? From my understanding they are PA’s who are ‘specialized’ in anesthesia. Why is it that NPs and PAs don’t have huge turf wars but AAs and CRNAs do? And how do you see the AA field evolving in the next few years? Do you think it will parallel the PA field in its growth?

    • Paul December 18, 2011, 10:27 pm

      My knowledge of AAs is limited. Primarily because they are a very small piece of the pie. There are only 7 AA programs in the nation. It’s a fairly specialized field, and I don’t think it will have nearly the growth physician assistants. The reason PA are on the rise is that there is a huge primary care shortage. Surgery tends to be fairly impacted. Basically, anesthesiology as a much bigger appeal to graduating medical students than primary care does. For this reason, my guess is – though it may grow – it will still remain relatively small compared to the PA profession. Remember – one of the big reasons that PAs are blossoming right now is their versatility. They can move from specialty to specialty as the need arises, and they always have primary care. AAs don’t have that kind of flexibility. It’s an neat field, though.

  • Jessica February 8, 2012, 5:17 pm

    Thank you for posting this! I think there are a TON of people who could use this information to help guide their own lives–myself included.

    Towards the end of the video Sundance mentioned something about having to be published & doing research–is that a requirement of being a PA or MD?


    • Paul February 8, 2012, 10:30 pm

      Thanks! It’s about time for me to have Sunny on again for an update. She’s graduating with me in a couple months, and it might be nice (and helpful) to hear her thoughts a year after her first interview.

      As for research, there may be some programs that require it while in PA school, particularly if they require a Master’s thesis (most PA programs are master’s programs), but it’s not a de facto requirement. Being published is definitely NOT a requirement – that’s too much to ask any student. But being published is a definite feather in your cap when you apply for PA jobs. The short answer: no, and don’t worry about it.

  • Jason February 20, 2012, 4:39 pm


    I am another PA who is considering leaving the PA profession for the medical school path. I think most of my dissatisfaction is in regards to our respective associations and their inability to prop our profession up. Nurses day, docs day, PA week. These are all days that have some meaning to people who practice their respective profession. The problem I have found is that many people still think we are medical assistants. The associations have done a really poor job at getting the word out in a manner effective for the masses. I have been practicing for nearly a decade and have seen little progression in the public’s understanding of our profession. Its actually quite disheartening. I work nearly 60-70 hours a week (not any less than my physician I assure you). I love my job. I love taking care of patients. It would be a lot more satisfying if people understood our role. The problem is at least 70% don’t seem to.

    It gets very mundane. I am 36 and I am seriously considering returning to medical school. The reasons are simple. I do work as much as most doctors. We, as PA’s, do complete a vast majority of the work in our jobs and make significantly less. WE SHOULD ! We didn’t put the extra educational time in did we? The issue is not if you enjoy taking care of patients, but rather if you enjoy taking care of patients and getting very little in the line of recognition. The humble practitioner. I am all for it. I went into this profession because of the ability to do so much for people, but unfortunately I do require some modicum of recognition for all my hard work.

    I believe many of us do want some recognition from the public for all that we do. Many are happy to just sit back, do a lot of the work, and get little credit. God bless you folks who can sit back and smile at people taking the credit for your hard work.

    Some might be saying, “Well, you just aren’t working with the right physician.” My answer would be, “I disagree. I have worked with three wonderful physicians in three different fields for nearly a decade. ” Unfortunately, it seems that PA’s will always have this quandary.

    I suggest any prospective PA take this into consideration when looking at PA vs MD. I still love my profession. The problem will always be that of recognition and acknowledgement. I don’t see this changing any time soon unless the AAPA gets on top of addressing this with the occasional TV spot or something similarly effective that explains to the patients what we do. Its my job to do so. I understand. But should I have to do this for 25 people a day for the rest of my life. No way.

    • Paul February 20, 2012, 8:02 pm

      Hi, Jason. Forgive me for such a long response, but I have strong feelings on this issue.

      First, thank you so much for taking your time to share with us your inside perspective on the challenges of being a PA. Inside perspectives on the field are exactly what this site is about. I have many thoughts, not the least of which is that I’m not officially in the profession yet, so take all of the following with a grain of salt:

      Recognition is obviously important to you, and clearly you don’t feel you get enough of in your work. There are all kinds of factors that can lead to that, but I’m not surprised that working with good doctors hasn’t changed it; it’s the patient recognition that you seem to be missing. I don’t blame you for holding that value near and dear to your heart, and if you don’t have patient recognition, the nicest doc in the world isn’t going to provide it for you. In fact, working for a good, caring doctor might make it harder, since the patients’ appreciation for their doc might sometimes leave you feeling less appreciated.

      Although I’m not a PA yet, I am a counselor who is experienced in helping clients to find career satisfaction, and that being the case, I have a caution for you: be careful what you ask for. Weigh what you will lose along with what you gain before you make the jump from PA to MD. It may be that becoming a physician is the best thing in the world for you, but just as easily, it may not be.

      If you don’t feel you receive enough recognition from your patients as a PA, you will likely feel like you get more as a physician. But you’ve spent enough time with docs to know that many patients have only blame and ire for their physicians. As for providers, there’s a seductive belief that having the position at the top of the hierarchy will make them happier – more power, more pay, more recognition, and so on. But what else? You’ve just watched Sundance answer this question, and to her, there was more satisfaction to be gained from NOT being at the top. To her it was about doing the work that she loves. Did you ever see the movie City Slickers? At the end, Billy Crystal’s character decides that rather than leaving his unfulfilling job, he needs to take a fresh look at it and do it better. If you’ve never seen it, I suggest you rent/download it. It’s a silly movie with a great moral.

      I don’t think most of us, PAs included, fully understand the sacrifices that physicians make. Years more of study, several hundred thousand dollars of tuition, low pay for at least the first three years out of school, the stress having a very limited personal life, and the demands of managed are cannot be fully understood until you are neck deep in them. In fact, each of the 5 physicians who has precepted me has, at one point or another, told me — the actual wording varies, but basically — “If I could do it all over again, I would become a PA.” I always ask them why, and they usually try to explain what their stresses and demands are like. After a few attempts to explain, they usually become lost or distracted by the interrupting question of an MA, nurse, receptionist, or a medical billing employee who comes ask them about a problematic ICD-9 code, some new medicare rule, a letter of complaint from a patient, or something similar, and that’s the end of it. At that point, I start to see their point.

      My point here is, being a physician might very well earn you more recognition from patients. But along with it, you must also accept the personal and financial stresses of your new profession – one that often takes so much time, money, and energy to enter that once there, few options exist beyond staying there. I don’t know about you, but I hate having few options.

      I respect you hugely for examining this issue so closely, it’s clear that you have affection for your field, despite its shortcomings. I hope whatever decision you make ends up being the right one for you. Just go make it with your eyes wide open to the good and bad.


      • Olivia March 27, 2012, 2:04 pm

        I am a first-year undergrad and just 2 hours ago changed my path from MD track to PA track. I know I am young, but I have done so much research on the pros and cons of these two professions, I am almost sick of it! The concept of getting proper recognition for your job as and MD was what is making this so hard for me. Also, like Sundance said, the whole ego factor and knowing that I am a doctor was also part of it. I want to be a doctor, but I also want time with patients and I want a life. That’s the biggest thing for me. I want to live, and I fear that becoming and MD will prevent that from happening.

        Paul, your response to Jason’s comment helped me a great deal in feeling confident about my decision. Just like you said, I have also encountered many doctors who have said to me that if they could do it all over again, they would become a PA. I feel good about the decision I have just made, and I will continue to read posts such as these to help me through the process.

        Thank you!

        • Paul March 27, 2012, 2:16 pm

          I’m glad I could be of help, Olivia. Your knowledge of yourself is the insurance policy against taking the wrong path. I’ve known satisfied and dissatisfied PAs and MDs both. The thing those who are satisfied have in common is their understanding is that any job is what you make of it – nothing more, nothing less. If you commit yourself to being a capable, effective, and happy clinician, that’s what you’ll become, no matter what letters follow your name.

          Keep us updated, okay?


  • Jake March 22, 2012, 8:17 am

    Hey Paul and Sundance,

    I have really enjoyed reading your blog and was truly inspired by the video. I am a senior in college about to graduate with my B.A. in Communication; however, I have decided to make a change and possibly become a PA. Could you give me some insight as to the steps I would need to take before applying to PA school? Is my degree in communication useless? Will I have to get another bachelors degree?


  • BA PA May 20, 2012, 10:37 pm

    I have been a family practice PA for 18 years, but still remember the drama of deciding PA vs MD. I had the added pressure that both my parents were MDs, as well as my older brother. My mom (now 75 years old–she was a real pioneer as a female MD!) did not really understand my desire to be a PA. And I think it hurt her ego that her bright daughter chose a different path. Maybe she also thought it a reflection on her…that she wasn’t available as a mom, so I chose a different way for my family? Quite the opposite, she inspired me to go into health care.
    One of the main reason I wanted to go into health care was because of the joy and statisfaction my parents had in medicine. They loved their jobs, even with every 3rd night of call, and long hours. My mom worked 10 hour days, usually 5 to 6 days a week. When she wasn’t at work, she gave every minute to us. I considered her a very involved mother, and never doubted her passion for both her work and for us. BUT…something had to give. She never had any time for herself. No hobbies, no down time, and very little time for friends or social life. When I chose to be a PA, I knew it would give me more time with my kids, but I also wanted time for myself! I have too many interests (hobbies/chruch/friends) that I did not want to give up.
    I have no doubt that being PA has been the best choice for me and my family. I worked 3 days a week until my kids were in middle/high I am up to 4.5 days a week (saving for their college!). I have autonomy, respect and support from my peers, family, and patients. It is true, I don’t have MD by my name (or their salary!), but my patients give me so much satisfaction. It is a privledge to be in their lives, and their gratitude for my efforts (even if i don’t always know the answer!) is a a gift.
    Best of luck to all who are considering a PA is a wonderful career.

    • Paul May 21, 2012, 12:36 am

      BA – thank you so much for your thoughts. You’ve summed things beautifully. The field of medicine is changing (or has changed), and it will continue to change. Had I been on the market for a career 30 or 40 years ago, I’m certain I would have chosen to become a physician – there were few professions like it at the time, and physicians enjoyed uncommonly high pay and status. It is, as I’ve said many times, a great job.
      But these days, the role and life of a physician is different, and given the choice between MD and PA, I could only have made the choice that I made. I look forward to the satisfaction and (more) life balance that you have come to enjoy. Thanks again for your perspective. -P

    • Jessica April 9, 2015, 2:13 pm

      Thank you for sharing your story. As a stay at home mom for the last 6 years (working part time as a server at times). I am returning to school. I dropped out of college so fast to start a family that I am now a 26 year old freshman. Having 2 kids my greatest concern will always be my children. I want them to see their mom succeed but I also don’t want them to look back and say that I chose my career over them. Knowing that you have made it work gives me great peace. I know I have a long road ahead, but I have also spent 6 years deciding what I wanted to do. I love this blog Paul!

  • Medic -> PA June 30, 2012, 1:46 pm

    A long time ago when I was enrolling into my First Responder course I made the joke to a friend that my end-goal would be earning my MD and working for NASA. Now seven years invested in EMS and four as a Paramedic have started to wear on me and many factors have me back in school. I don’t necessarily have the same perspective towards being an MD but I’ve grown to enjoy being the lead medical advisor in my pre-hospital domain and worry that becoming a PA will just make me an assistant in the end. Yes, Paramedics are very limited but I see the Pre-Hospital and In-Hospital realms as being completely different as far as the hierarchy of authority goes. Anyways, I am at a wall in my profession. I feel restricted and dislike being able to follow cases that interest me. Currently 31 years old I’ve already mapped out a two year plan to be able to apply to a PA program which would accept me without an AS or BS degree… So theoretically I would be finished at about 36 years old at the latest. In contrast an MD program would more likely be completed by the time I was 45 years old. It’s difficult to look forward at age when your still young, and as I look backwards I just think, man if only I would have done more with my time. Perspective of time is a cruel beast. So do I wake up at 45 as a PA or an MD? Or perhaps abandon the medical profession altogether. The only thing I know for sure is that being a Paramedic limits me financially, academically, and in time physically. Being a 45-55 year old Paramedic just isn’t as cool as being a 25-35 year old Paramedic. If I come across this thread in the future perhaps I’ll update my status. In the meantime I’m going to work on fixing my crystal ball that will decidedly answer and solve all of my problems.

    • Paul June 30, 2012, 4:33 pm

      It’s always hard looking back in life and thinking about what we could have done, what we should have done. But remember we only do that knowing what we know now. I understand why you might be torn between being a PA, an MD, or something totally different altogether, but I feel the need to set your straight about being some kind of an “assistant” to somebody else. “Assistant” is enough of a misnomer that the profession is aggressively working to change the title. The only positions where “assistant” is accurate are those in surgery, since PAs do first assist, but even in surgery, PAs make many independent decisions, particularly outside of the O.R.

      I can’t say for sure that PA is for you – only you can figure that out. But I am a strong believer in the idea that a profession is what yo make of it. If you look to your job to ignite you instead igniting yourself for your job, you may be disappointed in other fields as well. Sometimes people really do see and do all in their profession and need to move on. But we have more control over our work satisfaction than we like to believe.

      Good luck, and let us know what you decide.


  • Carolina July 20, 2012, 2:10 pm

    Dear Paul and Sundance,

    Even though I’m going to be a sophmore in college, deciding between these two have been really hard. Thank you so much for the video and blog. I like the many points and perspectives made between both professions. They have truley helped me make up my mind between MD and PA. The ego of becoming a doctor has always been powerful, but since I’ve started voluteering in the ER at the NY Presbyterian, I’ve come to realize that I’m passionate about pateint care and it is more important to me than having MD next to my name. I respect both professions, but, I belive being a PA will better suit me.In addition, I want some time to have a family and kids and being a doctor it will be more difficult to do this. Congratulations to your upcoming graduation!

  • amer August 24, 2012, 10:58 am

    Hello, first i want to thank you guys for such a awsome post.i have very important question for sundance.i want ask which field basic science classes are more difficult P.A or Med . I can do pa in usa , but for med school i have to go to carribean and im just scared with science curriculum . Can u please rate basic science classes of pa vs med from 1-10 scale , for each .and i would also like to know about ur experiance with usmle vs pance which was more difficult. Im 22years old last year of my under graduate. and really stuck at this point, im the only one pursuing education in my family and i want to know where im getting myself into.i need your opinion on this. If basic science classes are easier on pa than med , it will less riskier for me and my family to pursue do usmle 1 vs pance. I love health care and im not trying to get a easy route , its just all my family hopes are on me i just waana make a safer decision career wise .please help me .if im ready to commit everything.just want to know your insight and experiance while preparion for classes and test
    Thank you very much

    • Paul August 27, 2012, 11:56 pm

      Dear Amer –

      Wow. You do have a lot of questions! And what a good place to start.

      The problem is…the answer to your questions are just not that simple. In my opinion, PA and MD do not carry a common denominator when it comes to “difficulty of training”. As I have said before, medical school is probably one of the most superior training programs that exist. Yes, it is rigorous and comes with sacrifice (unless you are super-duper smart, and then it is just a good time) but in its purest form, will produce an expert in whatever field you study. In short, doctors are medical experts on day one of walking out of a residency program. PA’s on the other hand, have a relatively short and intense training regiment, which is great for some, but I would NOT call it “easy”. Much of what makes it more “difficult” than the 2-3 years of intense schooling, is often the extensive life experience (and usually professional career) that came before, and then when you get your first job, you are still scaling a crazy learning curve. (I just started my first job, and the last time I was this stressed out and scared was when I was a third year medical student. No joke.) What I mean to say is, there is no easy path.

      There is just the right path for you. And that is where I recommend you place your efforts. Step one: if you know that healthcare is your thing, then get a job in a health care facility. Or shadow someone in one. It is such a personal decision that I truly believe you will know your dream job when you see it. This will be great for two reasons: it will give you real life experience (an important thing to bring to the table when applying for either kinds of schools) and will help you support your family while you decide.

      I know this is not a 1-10 scale, but I hope it has been helpful.

      Just know, when you find the path that is right for you, you will find ways to befriend your beasts, be they science classes or anything else.

      All my best for your journey.


      p.s. and just so you know, USMLE Step 1 is 10 times harder than the PANCE, but you will be ready for either one when the time comes.

  • S.C. October 20, 2012, 6:39 pm

    I am a 20 year old Junior in my undergrad. I have always wanted to be a doctor. I absolutely love medicine and patients. I know that anyone can do anything that they set their minds to and I am not afraid of med school. However, I am considering becoming a PA, rather than an MD. As I get older, I realize that I want to be more than just a doctor. I also want to be a wife, mother, artist, writer, and eventually a grandmother. I know that balance is attainable regardless of what I choose. I would not mind the 4 years of med school or the residency. The reason I am having second thoughts is because of lifestyle. I do not want to be distant from my family. I want to be an awesome, proactive wife and mom- and I don’t want to start a family in my mid to late 30s! Yes… it is difficult to give up the M.D. I always imagined following my name, but what is that worth if you are unhappy! I love the idea of being totally done and practicing in 3 and a half years vs the 9 and a half years (MD). I have shadowed PAs, MDs, and DOs. I could picture myself being happy and fulfilled in any of those. Another reason I am considering PA is because I love dermatology! It is extremely difficult to become a derm MD/DO and they don’t even do the fun patient contact and interaction stuff. They do the procedures and surgeries! I love medicine, specifically derm, because of patient interaction. Also, I feel like going the MD route has so many factors of unstability, as far as getting there goes: take out HUGE loans, maybe pass boards, maybe not, maybe find the residency in the specialty you desire, maybe not, maybe get offered the salary you want, maybe not, maybe find a job after residency, maybe not, maybe pay off student loans in a reasonable amount of time, maybe not…… and the list goes on and on! It seems that the road to becoming a PA is much smoother and stable. Undergrad, PA school, and tadaaaa! Happy and making patients happy! I do not know what to do. I need to decide ASAP because it is time to decide MCAT or GRE… Plus all these conflicting thoughts are distracting and exhausting! Any thoughts or suggestions?

    • Paul October 20, 2012, 10:29 pm

      SC – I was a little surprised by the end of your comment because you sounded as if you had already made up your mind! All of the points you mentioned are big reasons that many who could go to medical school decide instead to become PAs – but yes, you need to get past the ego hurdle of not having Dr. before your name.

      It’s funny – I get called Dr. Paul all the time. I always tell my patients that I’m a PA and explain what they means if they don’t know. But when they call me this – the thought that goes through me is – well, nothing! I don’t say Oh, how I wish I were a doctor or yay, they think of me as a doctor. A doctor to me is just someone else who does this type of work. Titles hugely to some people, but now that I’m doing the work I love, any inkling that I might want to become a doctor has gone from me. You could call me a carpenter or an accountant or a schlameeble for that matter, and it wouldn’t really make much difference to me. You spend maybe 30 seconds a day talking with patients about your title. The rest of the day is doing what you do, and to me, that’s far more important.

  • S.C. October 21, 2012, 1:20 pm

    Paul, I agree with you completely. I pretty much have my mind made up. What is your specialty? What is your typical work week like?

  • jasmine November 1, 2012, 7:46 am

    Hello! I stumbled upon this website while searching for what it means to be a PA versus a MD. Boy, what an awesome interview! Thank you so much for sharing all that info with the world. I am 28, and finishing my EMT course in a couple of months. I’ve gone on a rotation on an ambulance and really enjoyed it but it made me think about my future – getting married, having kids… and I started thinking like what the Medic mentioned previously – I mean, you don’t really see 40 year old Medics running around and carrying patients to the ambulance. The only thing is I was an English/Music major for my undergrad but I don’t have a great gpa. I was hoping I could show my interest in the medical field with this EMT certification, volunteer at a community ambulance service, and hope the experience is enough to look past my not-so-awesome gpa! Anyway, thank you for this posting and good luck to everybody on their medical endeavors!

  • Molly November 26, 2012, 9:20 pm

    What a great site… I wish I’d found it sooner! I was totally thrilled to come across this page, in particular, because I went through a similar decision-making process as Sundance, and I, too, chose PA school after spending time in medical school (3 semesters).
    It’s great to hear someone else’s perspective since it’s a pretty unusual situation; I’ve had many thoughts similar to those Sundance expressed, and I’m glad that she was able to share with your audience.
    I am completely happy with my decision and also lucky that I’ve had so much support from my family and friends…including old med school classmates and new PA school classmates alike!
    In any case, thanks for your wonderful website and for sharing your interview with Sundance.

  • Colin December 16, 2012, 6:33 pm

    Hey, first off i am a freshman in college and considering a job as either a PA vs MD. I like to work with people and help them through the rough times, but to say that is my first intent would be incorrect. i want to be able to live mostly worry free about money issues and have time to spend with friends/family. 6 years to be a PA seems quite smooth, in my 20’s i want to be able to get married and have a good time with friends and family, not bogged down studying all day. being a Physician or Anesthesiologist both have 8 years of schools and 4 years residency, and i am unsure if i am willing to put in the time and effort to do so. I want to make money in my life, to be able to afford the occasional luxuries without breaking the bank. to be a MD seems much to stressful at the time. But will being a PA making 80-110k a year get me through life the way i want to live? I would enjoy helping people and making a good amount of money, certainly appeals more than a business degree.

    also, say i become a PA, then by the time i am 35 i find myself having regrets. what would to take to go to med school and become a physician? (how many years of med school? residency?) would already being a PA cut down on the time in med school?


    Email me at — would love to get some responses from various opinions.

    • Paul December 16, 2012, 10:33 pm

      Colin – the money you make will depend on 1) your speciality, and 2) your geographic location. If you pick a specialty and location that favors income, you will be very comfortable financially, with some time for friends and family. I won’t lie – being a PA is demanding. But it is much less demanding your time than being a physician.

      If you decide down the line that you want to go to medical school, you will be starting over – sorry! Most med schools don’t give you credit for previously attended PA school, just as most PA schools don’t give you credit for previously attended med school.

      So choose carefully. I suggest you do some shadowing of both doctors and PAs. Maybe then things will be more clear to you.



  • hangv001 January 24, 2013, 6:27 pm

    hi, i would like to know how important is clinical experience (direct patient care such as nursing, EMT, etc) for PA programs? What if i don’t have that kind of experience can volunteer and shadowing be a substitute? Plus, will PA school know if you apply to both medical school and pa school? I’m afraid if they see that they will think that i’m picking their school as a back up (which is true) and would not accepted me into the program.

    • Paul January 29, 2013, 11:11 pm

      Clinical experience (Health Care Experience, or HCE) is crucial. Shadowing is not a substitute for having your hands in the mix. Volunteering can be good, but it depends what you’re doing.

      As for your last question – how can I put this delicately? If you are applying to PA school as a backup for medical school, you’re making a mistake. PAs are not baby or wannabe doctors. Their training is quite different. If you want to become a doctor, you should apply to medical school. If you want to become a PA, you should apply to PA school. Your instinct that they might see through your strategy is quite correct, and it could eliminate your from contention for PA school. I’ve met exactly zero PAs who became PAs because medical school didn’t work out. All became PAs because that’s what they wanted to be.

      But to answer your question – they may ask you, but there is no requirement to tell them.

      • Monique June 15, 2014, 2:14 am

        I plan to apply to both, but for very different reasons. I had an extremely difficult childhood and dropped out of the 9th grade. Life is 1000 times better now. I’m married and my family is complete with four children. I am currently working on a masters in family therapy. I had planned to go for my phd next year. A few weeks ago I saw a PA and decided to google PA school for fun. I had looked into it before and dismissed the idea. I didn’t think I could do it for some reason, but after taking another look it seems just as attainable as a phd in psych. I’ll have to take quite a few science prerequisites, but even with those it will still be a comparable time frame either way. So I decided hey, why not? I have a pretty decent chance of getting into the program. Then I looked at the requirements for med school just for fun. I would actually need less prerequisites than I do for the PA program, and they’re letting quite a few 30-40 year olds with sob stories and “life experience ” in these days! I still think it’s a crazy long shot but I’m very tempted to go ahead and apply to med school too, just for fun. What if I actually got in? I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was a toddler, before life happened. I just never had a chance. All my undergrad psych degree electives were health related. I always said well, I wanted to be a doc but hey, I got to be a mom…same thing practically! When I went back to school I said OK, well I might not be a medical doctor, but I can be a head doctor…good enough. Then I looked into the PA program and I said hey, it looks like I could do this! I would almost be a doctor…imagine that! Now, I’m thinking what if? What if I applied to med school and actually got accepted? What if I DO have a chance? How could I not at least try? One extra test and application…why not? It isn’t that being a PA wouldn’t be good enough. It might be better, which is why I’m still up at 5 am studying the pros and cons. Hey, I’ve got the schedule and the bad handwriting down anyway! I think I would be happy with either route. I never imagined I’d be able to do any of this. I gave up on it years ago…and now I feel like a part of me that I thought was long gone is back.

  • Natasha February 7, 2013, 11:32 am

    Awesome website! It makes me so happy to see so many people support the PA profession! I’d like to hear Paul, what you have to say about a first job or how to deal with demeaning doctors or other medical professionals…also how to deal with patients that don’t want to see us because we are “just” PAs. What your take on all of this?

    P.S. I wrote on your other post and found most of my answers here. I feel a little better about my career choice now. It’s been really hard recently especially being so close to completing the program.

    • Paul February 7, 2013, 10:33 pm

      I’ll try to do a piece on that topic, Natasha. Thanks for the idea!

  • MattH February 15, 2013, 9:15 am

    Hi Sundance, really I just want an honest opinion. Here’s my situation, one that I’m sure you found yourself in. I’m 24 years old, have a bachelors in uselessness and have gone back to school for nursing. However nursing quickly change to PA. I am now finishing up my last year of prereqs and the majority of people I speak to tell me I should stick it out and just shoot for med school. I can completely see myself being a doc or a PA, I enjoy patient care and see myself in a hospital setting. The only thing that intimidates me about all this is that med school is such a daunting task as well as will take me three times longer to get thru than PA school. I’m single and still living at home so I guess “life” didnt quite pan out the way I intended but this medical path I’m on I feel is my calling. Just want to know your thoughts. I talk to doctors and PAs in hospitals all the time (I’m an EMT, currently) and the PAs say its great and the mds says med school is the way to go because once your a PA you can only move up so far. Also any opinion on the gov’t interference in medicine now?

    The classes im taking now i need for both PA and med school so im not in a huge rush to make A decison. just want to get as much info as i possibly can. i left my email in a box that asked for it so hopefully you see it, and i know when youve replied. I’m very much looking forward to hearing from you. You’ve done what I want to do and I strive to get there one day.


    • Paul February 15, 2013, 11:02 am

      I’ll pass your message on to Sundance…

  • Banwvd February 27, 2013, 3:43 pm

    Sundance and Paul,
    First of all, love the website! Sundance’s interview was great- as someone who has always been told by professors, collegues, and family members, “why don’t you go to med school? You’d get in” it becomes difficult to make a decision. People like you guys and websites like this make us more confident in our pursuits!
    I do have one big question that keeps bugging me, however: how are the hours of a doctor different than those of a PA once graduated and working? I am currently a teacher and one thing I am worried about leaving behind if I pursue either PA or MD is a LOT less time with a (future) family once I start to work. I get bored during the summers and breaks now (although they are much needed- working with 95 teens per day and lesson planning/grading for an addition 4 hours at home comes with some burnout!) If I am accepted to PA school this fall, I will be 29 when I graduate and ready to start a family in my early 30s. From many other forums, I have read that PAs work just as many or even more hours than an MD! This worries me; my main desire for pursuing PA is the flexibility for family life and less stress. I feel like most forums focus on academic stress and time, which we can all agree is more for MDs. But can we focus on the job once school is over? Do PAs really get paid less for a similar job description (at least in primary care) and same or more hours of work, like I’ve been reading from other PAs elsewhere? One of my main reasons for NOT pursuing MD was my ability to have more time for family, even after school, and I need confirmation that this is true 🙂

    Thanks for any insight!

    • Paul February 27, 2013, 7:45 pm

      It depends on several things: your specialty, your geographic area, inpatient vs outpatient, and the actual job you take. Some PA positions are murderous, just like MD positions. Some PA positions are fairly 9-5. My job is 8-6, 4 days per week, with no call. I work my keester off while I’m there, and then I go home and have a life.

      ON THE WHOLE, you have more flexibility as a PA. Sure, if you take a job that requires hours on call, weekends, or late nights, YOU’LL BE WORKING HOURS ON CALL, WEEKENDS, OR LATE NIGHTS. I find the people who complain about the long hours working as a PA are the people who chose such jobs over others that didn’t have such hours. No one forces you to do so. On the other hand, you are *kind of* forced to do so as a physician; there are precious few Part Time gigs as a physician – first because it’s rare for anyone to need a physician for a few hours per week, and second because doctors incur such enormous medical school debt that when they graduate there is no hope of paying it off by working PT. As a PA, this is not as big of a factor.

      I went to a public PA school (they are generally cheaper), and my total debt – all my tuition, books, and no housing – represents 1/4 of my annual salary – for one year! I’ll be debt free before most new docs make it out of residency!

      Salary? Well, no, PAs do not make as much – period. But they are generally well compensated, and they can have a measure of life balance that is hard for physicians to obtain before they’ve been in practice for 15 or 20 years. And yes, they do very similar work.

      • banwvd February 28, 2013, 6:43 am

        Thanks for the quick reply. That does put it into perspective. For PAs flexibility can be obtained based on work environment choice. If I’d like to work as in the ED because I think it’s exciting and I want that in my life now, I can. When I have a family I can search for a more 9-5 type position. That’s nice. Whereas doctors are always the last say, which requires more stress/work hours no matter what the position, until very much later in their career when they are well established.
        That helps! Thanks!

    • Jason Ziter PA-C, MMS February 28, 2013, 9:08 am

      After 10 years as a PA I can tell you two things. It all depends on who you are working for and your level of experience. Yes, specialty plays a huge roll in expectations. The great thing about being a PA vs. MD is YOU get to choose who you work for. Once you build up some experience it is your choice to stay on with a particular MD / DO or actively seek employment elsewhere. Be good at what you do and they will all want to hire you. You can research the physician you are considering working with (to some extent). When you graduate from PA school there may be some sense of urgency to get started ASAP. This is true and experience, in the beginning, is the key. You most likely have very little so being picky is not a luxury we have in the beginning.

      There is an art form that takes time to develop when working with / massaging physicians. Be good at what you do, smile, say “You got it” and your experience will fly. Then, in the not so distant future, you will be calling the shots on who you work with. Look for, in the coming years, PA’s / NP’s to be given more responsibility and independence. This is already happening in a number of states. ObamaCare is going to cause turmoil in this country for quite some time. Until the politicians can figure out what to do, WE will be their solution to the “doctor shortage.”

      As we gain more independence, we will then be able determine how much we work and how many people we need to see. How much money does one man need? This is the ultimate question. You are in complete control of where you go. The real battle is getting patients in this country to understand what it is we do. If the AAPA / NCCPA would do a better job of advertising, etc., we would have the best job going.

      • Paul February 28, 2013, 10:25 am

        I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Jason Ziter February 28, 2013, 11:32 am

    Gracias sir !!

  • John March 7, 2013, 11:57 am

    Hi Paul,

    Thanks for all of your insightful information on this website, especially the articles/videos pertaining to MD vs PA. I have had a difficult time deciding between the two over the past few years (I am a few years removed from undergrad), but I have ultimately decided to attend PA school this June after working alongside PAs and MDs in different settings. I have found myself questioning my decision now and again, but the doubt mainly revolves around knowing that I will not have the perceived prestige that an MD would have. I do my best to remind myself that prestige + title are not what one should be focused on when making this daunting career decision. As long as I keep reminding myself that I’m choosing this career for ME and not for anyone else, I am pscyhed about the future! 🙂

    I encourage anyone who is struggling with a similar decision to gain as much first-hand experience in a clinical setting as possible. Find positions where you can volunteer, work, shadow, etc. alongside healthcare professionals and you will see enough of what it’s like to be a practicing PA/MD/DO/RN etc. to make a decision. Working in multiple settings (big hospital, community hospital, outpatient clinic) and specialties ultimately allowed me to make my decision to attend PA school over anything else.

    Thanks again,

    • Paul March 10, 2013, 10:29 am

      Thanks, John. Sounds like you’ve done a lot of soul searching. I wish everyone did that!

  • Mariusz March 18, 2013, 5:01 am

    Thanks a lot for this inspiring video (and a great website!). I am an IMG, finished my medical degree in Poland and then my PhD in the Netherlands. I am now considering moving to US. I know that to be able to practice as MD in US I have to go through the whole USMLE, residency program (if matched) etc etc Being in my early 30’s I decided I dont want to do that. I have my priorities that seem to be similar to yours – have a time for family, for myself etc etc. Thats why I am looking at possibilities of being a PA – it feels like a thing I would really like to do. And stories like yours inspires me a lot! Thanks again!

    • Paul March 18, 2013, 11:52 am

      Thanks, Mariusz! Sometimes it’s hard for people to see that there are some things that are more rewarding than being at the very top of the food chain. I mean, do you think being the president would be better than anything else? I’m sure the job is rewarding, but I would never want it…

  • Amer March 27, 2013, 11:46 am

    Hi, I have few questions for sundance. I want to know if someone who already went to physician assistant school and then goes to md school . Will they feel basic science classes and usmle little bit easier compare to there fellow student?. I got in physician assistant program , and want to continue md after. Will studying a basic science classes in physician assistant school , help me in md school. Or they are totally different? Like anatomy, pharmacology, loans are not issues to me, I love both profession . And want to go little long way to make myself comfortable in md school. Or should I go directly to Carib md. And get my md. Since being a pa is no help in basic sciences for md and usmle. Thank you.

    • Paul March 28, 2013, 4:04 pm

      Hi, Amer – I will pass your questions on to Sundance, but I need to speak to them too. We do NOT recommend using PA as a stepping stone to MD. They are both complete and demanding careers. PA schools don’t want students who are anything other than completely fired up about becoming PAs. What’s more, the trajectory of these two careers is quite different. I suggest you research them to determine which of them fits best with who you are and who you want to be and then pursue that field, whatever it ends up being.

  • Adam Fulcher May 27, 2013, 9:09 am

    Interesting video.

    However, are you sure that no other external factors bared on your decision? I mean, to my understanding, you would’ve been a paid resident if you continued for only two more years. On the other side, PA school required you to re-apply, and then proceed on through two more years of school. You would’ve already been a junior-doc.

    I will say, that given your motivation towards going to medical school, PA does seem to be a good route for you considering they are likely to spend more time directly with the patient (somebody call me out if I’m wrong.)

    My reasoning for viewing this video is I’m currently an undergrad senior as a Health Services Manager in conjunction with being a paramedic student. I chose this path in order to enable myself a plan B degree which would work in close relation to health care given medical or PA school was not for me. I will be taking the GRE in a few months, and currently on-track to being accepted into a medical or PA program GPA wise. I plan on graduating and working as a paramedic for a year in order to obtain experience necessary to get into these programs, and from there I will decide on which school is best for me. For me, I would prefer medical school but I will also require an extra year of part-time undergrad in order to receive all my pre-requisites, while I’ll already have those necessary for PA school.

    Thanks for this video, as it’s nice to see other perspectives.


    • Paul May 31, 2013, 5:13 pm

      Okay, Adam, since you asked for it, let me “call you out.” 🙂

      If you’re talking about time with patients, on average, PAs definitely have more. Sure, it depends on the specialty, the doctor and PA, and a host of other things. But on the whole, PAs work directly with patients, often so that physicians can see fewer patients – ones who require more time. You may even have had the experience of seeing a PA for most of your care, and only occasionally check in with the supervising physician, and often briefly. That’s an experience I’ve had in several different geographic areas.

      In surgery, PAs spend FAR more time with patients than physicians. They are likely to do the initial consultation with the patient, the pre-surgical what-to-expect talk, sometimes the medical clearance (is usually a primary care PA), much of the recovery care, and the discharge of the patient. The surgeon and PA will have equal time in surgery (actually, the PA probably more, in fact, since they usually prep the patient with the team before the surgeon arrives and follow the patient to recovery after the surgeon leaves).

      In my own clinic, the PAs see many more patients than the supervising physician. Sometimes the doc sees the harder cases – usually the patients with complicated medico-legal issues related to workman’s compensation, but often they see the simple stuff too. I have some cases that are very complicated, and it’s on me to know when to ask for help with them. By the way: I see 20-30 patient’s per day – almost twice as many as my supervising physician!

  • Erica June 15, 2013, 8:59 pm

    Thank you so much for the video. It really helped me, and I also read through all of the comments as well! I recently graduated with my bachelor’s and have been planning to apply to medical school for about a year, but I have recently been honest with myself and realized that I want to pursue other things in my life besides my career (family, hobbies, having kids, travel, etc) and believe that becoming a PA will be just as fulfilling for me in the end, if not more so, than becoming a medical doctor. I have some shadowing/ volunteering experience (around 100 hrs) but not any significant hands on experience. I am planning to get trained as an EMT and work for one more year before hopefully starting PA school. I am from Texas and am feeling very discouraged by the acceptance statistics. I have seen around 30-40 students accepted out of over 1000 who apply! This seems almost impossibly low. Is this normal? Because if this were the case it seems like getting accepted to PA school would be more difficult than getting accepted to many medical schools. Thanks for any advice.

    • Paul June 16, 2013, 11:08 pm

      There are many schools, and you would do well to apply to a selection of them to maximize your chances.

      If this is what you are really fired up about, then not getting in won’t phase you much. Instead you will continue to develop yourself with more and better health care experience, coursework, a better essay, a better interview, and in time, you will be impossible for PA schools to pass up.

      It’s too common for people to race into applying, not get in, say, “Oh, well, I guess it’s hopeless,” and give up. To me, that sort of proves how not-terribly-committed and/or not-terribly-serious they were in the first place. When I was in my 20’s, I didn’t want to hear that – I had a lot of false starts. But after a while, some of them took, and I developed a resume that (much later) got me to where I had tried to leapfrog to long before. It was sweeter that way, and even if it took longer, it was more sure. If this sounds like tortoise and hare, you are understanding me:


      This is not usually a field you jump into – it’s one you grow into. Think of it as a long-term goal, and then if you get in sooner, you’ll be happy and lucky. If it takes more time, you won’t be discouraged – you’ll just be ready and hungry when it arrives. It is meant to be a path to medicine for those who have put in the time in health care and shown that they are ready to be trusted with a lot.

      There are so many jobs that lead to PA that are great careers while you’re working your way to it.


  • Michelle June 26, 2013, 7:37 pm

    Randomly stumbled upon this on the internet. I recently am a graduate of Biochemistry from the University of Florida.. and for the past four years i have been what the consider “pre-med” . I have wanted to be a doctor since I can remember due to the things I saw when I was younger. It was just until mid spring semester 2013 when I decided to start looking into PA school. I had taken my MCAT in 2012 and didn’t do well at all.. and I began doubting myself that my life long goal of being a doctor will never happen. however the more I started researching the more I realized that PA’s nowadays are usually the first ones to see the patient and are usually the patients “primary doctor” per se . When I really thought about why I wanted to become a doctor, it wasn’t about the money, it was more so being able to have that one on one time with a patient and treating a patient with the best treatment for the particular patient and being able to watch the patient get well before your eyes. That is what I want. That is what brings me joy. However when you have had such a life long goal, it is so hard to change it. But after watching this video, I am truly convinced that I want to be a PA. Thank you so much!

  • Alex August 3, 2013, 12:04 pm

    I just wanted to thank you all for these wonderful insights and valuable assistance. I have been struggling with this PA/MD/DO/ decision for years now and I’m completely sick of it! This site has been helping me a great deal, and I really appreciate everyone taking the time to answer these questions and provide their acumen. I have spent hours getting lost in the forums and researching these paths, and I thank you very much.

    • Paul August 3, 2013, 8:48 pm

      Sure, Alex! It’s a tough decision for many, but important. Find every PA/MD/DO and bend their ears. Ask them about their personal and professional lives, and don’t give any one person’s opinion too much weight – your priorities might be totally different from theirs.



  • John September 10, 2013, 9:24 pm

    Hi Paul-
    Great site, thank you for maintaining it!

    I’m still on the fence between PA and MD… What’s your take on starting out as a PA, and then taking it from there?

    For me, shadowing only really goes so far, and other peoples’ opinions are REALLY hard to assess. Not until I practice full-time will I know what I want, and how I want to get there. I’m thinking about starting out as a PA because I could always go back for more education later (if I felt like I needed it). While once I start med school, there would be no turning back.

    I think I will be satisfied as a PA, but I may one day want greater responsibility as a clinician.


    • Paul September 11, 2013, 9:14 pm

      I don’t recommend it. Usually I recommend you choose which one looks like it would fit you best. But if you understand that their paths are almost completely different and you are willing to start over if you change directions, then I guess there’s no reason not to. Just remember that the requirements for each are different, so you will really be starting from scratch more than “going back for more education.”

      • Jason Ziter PA-C October 31, 2013, 7:38 am

        The starting over from scratch is not entirely true. Time wise…..yes. Information wise no. Training to be an MD after PA training will be much easier. Ulcerative colitis for an MD is no different than for a PA. Your knowledge base will be at least 60-70% higher than it would have been if you went in as a new med student. Take that into consideration. After practicing as a PA for a few years and taking boards your med school training will be easier. No significant chemistry in PA school, but guess what, you will have more time in med school for the harder subjects. When the rest of your classmates are leaning how to interpret EKG and studying pharmacology, you will have had a lot of that.

        Take that into consideration as well.

  • Jeff October 4, 2013, 12:41 pm

    Hi! I’m a 3rd year DO student. I resonate with what Sundance is saying. I am in the middle of rotations, but I really feel that PA school would be a better choice for balance. I need balance. I’ve lost that in med school. The patients are the most important part for me, and that is another reason I love Sundance’s comments. So, if I do decide to start anew (I’m 37 years old), do I have to start PA school from scratch?

    • Paul October 10, 2013, 10:00 pm

      Pretty much, yes. You will have much of the health care experience requirement and prerequisite coursework taken care of, but I know of no schools that will start you anywhere but the beginning (I could be wrong, so check on this, but there were a few former medical students in my class and they all started at square 1.)

  • Laura Roldan October 30, 2013, 7:25 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this video! I love her energy and her attitude and obvious passion for the PA profession! It is inspiring!

  • Lucy November 2, 2013, 9:26 am

    I would love some guidance; I hope you guys still respond and reply to posts here. I’m 26 and I finished my 2nd year of medical school but have been putting off taking Step 1 for a year. I LOVE interacting with patients but I’m dreading the lifestyle and culture of being an M.D. I want more balance to my life and I feel like being a PA would allow that to happen while still giving me the satisfaction I feel when I interact and talk to patients. However, I’m already $110,000 in debt and have no idea where to even start if I did decide to apply to PA school. When does the application process start? Is it already too late this year? I graduated from undergrad in 2009 and getting recommendation letters would be a problem (I dropped off the face of the earth while in med school and just holed myself up in my room.) Ugh, I don’t know. I’m really confused… and the debt just keeps growing!!

    • Paul November 10, 2013, 11:54 am

      Applications start in April of the year before the fall when you would start. So it’s late enough for this year that I would suggest you pitch it and prepare your application for early entry this coming April.

      It’s hard to know where to start. Being in debt doesn’t much help. BUT: if you become a PA, you will be paying off your debt sooner and with a better income. Sure, in the long run (15+ years) you would make more money as physician. But your tuition would continue to accrue for 2 more years. You would then be paid peanuts as an intern, and eventually somewhat less so as a resident. All the while your student aid interest grows. I guess what I’m saying is what I usually say: DO WHAT YOU LOVE. If the money is similar, or even just NOT VASTLY different, you might as well be doing what you are more sure you’ll enjoy doing.

      Getting rec letters is just a matter of getting back in touch with your old profs, references, and getting them familiar with you again. They’d probably be glad to help.

      Anyway, let us know how it goes.


      • Lucy June 11, 2014, 8:49 am

        Dear Paul and Sundance,
        Thank you SO much for this video. Like I wrote in my previous comment, I had finished 2 years of med school in good academic standing, but kept having this nagging voice in the back of my head telling me that something wasn’t quite right. After watching this video and doing a little research, I decided to take a leave of absence and started working as an MA directly under two different PAs. It was the best decision I’ve ever made and I really think being a PA is what’s right for me. Honestly, this video and your comments were what gave me the courage to push past my fears and find myself again. I’m currently in the application process. Is there anyway I could get in touch with Sundance and pick her mind about what else I can do to make my application better? Even if no one responds, I hope this message gets to you so you know what a difference you’ve made in my life: I found my passion for medicine again!

      • Lucy February 8, 2015, 6:58 am

        Going to PA school this upcoming summer! I’m so excited. If anyone has questions regarding MD vs PA, I’d be happy to answer them. I think I’ll have a better grasp on what it’s like to be a PA once the school year starts, but I can at least give some insight on why I switched. Thanks again, Paul!

  • Carolina March 11, 2014, 9:49 pm

    Thank you so much for this amazing interview! I spent three years wanted to become a physician. After loosing two parents in one year and graduating from college the same year I realized life is not about always being away, but spending time with the ones you most love. I want balance in my life while still being able to become an amazing PA!! Look forward to applying to PA school this year!

  • Bhavna March 25, 2014, 2:01 am

    FIrst of all, thank you very much Paul. You are doing a very good job here by helping us to make the most important career decision in our lives and helping us to meet great people like Sundance.
    I would like to let you know that I am an international medical graduate (P.S: Pardon my English, if I am wrong anywhere). I have gone through alot in my life. First getting into a medical school in my own country (which is very competitive) and then my decision of coming to United States to pursue my Residency (I wouldn’t lie that PA was always in my mind). I tried two years for getting into Residency without any success. During this process, I really asked thousands of times what I really want in my life?? I totally resonate with Sundance all I want is a balanced life and my passion about health care and patient centered medicine.
    I searched everywhere which is that career option that will gie me the best of both the worlds and I got the answer. PA it is.. I wanted to know if I already late for the next cycle (To start the class 2015). While preparing for USMLE/ Residency, I gained 1year of US clinical experience, 4-5 letters of recoomendations. I also have my transcripts ready.I have started GRE prepration in my country.. Am I good fit for this year?? PLS GUIDE ME..Thanks Paul and Sundance. Really appreciate your work…

    • Paul March 29, 2014, 7:27 pm

      It’s really tough to say – even more so for an international medical grad than for others. But you are lucky that you have some patient care experience. Most premeds/med students have none if they decide early on that they would rather become a PA. That will help. I think you have a shot if you write a compelling essay. You want to show them that you are a dynamic individual and a big thinker (the term I use for Sundance). Big thinkers don’t get in just because they are good candidates; they get in because hearing them talk impresses and inspires others. If you do that, you have a good chance. Make sure that your essay is proofread by at least 2 native English speakers and is FLAWLESS in terms of your use of English. They will need to vet all your coursework through one of the companies that does that, so ask them for details about how they do that.

  • Clarissa April 9, 2014, 6:21 pm

    Although this video is a few years old, it’s resonated with me the most out of all of the “stories” out there about becoming a PA I’ve read/heard thus far. She described my exact feelings about the profession clearly and concisely and more articulate than I ever could. This video definitely solidified my desire to being a PA vs an MD because of all the things she spoke about towards the end. Couldn’t have been better put in my opinion! Now I’m off to watch the new video with Sundance…

  • Ben July 16, 2014, 9:43 am

    I stumbled upon this website after trying to find out the difference in PA vs MD training, particularly in anatomy. I just recently finished my residency in anesthesia. Excellent interview and I’m glad she found the field that fit her best, but I do disagree with alot of what she said. Medical school also stressed the importance of patient-centered care and allowing the patient to make the decision for themselves. I have a family with two children and feel that I have just as much time to spend with them as my other friends not in the medical field do. Medicine is not my life, nor does it take up 18 hours of my day. Maybe in the first two years of medical school but not since after that nor will it throughout my career. She completed the most difficult time period in MD training, it gets alot better. PAs are an important part of our health care system but I feel like your website and this video in a way downplays MDs and says PAs are better because you can have a life while practicing medicine.

    • Paul July 17, 2014, 7:42 pm

      Ben, I don’t doubt what you say; people have many different experiences with medical school, just as they do with PA school. Medical school offers excellent education, and more an more in the last few decades with a patient-sensitive approach. Thanks for reminding our readers that it’s not all so one sided!

  • Jonathan July 21, 2014, 3:22 pm

    I have had a very difficult time with this decision. I have all the pre-reqs for both schools and I even have a few thousand hours under my belt as an EMT. So I have touched patients, seen patients, and treated patients (under my very limited scope of practice), and this is something I very much want to do as a career. Sure, the money is nice, the respect is nice, and all the other things are nice, but my ultimate goal is to take really good care of people. This career has been even more reinforced to me because I have seen EMT’s, Paramedics, Nurses, PA’s and Doctors take terrible care of patients, and I want to have a hand in peoples lives in a really positive way. In a way that they can say, hey I had this experience with “X” medical professional, and I felt safe, taken care of, and respected. I digress, I am young, 23, so I have no kids and plenty of time to complete medical school, but I am still trying to decide what is best for me and my lifestyle. AND while this interview with Sundance helps, I still do not know if I am completely sold one way or the other. Maybe a few PA’s can chime in, but I have shadowed a few MD’s in the ER in the last month and I spent 90% of my time with them in front of a computer screen. Is being a PA in the ER the same? If so, I might as well go to med school…

    • Paul July 27, 2014, 9:37 am

      It depends a lot on the hospital where you work. Many emergency PAs due primarily “fast-track” work with lower acuity patients. But by the same token, many PAs become trusted members of a trauma team, run codes, intubate, start central lines, etc.

      Definitely sounds to me like you spend more time with doctors and PAs. I think I would encourage you to spend some time shadowing a PA, which would allow you to talk to them in between patients and get their thoughts on the matter.

      You are absolutely correct that there are many highly trained doctors who take terrible care of patients. At the same time, I have had patients see a specialist that I have referred them to and come back telling me that they told the doctor basically “I’m really uncomfortable what you’re telling me” or “I’m really uncomfortable with the way you have handled this.” The same patients have come back to me and said “I trust you a lot more than I trust that person” and even on one occasion the patient told that Dr. that they felt that way.”

      I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again: the kind of clinician you’re going to be in the quality of work you’re going to do with patients has a lot more to do with who you are as a person than what letters come after your name.

  • Jason July 27, 2014, 10:47 am

    Spot on sir. Spot on. You can take PA as far as you want in regards to patient care (primary care). Might not make as much money. Actually, you wont. As a PA in ortho I’m at 130K and the rest is gravy in my opinion. I am in no mood (even if younger) to run a practice, deal with all the headaches, or take orders from a bunch of people on a board. Remember, you will always have a boss regardless of if you are an MD or PA. This is coming from a guy with a family full of MD’s. Everyone has a boss. So, don’t think you are going to run the show. If patient care is what you want to focus on, consider PA a little harder. You can take your talent as far as you wish.

  • Lei October 27, 2014, 1:34 pm

    Hi Paul,

    This was a great video. I too, am stuck in between time commitment and what would truly make me happy. I appreciate Sundance’s input about having that balance between work and the things outside of work that were important.

    I am on a path to apply to PA school within 2 1/2 years. How do you recommend getting hands-on experience with patients? Shadowing PA’s? Is there a recommended path to do so? Are there such programs available or do you simply have to go to a hospital or clinic and ask until someone agrees to let you shadow them?

    How did you get the HCE you needed?

  • TJ October 28, 2014, 10:00 pm

    I am so glad that I came across this blog:) I am a fairly new EM PA. Started out in undergrad as pre-med with full intentions of going to med school but things happened and I had to re-assess. Anywho, I ended up with an awesome job in the ER as a physician scribe which is where I found out about PAs. I had the clinical experience and the desire to practice medicine….at this point, I decided I needed to apply to PA school. I was 26 when I started PA school and now I’m almost 29. I’m not going to lie, there were plenty of times I found myself wishing I had gone to medical school instead… especially when my preceptorship would ask me why I didn’t go to med school. I actually still have the thoughts. One of my good friends, who is a MD, is still encouraging me to go back to med school and a big part of me really wants too….but then I take a step back and snap out of it. Med school isn’t for me. I’m going to practice medicine the best way I can and as a part of a team. I’m never going to stop reading/learning/researching medicine. I’m going to be one of the most amazing clinicians my patients’ have and I am going to enjoy my life. Not going to spend my 30s in med school, lol.

    • Paul November 2, 2014, 3:21 pm

      Dear TJ –

      It takes maturity to shut out the noise around you and do what makes sense for you. In the end, you need to do what is right for you and your life. There’s nothing about being a PA that limits how good a clinician you can be, and there are plenty of good/bad doctors, just like there are good and bad PAs.

  • Kristen October 30, 2014, 8:33 pm

    So it’s nearing the end of 2014 and I’m just now running across this video! Oh, how I wish I were reading this 3 years ago. I am a current 3rd year med student, and am having SO many doubts about this road I’m on. My husband and I are both 3rd years. While no kids yet, the thought of trying to start a family anytime soon makes me sick when I think about the juggling act that’ll have to take place with us both being a residents in a little less than 2 years. I had questioned my decision from the beginning, but for reasons already covered by previous posts and Sundance’s own experience, I went with the “doctor route.” I’m 26, well into 3rd year but really wanting to reevaluate. I love patients and really desire autonomy and some level of freedom. But the responsibility surrounding MD/DO’s terrifies me. And the time commitment is just nauseating. It’s frustrating since I’m already halfway done with school, with the respective loan amount accrued, but I still consider switching to PA school. I would love to hear Sundance’s experience leaving after having devoted so much time, effort, sanity, sacrifice, and $$$$ to med school to pursue PA school. I was so close to choosing that route before, and I’ll definitely admit to some regret now. But I’d like to think it’s not too late for me… Leaving would be tough to swallow but I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last few years. Being a PA seems to allow much more time for a life outside of medicine, and sooner! I’d love advice and to hear more from Sundance about the logistics of her big switch! I see many more PA-to-Doc transitions but not so much the other way around. Feel free to email! Thank you!

    • Paul November 2, 2014, 3:43 pm

      Hi, Kristen – thanks for your comment. Sundance will be doing a “catch us up” episode of our podcast soon, so you will get the update you are hoping for.

      For my part, I have a story.
      When I was in my 20’s I went to a car auction with a good friend who bought a sweet Lexus for about $11K. I wanted a good car and ended up winning an auction for $9K for what I thought was a great one that I was excited about. I realized my error soon after I went to look once more at the car I had bought. I had goofed on my notes, and this one had almost 75,000 miles on it! I freaked out and resigned myself to driving a new car with miles miles miles! My buddy felt bad — a little responsible for getting me started with the auction thing, and he gave me some advice:

      “Don’t throw good money after bad.”

      He said that the only thing worse than losing the non-refundable $1500 and getting nothing was to lose $9K on a car that wasn’t worth anything close to it. It turned out to be good advice, and in the end, I bit the bullet and gave them $1500 of my hard earned money just to get out of the deal for NOTHING. But I walked away lucky to not have given them much more. The reason I know this was a good decision was that the car I DID end up buying for much less turned out to be driveable for a while, but then overheated due to a bad engine temperature sensor that had been improperly rewired. I brought it to the Nissan dealership and even THEY didn’t know how to fix it. The result? I had to donate the car to charity. Eventually the auction company went out of business for selling cars that had been totaled in other states and then illicitly re-papered to look as if they hadn’t been totaled. Who knows what else was wrong with the car I had given up for $1500. But clearly I had made the right choice.

      Now, I don’t think that medical school equates to a bad car. In fact, it will one day earn you back a handsome living, if you stick with it. But the lesson is still there: the only thing worse than a small mistake is not being honest with yourself and acknowledging it in time to avoid a big mistake. If being a doc just doesn’t feel right to you, then you’re lucky you’re figuring it out 2 years in and not 4.

      I will pass your email on to Sunny.



      • Kristen November 2, 2014, 3:59 pm

        Thanks for your reply. I like the ‘bad car’ analogy 🙂 My problem with leaving almost 2.5 years in is the debt – which will only increase going to PA school once I leave. The worry is that I’ll have a much harder time paying it all off in the end, since I’m so far down this road already. I know, there are so many variables to that excuse, but I’m just worried that I’ll be “throwing away” all this hard work/time/money with nothing to show for it! Plus, the expectations are obviously an obstacle – the maturity and self-awareness of others who are able to ignore the “noise” and decide what’s best for THEM is something I greatly admire! It’s scary either way – stay and risk unhappiness in a profession that may not be for me or leave and risk a big mistake with future regret. The decision is a hard one, and one I’ve battled for quite awhile! I really appreciate your feedback. Thanks again!

  • Anna Jane December 11, 2014, 10:05 pm

    I just recently discovered your website and I am so thankful! I am halfway through my sophomore year as a pre-med student. However, recently I have come to question my decision mostly because of the massive time commitment. I still want to practice medicine, so I have started to consider PA school mostly because I want to have a family some day and I don’t want to wait until my career has stabilized in ten years before I do that. I am still in the early stages of my decision making process, but this video has really helped me sift through the questions that I have on my mind. Thank you so much.

  • Cathy January 15, 2015, 2:33 pm

    It’s been about 2 years since I watched this video, and now I’m in the home stretch of PA school. This video really helped me a lot when I was making my decision between MD/DO and PA. I had my heart set on MD, there wasn’t anything that was going to change my mind, but now that I’m almost done with PA school, I’m so glad I went this route instead. I’d recap the story here, but feel free to check it out on my blog:

  • woot January 16, 2015, 6:15 pm

    My friend Linda also did both. She did a year of med school in Chicago, before switching to PA school at Stanford. That was in the 90’s. She has been a practicing PA ever since and loves it. As for me, I am still on the fence about doing one or the other, although given my demographics (age, grades, experience), PA would be a better fit. My only concern is that my main area of interest is international health and not all countries are friendly to PAs. Even though I am NOT yet a practitioner, almost every one thinks I’m a doctor when I work abroad.

  • Bianca January 22, 2015, 6:54 pm

    Hi Paul and Sundance,
    I’m also reading/watching this years late, but it was very enlightening and like other posters, I’d love to hear an update on how Sundance feels about her decision now.

    Personally, I was pre-med in college, but had major procrastination problems, didn’t get great grades, and ended up wimping out of med school. Fast forward 10 years, I’m now 31 with two kids who are 4 and 5 years old. I’ve been a stay at home mom for years, and am really ready to move on to the next chapter of my life. I wish I had had a little more focus in college, because now I’m having to address the fact of having mediocre grades while trying to enter a competitive application situation.

    I’ve talked to a good friend who’s a P.A. and she basically echoed nearly everything Sundance said. Still, I have some reservations about the P.A. route. I guess as an older person with a family already, I’m that much more nervous about choosing the right path the first time. So a few specific questions: Given everything that Sundance found out years ago in her surveys of professionals, why would anyone pick MD over PA? Do you feel like the MD path is best for people who are very interested in research? And once med school and residency are finished, is it really still difficult to find the kind of balance you refer to? I’ve heard of PAs going on to go to med school…have you met anyone like that, and if so, what reasons did they have for making that transition?

    Thanks again for posting the video! Any answers you can give would be greatly appreciated. 🙂


  • MED&PA February 21, 2015, 3:55 pm

    I know somebody who has MD degree, tried to get into residency but was didn’t get any for nearly two years. Meanwhile he got interested in getting PA. Mainly because of flexibility of working in different fields. Now his med school friends are regretting to choose to practice medicine as MD. My friend is planning to work as PA, give lectures some day & open private clinic with MD
    Any advise will be forwarded to him. He is very happy with his decision

    • Paul February 28, 2015, 8:31 pm

      Sounds like he should be the one giving advice. I’ve met PA’s in that situation — attended med school and never found a residency, and they are happily practicing now. Tell him that he dodged a bullet, and that not only does he have a better career (IMHO), he’s had more training than most PAs or MDs. I’m sure he’s going to be great!

  • Megan B March 13, 2015, 5:47 pm

    I just watched both of the Sundance videos and I just have to say thanks to you both for making these. They were really informative, really resonated with me where I am right now. Best of luck to you both!

  • Kara Iribarren May 7, 2015, 9:29 am

    Thank you so much for that! It was exactly what I needed to hear. Since it has been 4 years I would be interested to hear if Sundance is still happy with her decision.

    I graduated as a single mother of 1 in 2010 and was on my way to med school but then I got pregnant again and two years later decided to have another baby. Now with 3 kids I am trying to get back on my career track. I love the idea of PA school, but I still struggle with releasing my dream of becoming a doctor as well. The patient is definitely it for me also public policy regarding healthcare. And I find that the kind of research that most interests me is psychology and neuropsychology. I would like to know the likelihood that I would be able to pursue those kind of things later as a PA.

    Thank you for all your work here. Great website!

    • Paul June 5, 2015, 9:50 pm

      Psychology and neuropsychology is exclusively the province of psychologists. For example, when I have a patient who had a trauma on the job and I’m concerned that there may be subtle brain injury, I send the to neuropsych, and it’s a psychologist or neuropsychologist who works to test, interview, and assess them. What about neurology or psychiatry though?

  • eric August 3, 2015, 9:12 am


    Your website has been a big help to me (and many other aspiring MD’s/PA’s) recently. I really admire all the information you’ve put out as well as your experiences for it’s a tremendous help! I remember watching this video about Sundance years ago while in my sophomore year of undergrad contemplating the two professions. However now a few years later, I’m very much in a crunch about the PA vs MD route as many have posted. I’m in the process of applying for medical school and still on the fence. I took my MCAT a few months ago and crushed it, but after seeing my score I was ecstatic yet worried all at once. I just don’t know if Medicine is the only thing I want for my life and from what is sounds like, the Titanic is no ship I’m trying to cruise on. Since the start of college, and before, I’ve been exposed to so many activities and passions that don’t involve medicine and although half of me wants the challenge of pursuing becoming an MD and being a practicing physician down the road, part of me knows that means sacrificing everything for one thing and I don’t know if that would truly coincide with me. I’ve been around patients for a good amount of time and know thats a very big passion of mine (to treat and impact their lives). However, writing, public speaking, acting, videography, are also very big aspirations I have as well as teaching. I guess a big question I have for you is would becoming a PA allow me to pursue other avenues of life and interests such as the ones I’ve listed prior? I’ve read and heard from other PA’s that yes there is quite a nice balance for work and life as Sundance, and I’m sure you as well have had the chance to experience. I’ve been told that as an MD you can venture to other avenues down the road, but from what I’ve witnessed personally that doesn’t seem true (shadowed many physicians). I see the responsibility that MDs have and thats something I’m mature enough to really look at and ask myself is this really what I want in the future? Can I really provide top patient care while not letting other areas of my own life suffer? Any input would be incredibly helpful. Thank you so much for your help and time.


    • Paul August 3, 2015, 10:56 pm

      Eric – you’re asking all the right questions. The best thing I can tell you is that I’ve been able to practice, have kids, and run this website (which has been a great deal of work, but a labor of love) for the last 3 years. It has helped me to pay off my student loans, so you know I’m not just dabbling randomly. I’m certain that few newly graduated MDs have the time and energy to do that while practicing; I’m sure if I were an MD I wouldn’t! And not because they aren’t a very impressive bunch — they absolutely are. The public seems to know that doctors make sacrifices to do what they do. But the public by and large has no concept of exactly HOW MUCH they sacrifice. It’s for this reason that I’m so glad I’m on this path and not on that one, but earlier in my life I saw things differently. I couldn’t imagine not taking the path to what I thought was its zenith — to the MD degree. It would have bothered me to do the work I do and NOT be called doctor. But these days, I take a strange pride in it — I don’t need the title or anyone else’s approval to feel good about my work and to know that I’m going the world a lot of good. I’ve routinely had patients tell me that I do a better job than so-and-so MD or they trust me more than such-and-such doctor, which if flattering and affirming.

      They’re both amazing fields, but the near-meteoric rise of PA medicine as a career has, I think, a lot to do with the negative changes that have been accumulating on the MD side for decades. My dad said to me in the last few years of his life and practice that he loved his work, “But the golden age of medicine for doctors is over.” That was in the mid ’90s or earlier, and a LOT has changed since then. I’ve met several patients who came to me to establish care because, they told me, their doctors (who were all different people) told them that if Obamacare passed, they would quit medicine — and they actually did. This says a lot about how much pressure doctors are under these days. Can you have a tremendously filling job as a doctor nowadays? I have no doubt that you can. But I see it as a question of odds — and the odds these days of having the esteem, pay, and fun practicing medicine that doctors have for most of the last century are much shakier than at any point in modern medicine’s history.

      I wish you all the best with your very tough decision. You might read this article, on why whatever you choose, you’ll probably be right.

      • Eric August 14, 2015, 9:45 am


        Thank you so much for the reply. Since I last posted that comment, I’ve actually been shadowing a PA in Hematology/Oncology at a Cancer Center. Everything you’ve just said is most definitely true and the PA’s there have a very balanced life. One thing I noticed since shadowing is how awesome it is to watch the MD and PA’s work so beautifully together to treat their patients. It is very, very collaborative and the MD’s very much respect and appreciate their PA partners and vice versa. I really do now see that which ever route someone chooses, your job is taking care of your patients. Take away the title of MD and PA; you’re left with extremely knowledgeable, compassionate individuals working together for their patients. The team there has been giving me a lot of advice and guidance regarding the MD and PA path, both of which are a win in my opinion now. No matter what though, you will have to be a student for life and always be willing to go the extra mile and hungry to learn/ keep up to date with studies and treatments. The PA I am shadowing, however, is extremely intelligent and the MD’s at the practice say he should have went to medical school. However, asking him if he would ever wanted to go, he replied saying not really (though he has thought a lot about it). He also added going to medical school would only give him the Doctor title and better pay, but nothing else. He does everything now as a PA and no burden of the high stress of being an MD. He has two kids, married, and plenty of balance; he’s extremely content.

        I sometimes do wonder though what the future of medicine has to offer. I do see changes happening, especially medical school changing to a shorter duration as well as PA-MD/DO bridges. MD’s sacrifice so much for their work but at some point down the road, if not sooner, it definitely takes a toll and most doctors I’ve been around tell me they crave their families, spouses, and other activities that allow them time to decompress and keep practicing with a full tank. I guess we will have to see what is to come in the next few years! I do know now that no, having MD next to your name is not the zenith as you realized as well and that’s so good to know and feel. Again thank you so much Paul for the input and help!!!



  • Jonathan August 5, 2015, 11:09 am

    With the idea of money not being an issue, would it be possible to start as a PA and appreciate the idea of flexibility as a young man with the intention of wanting to go to Medical school later and pursue a higher education? Not necessarily using it as a stepping stone but just appreciating the benefits at different points in my life? Could this be something that I can achieve, or is this a fairy tale I am telling myself.

    • Paul August 5, 2015, 8:18 pm

      There are people who do it, but I wouldn’t plan on it. After being a PA you would have a lot of knowledge that would help you in medical school, but there really isn’t anything about being a PA that will help you get into PA school. They have some of the same prerequisites, so those would be done, but it’s really like starting over from (almost) the very beginning.

  • Lauren August 6, 2015, 7:21 pm

    Thank you for this video. I feel fortunate to have stumbled across it at this moment in my life. I have completed the first year of medical school and I am supposed to be entering second year in a few days. Unfortunately, a chronic illness has made me rethink my ability (and willingness) to complete my medical training. My pain levels skyrocketed while in med school, probably due to stress and not having the time to properly take care of myself. I have considered withdrawing and not pursuing medicine at all in order to have the time I need to rest and feel my best. However, I still feel passionate about medicine and the idea breaks my heart. Watching this video, I am considering that PA school may offer a route to practicing medicine that is more flexible and allows more time for self-care. I was wondering if anyone who has been through PA school could comment on the flexibility of the schedule during training. I am particularly wondering about the schedule during the clinical rotations. Also, have you met anyone with chronic health or pain issues who has gone through PA school? Thanks so much!

    • Paul November 8, 2015, 3:05 pm

      PA school is gruelling, but not like medical school. Few people understand what absolute hell medical students are put through. It’s very intense, and it comes at you pretty fast, but it’s doable. Stress is high throughout, and most complete with a gasp and a good vacation. I didn’t have anyone in my class with a major disability or illness. Hospital rotation schedules are less forgiving than lectures, since they’re mostly monitored by the hospitals, who don’t know you as well as your PA faculty. I had young kids and asked that my rotations be structured in a particular order, but beyond that, I didn’t have much say. I suggest you get close to a few PAs and run your situation by them to get their opinions. It’s an awesome field, but it’s pretty different from med school (in some good ways and some bad).

  • Catherine August 7, 2015, 8:46 pm

    I know it’s 6 years later, but this blog still popped up when I thought of going to PA school, even though I am 3rd year medical student. I wanted to pose this questions to Sundance – Did you have to start PA school from scratch? What’s it like now?
    Thank you!

    • Paul November 8, 2015, 3:00 pm

      Sundance is working as a surgical PA now. I haven’t talked with her in a while, but last time we did, her life was busy. She was given credit for patient contact hours that she did as a medical student, but she did not get to skip any coursework. They don’t want anyone’s qualifications called into question. Besides, there are state regulations, and you know how state regulatory agencies are — they don’t bend rules. Ever. So I guess the short answer is a school may choose to waive admission requirements at their discretion, but once you’re in the program, they don’t have any ability to waive what they have to put you through to get you your PA certificate.

  • Cham November 1, 2015, 5:04 pm

    Hi Paul,
    Thank you for all of the insightful information that you always give! I am 28 years old and just became a mom of an awesome 2 month old! I have a Bachelor’s in Public Heath and a MPH in Epidemiology and Biostatistics. I have worked in the Healthcare field for over 10 years and have thoroughly enjoyed working with patients. But, I have had this ongoing struggle of choosing between medical school and PA school. For me, its not about the title..its about the passion I have for helping people and giving them the care they need. But, I am still trying to figure out which route to go? I have shadowed both and worked alongside them as well. Part of my hesitance to apply to med school is having time to spend with my son and the fact that my husband is in the military so we are always moving around ( PA school would take less time!) but i dont want to wake up one day with regrets. I just want to have a rewarding career that I am proud of. I have considered applying to both PA school and med school, but I don’t know if that’s the answer. Could you offer me any advice? I really need and want to jump start my career!


    • Jacqueline November 3, 2015, 9:37 am

      Hello Cham!
      I’m in a very similar boat with a few more years on you… I need someone to talk to about this. Is it possible to reach out to you?

  • jason November 10, 2015, 1:29 am

    i was wondering, is the comcept of both PA and Med school the same as in curriculm? like is the studies and topics the same? and after this video to me it seems like the only differemce is how they are taught- from PA school having 8-5 lecture and go home then later study but med school has that lecture everyday unlike PA school.

    • Paul November 11, 2015, 10:32 pm

      No, their curricula are different. Med school drills down a lot farther into the details of embryology, pathology, and neuroanatomy, for example. PA school does not offer those courses because there just isn’t time. I will tell you that a lot of doctors learn it and forget it shortly after med school because you tend to remember the information that you use day in and day out. If you become an ophthalmolgist, you’re not likely to remember what you learned in an OBGYN rotation/unit. But I respect what they do. They have a lot of genetics, which PAs also don’t get into. Those are courses that interest some people, and not others.

  • Krista January 22, 2016, 10:01 pm

    In looking at both medical and PA school, I came across this site. I have honestly been struggling for months with my decision to go back to school and pursue medicine, having worked in my current field of IT/Educational Technology for over 10 years.

    This video really solidified things for me. I thought, “why not med school”? The thing is, I don’t really care about the title or the authority. In fact, I prefer working collaboratively and focusing on diagnosis and treatment. I considered nursing school up until about a month ago, when I realized that I really enjoy analyzing situations and resolving issues by listening to what people have to say, plus incorporating the facts that I know. I do this daily in my current job, but I know that long term medicine is where I need to be, based on past dreams, current wishes, and the need for a challenge and natural fit that just isn’t present in my current career.

    Anyway, super helpful and insightful interview, and this just really helped me create a more concrete path for what I want to do.


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