Many students interested in medicine and biochemistry often see only one path open to them: medical school. Unfortunately, pursuing a medical degree typically requires at least seven years of schooling, externships, and intense hands-on training – a path which is strenuous for most. Now, some individuals interested in working in the field of medicine are becoming medical assistant students instead, since medical assistants are able to work in an environment similar to that of physicians, but are required to spend less time in school.
According to John McGinnity, president of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, there’s actually a lot of similarities between the two. Not only can physician assistants examine patients and order diagnostic tests, but they can prescribe medicine and perform a host of other duties that doctors also do. Additionally, the demand is increasing – in 1990 there were about 50 physician assistant programs, currently there are nearly 200 accredited programs in the United States alone.
While doctors may have more independence, it’s easier for physician assistants to make a change within their career. Once you have a physician assistant license, you’ll have an opportunity to work in any medical specialty- physician assistants can go from working in internal medicine to gynecology without getting any additional training. Choosing between becoming a doctor or physician assistant may likely require students to weigh more than just their potential salary – if you enjoy working in a collaborative environment and the freedom to easily switch specialties sounds tempting, a career as a physician assistant may be right for you.