MD or PA?

Hi! My name is Kimberly. I am 32 and starting my freshman year of college. I have been working for the airlines for the past 11 years as a flight attendant. I have decided to be completely unreasonable (my meaning of unreasonable is: going beyond ones reasons)and pursuing my dream of being a MD.

I was talking to University of Washington Assist. Professor and she was saying that PA (Physicians Assistant) is the way to go. Pay is good, schooling less intense and shorter, time spent with patients is greater, and insurance less. Speaking to another flight attendant who is going the same direction as I am, she said that she is not able to get into the PA program due to the fact she is lacking 2,000 hours of time in the medical field.

Anyone running into this? Heard of this? Way around this? In my opinion what’s the point of waiting 2 years, being a medic when one could be going to Medical School? I would really like to know what the general consensus is on PA…

Thanks and I love this site, btw.

It may be hard to do with your schedule, but see if you can volunteer for or shadow both a physician and a PA. It will give you a better idea of what they do. If you truly want to be a doctor, you should go for it. Don’t “settle” and regret it later.

Just my two cents.


The UW Medex program is one of the most competitive and hardest to get into. Most people accepted into the UW program have well in excess of the 2000 hours, many have 5-10 years as paramedics, respiratory therapists, etc. If you do decide that the PA route is the best for you, there are many other programs that would be easier to get into. That said, I think futureboy is right that some time spent shadowing might be a great idea to help you decide which path fits best with your goals. It is true that becoming a PA takes less time, but if you truly want to be a physician and are committed to that, then being a PA might always leave you wanting more.

Hope that helps a little, and good luck as you start exploring!

I considered PA school also, and have researched many of the best programs around the country. There is no direct route to becoming a PA from scratch; you have to be a current health care professional and most programs require a bachelors in something - the MEDEX program just added this requirement. Most PA’s start out as RN’s or paramedics, so that has to be part of the master plan.

I happen to be living in the same area as you. Here is a specific plan that I had considered: PA via RN while working on a BA in bioengineering.

  1. Take the pre-reqs for nursing along with Bioengineering at

    a CC: 1 year

  2. Get AA in nursing while working on Bioengineering pre-reqs:

    2 years

  3. Finish bachelors bioengineering at UW while working as a

    nurse (they offer tuition wavers for employees): 2 years

  4. Apply to PA school (5 years after starting), then PA school is around 2 more years so the grand total is a minimum of 7 years, if everything goes perfectly. That’s at least 4 years less than the time to become a staff physician depending on length of residency.

    I ultimately decided not to go this route, but I think it is a good plan, maybe a bit ambitious – but not for an aspiring doc. The main point is: you don’t have to “wait around for 2 years being a medic (or RN) when you could be in medical school”, you can get in your 2000 hours in while finishing your bachelors and still leave the medical school door open. And if you don’t get in you have a great plan B, become a PA or even a nurse practitioner or CRNA - all very respectable careers, and if that doesn’t work you have a plan C, work as a nurse or pursue something related to your BA. You mentioned pay being a factor - I know 2 CRNA’s who make double what the average primary care doc makes. However most PA’s, according to my research, don’t make much more than experienced nurses. (These aren’t absolute facts – double-check me).

    I have chosen to stay exclusively focused on med school because I’m fairly sure I will get in somewhere, but I don’t think it is necessarily the best advice for everyone. I also don’t have any kids and I’m not married, so the cost of betting the farm on med school and losing is not great. I guess everyone has different circumstances to factor in. I am also confident that a BA in bioengineering will be a valuable backup on its own and if med school doesn’t work out, it will open lots of doors that aren’t open now. I wouldn’t be this confident if my major was something like biology.

    If it boils down to just wanting MD behind your name, then I guess nothing else will suffice. But if you are just interested in working in health care it might be good to consider all the angles. Working as a PA, Nurse Practitioner, CRNA, or even a nurse, may seem like a huge compromise for many people, but it really depends on where your coming from. Becoming a nurse, for example, would be more of a lateral career transfer for many, but it could offer many advantages such as: provide a relatively quick way to get out of your current career; expose you to health care and reinforce your interest in it before making further commitments; allow you to make money while you finish your bachelors; open up many doors for advancement such as PA, N. pract., or CRNA, and not necessarily preclude you from applying to med school if, after spending real time around doctors, you decide that’s what you really want. I don’t think it creates any advantage in admissions, however. Getting experience as a paramedic while working on a BA is also a possibility, but no small undertaking. Most of the paramedic jobs around Seattle require affiliation with a Fire Dept and you have to be hired and trained as a emt/ firefighter first – a long process and very competitive, not something you would just do as backup or an after thought.

    If you are certain about being an MD, then don’t bother with anything else. But, as someone just told me, if there is anything else you could do (by that I mean happily do), then do that instead. I guess, at our age, it is important to find the right balance between covering the bases and not spinning your wheels and wasting more time. I am very grateful for having acquired a real sense of certainty – it makes everything else easy - but I couldn’t have done this without really looking into every option.

    I have a lot more to say on this topic, but this is getting a bit long. Send me a personal Email if you want.
  • Kimberly_h Said:
In my opinion what's the point of waiting 2 years, being a medic when one could be going to Medical School?

IMHO, having a solid back-up plan to either not getting accepted to med school or deciding to wait for whatever reason, are great reasons to "wait" 2 years. That is of course, given the idea that you really enjoy your job until you get accepted or decide to pursue admissions.

Personally I don't see ANY academic endeavor as a "waste of time" especially if it prepars you in some small way, for your ultimate career goal of being a physician. As long as I'm living life and having a resonable amount of fun doing it, it's all goood to me!

I really am enjoying the different views on this subject. In reality, if money was a factor, I would not be working for an airline. Self expression and fulfillment is a requirement in any career I pursue. I love the airlines, but, I am ready to use my brain.

I just wish that I would have realized my ambitions a bit sooner. I don’t feel the draw to PA. However, I don’t know that much about it and it would be unwise to rule it out. I really, really have a passion for Obstetrics. I just thought it would be foolish to not explore any suggestions given. Thanks and keep it coming, please. You are welcome to add input as far as OB as well.

I have checked out the PA program at The University of Oklahoma, they don’t require that you work in the medical field prior, the pre-req’s that they list are all academic, they don’t even require a bachelors degree, just at least a 3.0 GPA with the required classes. I actually got a list of “mentors” that are registered with their program so you can call and interview or shadow them, I am also going to an information seminar on the program on January 6th. I still intend on pursuing the dream of medical school, but as it was said nothing academic is a waste of time and if I can’t make the cut for med school then I need to have a back up plan, that’s just reality.

What is your passion for OB, exactly? Because if it’s baby-catching and health promotion, you could do very well as a nurse-midwife. OTOH if the surgical aspect of OB appeals to you, you’d need the medical degree.


I just wanted to throw my question into the mix here because I am considering the same thing. I am a 30 year old biomedical sciences major in a Michigan university. My intended plan was medical school but the cost and the time are rather off-putting so I thought PA school might be the way to go. It is honestly not feeling like the right fit (pre-PA), but since I am still technically pre-med I have a semester or so to decide officially.

My question is this: I have worked full-time as a nurse technician, mainly in emergency medicine (but currently in a rehab. hospital) for 7 years. Do PA schools consider this to be relevant experience or do I need to be a paramedic or RN? I am not really interested in staying in Michigan for school so…that could be a deciding factor in my decision.