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Doctor of Medical Science vs MD: What You Won’t Learn on Reddit

We are fond of our physician friends and mentors. I am a better clinician today because of physician guidance and mentorship. We don’t want to be compared to physicians but the comparison is inevitable.

Now more than ever, as PAs become Doctors of Medical Science, patients want to know: How does a DMSc compare to an MD? We’ve already looked at how when comparing PA vs MD, comparing years of training isn’t what it seems to be.

We see ourselves as teammates. And while our roles often overlap, DMSs don’t replace MDs. We looked at Duke’s programs to better understand how a Doctor of Medical Science vs MD comparison might go.

Doctor of Medical Science vs MD: Behind the Scenes

We took this data straight from Duke’s website. We also referenced the North Carolina Medical Board.

Sure, there’s a lot of information that isn’t shown here but this is a factually accurate example of the listed requirements for the PA and MD programs at one major US university. It’s a superficial comparison that could be interpreted in multiple ways…

But that’s kind of the point.

PAs often feel like their contributions are undervalued if not completely overlooked. Our training and experience are diminished and too often portrayed in a negative light.

This comparison is an example of how bias works both ways. Most medical schools have prerequisites and most require the MCAT–but not all. Most physicians specialize, but not all. Yet you never hear about that.

We’re not suggesting DMS PAs are superior to physicians. Physician training is the gold standard. But our mission is to celebrate the improvement and advancement of the Physician Associate.

Sometimes being a PA feels like being an undesirable endangered species. We are just trying to stay relevant–we just want to survive.

13 thoughts on “Doctor of Medical Science vs MD: What You Won’t Learn on Reddit

  • great comparison and something that should be employed when approaching our lawmakers as we lobby for advancements in our profession.

  • mike holchendler

    what is the advantage of dmsc vs pa alone? are job opportunities better? will you get paid more at the same job?

    • Great question.

      Most doctoral PAs do get a wage bump.

      But I found value in having a clinical doctorate that has made me a better clinician. This was all the reason I needed.

      Some employers will always prefer the cheapest, lowest-common-denominator but I’m betting that it won’t be long before non-DMS PAs will struggle to get jobs over DMS-PAs.

      This is the future of the profession.

  • Can you elaborate about why getting a doctorate makes one a better clinician ? A kind of cursory review of several curriculum from different programs makes it seem like the focus of the coursework is policy/leadership/delivery based and not actual clinical practice.

  • Daniel Copeland, MD

    While it is true that the Duke University School of Medicine doesn’t have absolute requirements for previous coursework in their admission process, this likely reflects their attempt to accommodate a wide array of life journeys beforehand and not exclude the perfect candidate because they happen to have missed a physiology course or something like that.

    Despite that, they do have a long list of “Expected” coursework which, I feel, could have been easily included in the infographic. I feel that leaving those expected courses off of the graphic unnecessarily misrepresents the academic rigor and effort necessary to be admitted into medical school.

    The full list of expected coursework can be found at this link.

    • Thank you for commenting, Dr. Copeland. We pulled our data from the same webpage.

      “While the courses below are not required, the School of Medicine clinical and basic science faculty agree the courses denoted below would be helpful in your preparation for the MCAT and for the first year medical school curriculum.”

      We choose Duke because it was the first PA program in the country and has both a medical school and PA school.

      Side-by-side comparisons can indeed be misleading and PAs are usually on the receiving end of such mistreatment.

      Physician training is the gold-standard in medicine but the gap isn’t as wide as some may claim and it narrows over time.

      • Your infographic should have led with a mention of using Duke as a reference versus hiding the finer details in small print at the bottom. What may not intend to be misleading looks awfully so. Rather, adding “recommended but not required XYZ” would have been more ingenuous. The vast majority of MD/DO programs have rigorous pre-req requirements.

        Also, curriculum must be thoroughly reviewed to make an appropriate comparison of MD vs DMSc PA. Does a traditional PA program + DMSc provide in-depth anatomy/pathophysiology exposure compared to a traditional MD program? Based on my PA school experience, I think not.

  • Sabbi Potifone

    Why even go to medical school and become an MD/DO if becoming if you are arguing a DMSc that they are virtually equal if not go through more training? I’m between PA and MD and I thought that going the MD path gives far more extensive training throughout the 4 years of school and residency including competency checks with boards? Overwhelmingly as I try to think of which career I want to do, I see the gap between NP/PA and MD/DO closing as they push for more independence. Are you saying that the training is the same, or is there still a difference and a hierarchy in training?

    • Great question. We’re not at all claiming that DMS PAs are equivalent to MDs. There is certainly a gap between our experience and theirs. We only want to stand up for ourselves against fringe physician groups that feel we are some sort of abomination and uninformed legislators that feel we should be tied to potential competition.

      Here’s what I think: If you are young and have no experience, go to medical school. If you’re older and have had any sort of career previously, go PA. If you’re not planning on working 30+ years (like taking time off to raise a family, for example), then it’s a tough decision, but I’d lean PA given the difference in debt.

      If you want freedom, respect, and the best training and income, go MD.

      If you can tolerate the politics, want some lateral mobility with decent training and income, go PA.

      • Marshall Hinds

        By keeping the ‘med student lifestyle’ for just a couple of years we were able to pay back our $300K med school student debt (1999 dollars) in about 2 years. It looks like a lot but with entry level salaries being what they are it’s just not that big a deal, though I agree that it does look scary…

  • I suggest a correction to the professional education for MD/DO:

    4 years undergrad
    4 years medical school
    3-4 years residency minimum (up to 7 years depending on specialty)
    1-2 years subspecialty fellowship optional

    I agree with above comment that the rigor of the curriculums should be included in the discussion as well. I also agree that PAs should be respected as part of the team and that the disrespect comes from a minority from BOTH sides.

    • Thanks for commenting, PT.

      Not all undergrad programs require 4 years (I did mine in 3). Medical schools are increasingly offering 3-year primary care tracks and/or early acceptance programs that shave a year off the traditional “4-year” estimate. We realize that not all med schools are 3 years but not all PA schools are 2 years, either (some are 3).

      And thank you for pointing out that most docs and PAs get along quite well–the vocal minority never admits that.

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