Physician’s Assistant vs Pre-Med

Ultimately, I think it comes down to personal choice. If someone really wants to try to be a doctor, they are going to try to be a doctor. Taking courses in “pre-PA” may or may not allow them to reach their goal which is to be a doctor. A kid could just as easily fail “pre-PA” courses as they could pre-med courses. The PA program at my college has a pretty low GPA requirement of 3.0. There are 200 of direct patient care contact hours required before applying as well. For the last few years it’s had a single digit acceptance rate.

There are many well paying healthcare careers that don’t require 4 or more years of college to be honest. I have a student right now who is in school to get her RN because her goal was to be an NP. But as shes graduating, she realizes she’s stuck because her job right now in the radiology department (which was a 2 year degree for her) will pay her $20/hr more than what she will make as a new grad RN.

The closest medical school to us is 4.5h away. We’re in Oregon. The California medical schools are only in LA and the Bay. Much of the state is further than 4h from there. Same goes for Utah and Colorado, SLC and Denver respectively. That’s it. Montana doesn’t have a medical school.

Students in these programs do still need to attain the requirements to move on to the graduate part of the program, including a lot of patient facing hours. There are around 40 combined programs, not all are accelerated, and many have single digit acceptance rates. They can be a good choice for some students though…typically high stats students who have patient facing hours in HS…which tends to advantage relatively affluent students.

Generally, institutional financial aid is only available for the undergraduate years of these combined programs, similar to BS/MD programs, or BS/DPT programs.

Sorry if I wasn’t clear - I’m talking residencies, not med school. For sure med schools are fewer and farther in between than med schools.


What about those who stick with it but are rejected but every medical school they apply to. What do you say to them? They’re left with nothing.

They’re not left with nothing. They’re left with a bachelor’s degree and ability to pursue jobs that are related/adjacent to their area of study. Just like every other college grad.

Those who don’t make it may be disappointed, but they’re not totally without prospects. There are dozens of medicine adjacent jobs. PA school is just one of them.

PA wasn’t even on the radar for either of my kiddos. One’s Plan B was a PhD in Medical Physics; the other’s was a MPH in biostatistics/epidemiology followed by a PhD in health policy. ( BTW, D’s medical physics program was a funded program, so she would have completed at least her MS with zero debt and a MS in medical physics is immediately employable.)

And what about those who don’t proceed with med school because when it comes right down to it, they can’t afford it. Some can’t afford it because their circumstances have changed during their 4 years in college. What about them?

First of all, once accepted every student can afford med school because med students are eligible for unsubsidized federal students loans up to $40,500/year and Grad Plus loans for the full published COA of their med school.

This is how the vast majority of med students pay for med school. Loans. And more loans.

Additionally there are scholarships-for-service programs sponsored by the federal government that pay for medical school. (Military HPSP, VA HPSP, and NHSC). Individual states also offer med school scholarship in return for agreeing to work for a limited period of time in medically underserved areas.

And to prep and pay for applying to medical school–which is expensive, AMCAS offers the FAP (Fee Assistance Program) to qualifying low income applicants. FAP provides free and reduced cost MCAT prep materials, reduced cost registration for the MCAT, no fees for primary and secondary applications for up to 16 schools, and offers monies toward travel expenses for interviewing. Most medical schools also have travel grants for FAP eligible interviewees.

Applicants are eligible for up to 3 years of FAP.

There aren’t similar programs available for PA school.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t residencies in most specialties that aren’t primary care in urban areas?

YES! Radiation oncology, ultrasound tech, X-ray tech, they can all be done with 2-4 yr degrees, and many would say are far less stressful than bedside nursing. And they pay well. There are many, many ancillary medical jobs that pay well, require no more than a 4 yr degree, and often only a 2 yr degree. But people just don’t know about them. Imagine being 20 yrs old, and able to earn as much as 100K, without overtime, delivering a much-needed treatment.

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Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t residencies in most specialties that aren’t primary care in urban areas?

Well there are urban areas and there are URBAN areas. There are non primary care residencies in all sorts of smaller cities and towns. Is Iowa City, IA, an urban area? Taylor, MI? Danville, PA? Temple, TX? (All of these towns host ophthalmology residencies–so definitely NOT primary care.)

Here’s a link to FRIEDA which is a database of residency locations


I meant to clarify and say urban and/or affiliated with a medical school. I know about Iowa for sure as they have a well regarded ophthalmology residency. I wasn’t aware of the rest though. My perspective is a little warped. If only worked with fellowship trained sub-specialists. Thanks!

Ok, so what are a few of the top paying 2 year degree ancillary jobs?

Seems like the nursing track tends to be different than the pre-med track, while there are a few course overlaps, you couldn’t leave it too late to jump from one to the other (nursing to pre-med more difficult).

I’m sure you mean radiation therapy, not radiation oncology (which is medical specialty)

I have a friend who is radiation therapist. She used to be faculty at UT Southwest and taught radiation oncology residents. Then she moved to Lexington, KY and was faculty University of Kentucky where she helped to design the new radiation treatment facility there. She has a very comfortable lifestyle and doesn’t have the crazy work hours that my daughters who are physicians do.

Here is great resource for high school students (and anyone else) who wants to explore healthcare careers:


There are tons of general surgery residencies located in community hospitals that are not affiliated with medical schools. Ditto for EM, psych, anesthesia, pathology. (all of which are non-primary care specialties)

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Nuclear medicine technologist, radiation tech, respiratory therapist. All have salaries in the $60+ K range.

With a 2 year degree; no bachelor’s required.


Friend of mine has a BA in Statistics/Applied Math and has a terrific job with a pharma company designing clinical trials. She had thought of med school- but organic chemistry did her in. She has often marveled at her good fortune at being able to work in a well paid health care specialty with no grad degree, no fellowship, and frankly, not a lot of competition to get where she is. She graduated before the post-bacc programs became popular, and has commented that now she’d likely have tried again (more debt) before giving up on med school. She LOVES what she does, appears to be very well compensated, and says “why treat one patient at a time when you can treat thousands?” (i.e. if a trial is successful, look at the impact).

There are lots of healthcare professions!


As @WayOutWestMom said, there are quite a few in community hospitals which local (to me) kids choose when they want to stay local. Technically it’s an urban area, but there are fewer than 100K people in the cities. There isn’t much competition for those residencies (so it seems). It could also be that the hospitals rank highly those who come from a given area knowing they are likely to want to stay there. One common question my guy got when he interviewed farther away was, “What draws you here,” not meaning just their program but to their location. Local kids can answer that one quite easily. People wanting to relocate should make sure they have a good answer.

Well, for one thing, med school adcomms are pretty adverse to “poaching” students from other healthcare professional programs. Those auxiliary healthcare providers are desperately needed in many places.

Also adcomms typically expect that applicants who have trained on other healthcare professions have actually worked in those professions at least long enough that they are able to articulate clearly “Why medicine instead of _______?”

Also bailing on PA school sends a poor message to adcomms who will justifiably wonder if the applicant who bailed on PA school will bail on med school if it doesn’t meet their expectations, the going gets too tough, or some other more desirable opportunity comes along.

IOW, adcomms want to see evidence of a commitment to medicine, not just a commitment to any healthcare profession.

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