Is PA School a stepping stone to Medical School?

The short answer: PA Education and the PA Profession is NOT designed to be a stepping stone for medical school.

Long Answer: There are a few important points to consider about using PA as a stepping stone for MD:

PA Education is subsidized in Canada, and there are a very limited number of spots for the PA program. This spot is a huge investment of time, teaching, resources, and placements to help add to the PA work force, and help with the growth of the Profession of PA. IMO the spot should go to someone who is committed to practicing as a PA and contributing to the advocacy of the PA Profession.

You don’t just become a PA “and that’s it”: PAs can continue to grown as clinicians, switch specialties, or become educators, entrepreneurs, researchers, policy experts, authors.. which bolsters the profession and lends a unique perspective to other pursuits.

3 Reasons Why PA School is not a stepping stone for MD

Reason #1: PA and MD are two distinct careers in my mind. There are no bonus points for doing PA school when you apply for MD. You also cannot skip any parts of medical school because you did PA. Also, most Canadian PA schools are pass/fail, so any coursework or grades that you do in PA school would not count towards applying to medical school.

PA is its own DISTINCT career. It’s not meant for or designed to be a stepping stone for medical school

Reason #2: It’s a huge time investment. If you commit to being a physician, doing PA is a roundabout way. You add an extra 2 years + years of practice (if applicable). Instead, you should apply directly to MD. That way you aren’t paying tuition for 2 degrees, and you are spending more time on the path you are more committed to.

Reason #3: Saying you want to be a PA, when in fact you want to be an MD is inauthentic. Its different if you are a PA, and then have a change of heart and decide to pivot your career. But, if you go into admissions full well knowing the end goal is MD seems inauthentic to me.

Of course, there are many examples of individuals who do other careers knowing full well they want to become an MD.

What does PA Admissions Think?

A PA Program would not be in favour of a student using PA school as a means to another career – especially if thats something thats admitted anywhere during the admissions process (e.g. . They would rather the spot go to a PA student who is committed to practicing as a PA and advocating for growth of the PA profession in Canada.

I think choosing PA means you’ve made a commitment after a lot of self-reflection, thought and preparation.

Are there exceptions?

HOWEVER, there are some PAs who during or after graduating from PA school, realize they are interested in another career (e.g. such as becoming an MD, going into consulting/sales and leaving clinical practice, etc.)

When you do PA school (or any other health care program for that matter), you are not blacklisted from applying to other programs. It’s your choice and decision.

Just as nursing is not a “bridging program” to MD, nor is pharmacy, dentistry or other health care professions.

In light of this new knowledge, what should I do?

Tip #1: Learn more about the PA profession

If you aren’t sure which PA school to apply to, research the PA profession and learn more about it:

  • Can you see yourself practicing as a PA?

  • Can you get through the rigour of learning an accelerated medical curriculum in a didactic and clinical placement setting?

You can try contacting a PA student or PA to ask some questions and learn more about their journey – which can then help you decide on your decisions.

Tip #2: Identify your long-term goals are, your values, and your personality; then ask yourself – does this PA role fit in those 3 categories?

If you are considering PA, and meet admission requirements I would go ahead apply. Even if you are considering other health care programs. At worst you can turn down the offer of acceptance (if you make it that far!).

What if I become a PA, and then decide later I want to go and do MD?

Everyone’s life circumstances is different, and who are we to judge the path that someone takes to reach their goals?

No one is in your your exact shoes, knows you, your life situation, your challenges and long-term goals. It’s ultimately your decision is okay if you decide to do. Us Practicing PAs hope that although you’re going onto bigger and better things that you would continue to advocate for the PA role if opportunities arise, and that you would consider hiring a PA for your own future practice!