RATIONALE, AIMS AND OBJECTIVES The physician assistant (PA) is trained to perform clinical tasks traditionally performed by medical doctors (MDs). Previous research showed no difference in the level of clinical skills of PAs compared with MDs in a specific niche, that is the specialty in which they are employed. However, MDs as well as PAs working within a specialty have to be able to recognize medical problems in the full scope of medicine. The objective is to examine PA students' level of general clinical skills across the breadth of clinical cases. METHOD A cross-sectional study was conducted. PA students and recently graduated MDs in the Netherlands were observed on their clinical skills by means of an objective structured clinical examination comprising five stations with common medical cases. The level of mastering history taking, physical examination, communication and clinical reasoning of PA students and MDs were described in means and standard deviation. Cohen's d was used to present effect sizes. RESULTS PA students and MDs score about equal on history taking (PA 5.8 ± 0.8 vs. MD 5.7 ± 0.7), physical examination (PA 4.8 ± 1.3 vs. MD 5.4 ± 0.8) and communication (PA: 8.2 ± 0.8 vs. MD: 8.6 ± 0.5) in the full scope of medicine. In the quality of the report, including the patient management plan, PA students scored a mean of 6.0 ± 0.6 and MDs 6.8 ± 0.6. CONCLUSIONS In this setting in the Netherlands, PA students and MDs score about equal in the appraisal of common cases in medical practice. The slightly lower scores of PA students' clinical reasoning in the full scope of clinical care may have raise attention to medical teams working with PAs and PA training programmes.