Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant: All You Need to Know

With the increased demand in healthcare facilities across the United States, medical setups strive to accommodate healthcare professionals according to their areas of specialization. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are two key advanced medical practitioners who share similar responsibilities. It may range from diagnosis to treatments to the prescription of medicines. However, these healthcare portfolios differ greatly in the paths they follow to get training, certifications, and specializations. 

Let us unfold the key differences between a nurse practitioner and a physician’s assistant to find the best-suited career path. Without further ado, let us get straight to the topic. 

Who is a Nurse practitioner (NP)? 

A nurse practitioner (NP) is a licensed healthcare professional who can work in all medical setups to provide comprehensive care to patients of all age groups. In 2021, NPs were granted legal authority to full practice without the supervision of a physician in 24 states.

Who is a Physician Assistant (PA)?

A physician assistant (PA) is a licensed mid-level healthcare professional who provides primary healthcare services in the medical setups. Physician assistants can diagnose, treat diseases and prescribe medications.

NP vs. PA: What are the Educational Requirements? 

Both NPs and PAs require a graduate degree and clinical practice to pursue their careers in their respective fields. However, educational criteria for nurse practitioner vs physician assistant vary in terms of certifications and training. 

To become an NP, you must earn a BSN degree and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. After passing this examination, you receive an RN license to practice as a registered nurse in your state. Other requirements include a graduate degree such as an MSN or a DNP with clinical practice of a minimum of 500 hours and certification of NP. You need to renew your CNP every five years by taking education for 100 hours and doing clinical practice for 1,000 hours. 

On the other hand, you can become a physician assistant by earning a master’s degree, typically an MS in Physician Assistant Studies, with an advanced clinical practice of 2,000 hours. In addition, you need to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) to secure your state license. PAs must renew their certification every 6 to 10 years and complete medical education for 100 hours every two years. 

NP vs. PA: What are the Roles and Responsibilities?

Nurse practitioners deal with a particular population group such as neonatal infants, older adults, families, and women. They are responsible for the holistic care of the patients and develop comprehensive treatment plans for them by taking valuable insights from other healthcare experts. 

The responsibilities of an NP working at a primary, acute, or specialty care level are: 

  • To direct and examine diagnostic tests 
  • To diagnose and treat chronic health conditions
  • To prescribe treatment plans and medication
  • To manage the overall care of patients 
  • To raise awareness among patients about the prevention of diseases
  • To promote a healthy lifestyle among patients

The role of physician assistants is more inclined toward medical education. They diagnose and treat illnesses with medications under the supervision of physicians. In addition, they get training in a variety of healthcare facilities related to various specialties and subspecialties. The main difference lies in PAs tend to focus on a particular field of medicine, for instance, internal, emergency, or surgery specialties. 

The responsibilities of a PA are:

  • To conduct a physical examination and record medical histories
  • To perform procedures and assist in surgery
  • To direct and examine diagnostic tests
  • To diagnose and treat acute health issues
  • To prescribe treatments and medicines

NP vs. PA: Career Outlook and Salary

Nurse practitioners perform their duties in a wide-ranging setup, including local and private hospitals, outpatient care centers, physicians’ offices, clinics, and other educational services. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment opportunities for NP are likely to increase by 26% by 2026. The average salary of an NP currently stands at $112,500 in the United States. However, it varies across different specialties and states.  

According to the data provided by the BLS, the career prospects for PAs are bright, with growth projections of 31% by 2030. PAs practice in various settings, including hospitals, urgent care centers, outpatient facilities, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and other medical education setups. In 2021, the average salary of PAs was $121,530 per year. However, it depends on various factors, including specialization, state, and experience.

NP vs. PA: What are the Key Differences?

Nurse practitioners can work in various specialties after earning certifications for those specialties. For instance, if they want to switch to family nurse practitioner (FNP) from neonatal, they require certification and relevant education for this transition. On the contrary, physician assistants do not need new certification and training to change their specialties once they are licensed.

Nurse Practitioners follow a patient-focused model while dealing with the patients. On the other hand, PAs adhere to a disease-centered (medical) model. 

NP vs. PA: What are the Professional Resources? 

American Nurses Association (ANA), the American Association of Nursing Practitioners (AANP), and the National League for Nursing (NLN) are valuable resources for NPs who wish to continue the journey of professional development. Similarly, the American Academy of PA (AAPA) and the National Commission on Certification of Physician’s Assistants (NCCPA) are recommended resources for physician assistants. With the help of the resources mentioned, you can benefit from networking opportunities, participate in seminars, and grow your professional career.

Final Thoughts 

It is better to understand the similarities and differences between the two medical professionals to pursue a career that aligns with your goals. To make it clear, NPs are more focused on specialized care for a particular population group, whereas PAs are well versed in all the basic aspects of medicine and specialties. You must figure out your career aspirations before starting your education, as it is a long-term investment of time and effort.

Hope this article benefits you and gives a clear picture of the medical professions that help you choose the profession that suits your personality the best. Happy Reading.