Two of the hottest advanced degrees in healthcare are nurse practitioner (NP) and physician assistant (PA.) Both professions are similar and relatively newly created to help treat specialized healthcare needs. But, a lot of eager young people considering one of these healthcare tracks have a relatively unclear idea of how they are different. Some, even would consider those professions almost interchangeable because they both are commonly pursued paths of those who wish to work in healthcare but don’t necessarily want to make that huge commitment to receive a doctorate to become a physician. However, they are different in several ways.
Essentially, nurse practitioners are RNs that have gone for more schooling and built on their training. They can either work alone or in the sights of a physician, depending on state regulations.
Physician assistants basically can have the authority to practice medicine, but require the supervision of an accredited physician.
Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant
1. Difference in Schools/Requirements.
One of the largest differences between NPs and PAs is the schooling and credentialing differences. Nurse Practitioners get their degree in nursing school while physician assistants must attend a medical school.
Nursing schools follow “patient-centered model” focusing on prevention, health education, diagnosis, and treatment. Medical schools focus more on “biological and pathological” parts of health even though they are also focused in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment because they follow a disease-centered model.
NPs require a master’s degree from a nursing school and need to choose a specialty area to complete 500-700 hours of clinical in. “A RN license, a master’s or graduate degree and national certification are generally needed to seek state licensure,” according to NursePractionerSchools.com.
PAs need to finish over 2,000 clinical hours of generalized practice.
2. NPs are more specialized.
Nurse practitioners can work in varieties of areas where as physician assistants receive more general education so that they can treat a greater range of patients. NPs are placed in categories of work such as pediatrics, women’s health or geriatrics. However, PAs can also be grouped in more specific lines of work like orthopedics or emergency medicine, for example.
3. Job Outlook of Nurse Practitioners vs Physician Assistant is similar.
Both NPs and PAs are taking on more roles because of the ever-widening gap in the physician shortage. By 2025, the U.S. could see a 130,000 physician shortage. Both nurse practitioner and physician assistant jobs are expected to grow at 34% and 38% (respectively) from 2012 to 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
4. Pay is about the same.
Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants virtually earn the same salaries, on average. BLS reported an average annual wage of $95,070 ($45.71/hr) for NPs and a average annual wage of $94,350 ($45.36/hr) for PAs.
5. Working with “physician oversight” differences.
Some practices are now operated solely by nurse practitioners. Legislation is pushing to allow more freedom for NPs so that in more states they can perform more procedures without the accompaniment of doctor to help with staffing shortages. Currently, NPs can work independently in 22 states and counting. Additionally, NPs have the freedom to write out prescriptions while PAs cannot prescribe medications without a doctor. PAs work closely with physicians so their hours depend directly on the physician so they are less able to control their work than nurse practitioners.
6. Re-certification processes are different.
NPs need re-certification every 5 years with at least 1000 hours of clinical in their specialization. PAs need 100 hrs of Catagory CME every 2 years and have to take an exam every 6.