Pros and Cons of Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant

The Pros and Cons of Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant include the approach to patient care and different education requirements.

It’s not unusual to go to a doctor’s office and see both a physician assistant (PA) and a nurse practitioner (NP), which has many people wondering about the difference between a physician assistant and a nurse practitioner. These are different jobs. But, the physician assistant pros and cons are similar to the pros and cons of the nurse practitioner.

What is a Nurse Practitioner (NP)? 

Is a nurse practitioner the same as a PA? No. A Nurse Practitioner (NP) is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). Basically, an NP is a registered nurse with a master’s degree. These professionals have more responsibilities than RNs. The NP patient care draws from the nursing model.

What is a Physician Assistant (PA)?

A Physician Assistant (PA) is an individual with a master’s degree. They work interdependently with licensed physicians and other medical professionals. They diagnose and treat illnesses and diseases and prescribe medication for patients. The physician assistant scope of care draws from a medical model. So, physician assistants focus on a specific type of medicine or medical treatment.

Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant

Nurse Practitioner (NP)Physician Assistant (PA)
Dutiesexamine patients
diagnose illnesses prescribe medications
provide treatment
examine patients
diagnose illnesses prescribe medications
provide treatment
Patient Carespecific patient populationspecific type of medicine
Degree RequiredMaster’s degreeMaster’s degree
Cost of Education$35,000 to $70,000$60,000 to $90,000
Practice ScopeCan operate own practice in certain states.Can operate own practice in certain states.
Modelnursing modelmedical model
Job Growth45%31%
Salary$123,780 (BLS)$121,530 (BLS)
Certificationrecertification is every two years and continuing education hours.recertification is every two years with 100 continuing education hours
Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant

Job Duties

Both of these health care providers are highly trained medical professionals. They treat and diagnose patients and help fill the high need for better and more affordable healthcare. Thus, their assistance allows doctors to treat more patients. However, there are still several differences between a physician assistant and a nurse practitioner.

Is an NP Higher Than a PA? 

A PA and RN both work as mid-level practitioners and are part of a healthcare team. However, in many states, nurse practitioners can operate independently, while PAs must have a doctor supervise them. So, which is better, physician assistant or nurse practitioner?

Is it Better to See a Physician’s Assistant or a Nurse Practitioner?

Both PAs and NPs are more cost-effective than doctors. Which is one of the main reasons our healthcare system is experiencing an increase in these jobs. Both medical professionals provide safe and quality care. But, NPs follow a nursing model and focus on preventive health and education. Whereas, PAs train in a medical model.

What Can a PA Do that an NP Cannot?

Both Physician assistants and nurse practitioners can diagnose medical conditions and prescribe medications. They can order and read labs and other diagnostic tests.


NP vs PA Education Requirements

After earning a bachelor’s degree, prospective students can enroll in a master’s program. The length of the master’s program is similar for both a PA and an NP. And students can complete either master’s level program in 2 to 3 years. The time to complete it depends on the program and whether they attended full or part-time.

Education Required for Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with at least a master’s degree from an accredited nursing school. But, there is a trend for NPs to have more education. So, in the foreseeable future, they may need a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree for a nurse practitioner career.

NPs are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). These professionals have about 500 hours in the classroom and 700 hours of clinical work. The NP also chooses an area of specialization.

A nurse practitioner can obtain certification in one specific area of specialization and can earn additional certifications in various areas. Certification is through the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and the American Nurse Credentialing Center. To maintain certification, NPs must complete 75-150 continuing education credits and at least 1,000 hours of documented clinical work.

Education for Physician Assistants

Physician assistants must complete a master’s degree physician assistant program accredited by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. PA school generally requires at least 1,000 classroom hours and 2,000 clinical hours.

PAs must have a license and certification. They must pass a certification exam through the National Commission on Certification of Physical Assistants. Certification renews every two years and PAs must complete at least 100 hours of continuing education credits.


Practice Scope of PAs and NPs

Both PAs and NPs work in various medical settings. One of the main differences between the two is how they approach patient care and the training they’ve received to prepare them for their careers.

Nurse practitioners complete nursing training according to the nursing role. Physician assistants complete training that’s more in line with the medical field. NPs focus more of their care on patients and their physical, emotional, and mental needs. In contrast, PAs focus on diseases and illnesses and the anatomy and different systems that make up the human body.

Physician assistants may specialize in a specific type of medicine, like emergency medicine or family medicine. While the nurse practitioner profession focuses on a certain specialty area like women’s health, geriatrics, or pediatrics.


Where Do They Work?

Physician Assistants work in primary care, family medicine, emergency medicine, psychiatry, surgery, and many other areas. Their job duties depend on the job. For example, a surgical physician assistant help with sutures post-surgery. And they also help with care before and after an operation.

PAs Work Environments

  • Physician offices
  • Hospitals
  • Employment service office
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Urgent care centers
  • Surgery centers
  • Government and community health agencies
  • Universities and research agencies
  • Healthcare or health industry businesses
  • Phone triage centers
  • Rural healthcare facilities
  • Nurse-managed medical centers
  • Psychiatric Hospital
  • Orthopedics
  • Dermatology
  • Pathology
  • Critical Care
  • Surgery
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Adolescent Medicine
  • Pediatrics

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are both specialty and primary care providers. And they typically care for a particular population of people. These nurses deliver advanced nursing services to patients and also their families. They assess patients, determine how to improve or manage a patient’s health, and discuss ways to integrate health promotion strategies into a patient’s life.

NPs Work Environments

  • Hospitals, acute care or ambulatory care settings
  • Outpatient settings
  • Long-term care facilities and nursing homes
  • Private homes providing health care services
  • Hospice and palliative care services
  • Government and community health agencies
  • Universities and research agencies
  • Healthcare or health industry businesses
  • Private practice
  • Phone triage centers
  • Rural health care facilities
  • Nurse-managed medical centers

Career and Job Outlook

Both physician assistants and nurse practitioners are helping fill the need for more healthcare professionals to see, treat and diagnose patients, and both can expect very good career opportunities.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that physician assistants could expect job growth of 28 percent between 2021 and 2031, and nurse practitioners could expect a growth of 46 percent during that same decade.

This means that over the next decade, there will be 12,700 jobs for physician assistants and 30,200 NP openings each year.


Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant Salary

Both nurse practitioners and physician assistants are in demand and earn good salaries!

NP Salary

Do nurses make good money? The median annual salary for nurse practitioners is $123,780 (BLS May 2021). And the range is from $79,870 to $200,540.

Highest Paying States for Nurse Practitioners (BLS)

Below are the five top-paying states for Nurse Practitioners.

  • California – $151,830
  • New Jersey – $137,010
  • New York – $133,940
  • Washington – $130,840
  • Massachusetts – $129,540

PA Salary

A physician assistant salary is around the same range as an NP. Physician Assistants earn an average of $121,530, ranging from $77,940 to $164,620.

Highest Paying States for Physician Assistants (BLS)

The BLS reports the below states to have the highest mean salary for Physician Assistants.

  • Rhode Island – $146,880
  • Alaska – $145,830
  • Connecticut – $141,790
  • New Jersey – $140,080
  • New Hampshire – $137,330

Nurse Practitioner (NP) Certification

The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) website has information on Nurse Practitioner certifying organizations.

The ANCC requires NPs to renew their certification every two years. They need 1,000 clinical hours and 75 hours of Continuing Education Units (CEUs) during the two-year certification. Additionally, the hours must include 25 hours of pharmacology.

Physician Assistant (PA) Certification

Certification through the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) is on a 10-year cycle. However, professionals must complete at least 100 continuing education (CE) credits every two years. In addition, PAs must pass a recertification exam at the end of each 10-year cycle.

Healthcare at the advanced practice level, including working independently or collaboratively. With so many baby boomers aging, the need for more graduate-level healthcare providers is increasing daily. Plus, the demand for these professions has escalated because of the Affordable Care Act, with more than 40 million people added to the primary care systems after finally getting health insurance in the last two years.


Professional Organizations

Several professional organizations and associations support professionals in nursing and physician assistants. Below are some of these groups.

NP Professional Organizations

  • American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP-CP)
  • National Certification Corporation (NCC)
  • American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN)
  • Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
  • American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

PA Professional Organizations

  • The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA)
  • Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA)
  • National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA)

Summary of Pros and Cons

Pros and ConsNPPA
High SalaryXX
Jobs are in DemandXX
Work Hour FlexibilityX
Good Work-Life Balance X
Practice IndependentlyX
Flexibility To Change SpecialtiesX

Choosing Your Career Path

The combination of our growing population, the increased complexity of our healthcare system, and also the aging older population of Baby Boomers strain our healthcare system. And jobs in the healthcare sector will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.

Choosing to become an NP or a PA comes down to what you prefer and need for your career. Despite the many differences between physician assistants and nurse practitioners, the one thing they both have in common is that both offer a great deal of job satisfaction.


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