It’s often difficult to know the difference between a nurse practitioner (NP)and a physician assistant (PA) because they both provide similar care to patients visiting their doctor or hospital for treatment. As similar as they are, they’re both different healthcare providers, and they both have different educational requirements to work in their professions. Here is an overview of the nurse practitioner and the physician as well as the differences between the two.
Similarities Between Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants
Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are both advanced healthcare professionals who assist in treating patients. While they are two separate professionals, they both have similar duties, including the following.
- Obtaining and documenting patient medical histories
- Performing physical examinations and assessments
- Prescribing medication
- Diagnosing and treating common injuries and illnesses
- Administering physicals, screenings and vaccinations
- Counseling and teaching about nutrition and health
- Performing and interpreting lab studies and diagnostic testing
- Referring patients to specialists or other medical professionals
Nurse practitioners and physician assistants can both specialize in specific areas of medicine such as family medicine, cardiology, pediatric medicine, or geriatric medicine, among others.
Differences Between Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants
One of the main differences between nurse practitioners and physician assistants is that nurse practitioners can act in the role of doctor and treat patients independently. Physician assistants work alongside and assist doctors in treating patients. Another major difference between NPs and PAs is that NPs must have prior experience working in healthcare as a prerequisite for entering the NP program.
Although it’s helpful, PAs are not always required to have prior healthcare experience. Physician assistants are also not required to have as much on-the-job training as nurse practitioners. Physician assistants can begin their careers as soon as they complete their training, whereas nurse practitioners may be required to have several years of clinical experience before they can be their careers.
Educational Requirements for Both
Nurse practitioners, which are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), must have at least a master’s degree from an accredited program. They must also be registered nurses with at least a bachelor’s degree prior to enrolling in an APRN program. Some schools require applicants to have at least five years of clinical experience before they can enroll in the program. Upon completion of the program, the individual must become certified to obtain licensure, which is required in all the states. Some nurse practitioners earn a doctoral degree to earn the credential of Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
Physician assistants are required to have a master’s degree from an accredited program. If the candidate already possesses a bachelor’s degree, he or she can complete the PA training in two years. PAs are also required to be licensed in all the states. To obtain licensure, the candidate must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination. Certification and licensure for both positions require passing a certification exam.
Career Outlook for Both
Both NPs and PAs are in demand and can expect good job growth during the decade 2016-2026, according to a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nurse practitioners are predicted to see job growth of 31 percent and physician assistants should see a growth of 37 percent. As of a May 2017 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners nationwide earned an average annual wage of $103,880 with wages ranging from $74,840 to $145,630. Physician Assistants earned wages ranging from $66,590 to $146,260 with the average wage at $104,860.
Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are both valuable members of the medical industry because they assist doctors in treating patients and often provide the majority of the treatment, which allows doctors to be more efficient and see more patients. Learning the difference between a nurse practitioner and a physician can be beneficial whether you’re a patient seeking medical care or someone trying to choose a career in the healthcare industry.