Advanced Practice

The Difference Between a Nurse Practitioner (NP) and a Physician Assistant (PA)

As many patients know, people rarely see a medical doctor for routine physical examinations anymore. They are far more likely to have an appointment with a Nurse Practitioner (NP) or Physician Assistant (PA) who works in the practice. Many people are unaware of what each title actually means. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know the difference for a very long time. What is the difference between a Nurse Practitioner and a Physician Assistant?

Nurse Practitioners

A Nurse Practitioner is a registered nurse (RN) who also has a Master’s degree and clinical experience. The NP may work independently or as a member of a health care team. He or she helps to educate patients, with a focus on health maintenance, counseling, and disease prevention. A nurse practitioner must choose a particular specialty during his or her training. This training allows him or her to empower patients and ensure better patient outcomes, and may involve the patient’s family in their treatment plan. A Nurse Practitioner has a collaborative relationship with physicians.

Nurse Practitioners have a median 36-hour work week, with a median salary of $73,000 annually. They may work in a variety of settings and specialties, including family medicine, neonatal, pediatrics, geriatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, acute care, occupational health, or as Certified Nurse Midwives and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists.

Nurse Practitioner
Physician Assistants

A Physician Assistant is a licensed health professional who has passed the national certificated exam that is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. He or she does not choose a specialty, but must complete a clinical rotation through various specialties without regard to post-graduation career path. The PA works under the supervision of a physician to provide preventative, diagnostic, and therapeutic health care services. He or she helps take medical histories, examine patients, treat patients, order and interpret lab tests, order and interpret x-rays, make diagnoses, and provide treatment for minor injuries. In most states, a PA also has prescribing privileges. A Physician Assistant may also participate in managerial or supervisory duties.

Physician Assistants have a median 32-hour work week, with a median salary of $69,000. They may work in a variety of settings and specialties, including family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, internal medicine, emergency medicine, orthopedics, general surgery, thoracic surgery, and geriatrics. Those who specialize in surgery are involved in preoperative and postoperative care; they may also work as assistants during major surgery.

Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant?

Both Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants can play important roles in health care practices. Patients are in good hands, whether they are treated by a PA or NP. Prospective students should consider becoming a Nurse Practitioner if they favor the nursing model or a Physician Assistant if they favor the medical model.

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