Over the past few decades the landscape of healthcare in the US has changed drastically, and this transformation will continue for the foreseeable future. With physician shortages commonplace and projected to reach between 42K and 121K by 2030, other medical practitioners have stepped in to meet the growing demand this gap in healthcare providers has created. Two types of advanced healthcare positions are the physician assistant and nurse practitioner.
Although both can be found within hospitals and clinics and both fill similar roles treating illnesses, educating patients, and prescribing medications, physician assistants and nurse practitioners should never be mistaken as interchangeable or synonymous professions. When comparing the role of physician assistant vs. nurse practitioner, the main differentiator lies in their practice constraints/framework.
PAs must work under the supervision of physicians in the vast majority of US states. However, depending on the collaborative agreement they have with an MD—as well as the specific laws in their states—many PAs are able to work independently. They are allowed to prescribe medications in most states and have a separate regulatory board in several states.
NPs generally work with physician oversight, however 22 states plus the District of Columbia allow NPs to work autonomously. This means they can orchestrate every facet of healthcare for their patients, from performing initial examinations to forming diagnoses, ordering laboratory tests, devising treatment plans, and prescribing medications.
The difference between PA and NP practice responsibilities is just a start, however. There are also slight variations in education programs, certifications, and licensing procedures. Read on for a full PA vs. NP breakdown below.
PAs attend a medical school/center of medicine and must obtain a minimum of a master’s degree to seek licensure. Unlike NPs, these healthcare professionals follow a disease-centered model that is focused on the biologic and pathologic components of health. Specializations include emergency medicine, orthopedics, and general surgery.
NPs attend nursing school and obtain either a master’s or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree to become licensed within a state, and most have at least ten years’ RN experience prior to making the move to NP. They follow a patient-centered model that is focused on disease prevention and health education. Specializations include geriatrics, mental health, family medicine, pediatrics, and women’s health.
Becoming an advanced practice provider is one way to take your career to the next level. However, choosing to pursue PA vs. NP licensure may depend on the laws within your state as well as the demand for practitioners in your area. Research the requirements and practice constraints for each credential before committing to a change and determine which career path will enable you to help the most patients while also offering the professional stimulation and security you need.