Nurse practitioner (NP) vs physician assistant (PA)? This common question affects many aspiring medical professionals who don’t want to follow the paths of traditional registered nurses and doctors. For some, the decision is easy, like choosing a medical tablet for its ease of mobility versus an all-in-one medical computer for its larger screen. Or a truck to regularly haul garden supplies versus a minivan which is more for “hauling” the local junior soccer team. 

For others, though, the nurse practitioner vs physician assistant debate – and its decision – is a never-ending debate that can paralyze a person with indecision. We hope today’s guide between the two can help those wishing to move into their right career path. 

What Is the Difference between NP and PA? 

One of the most asked questions about nurse practitioner versus physician assistant is which is “better”. They’re usually a variation of one or more of the following:

  • Are nurse practitioners higher than PA? 
  • Is it better to be a PA or NP? 
  • Is a PA higher up than a nurse? 

The simple answer is…there isn’t one. As the tired cliché goes, it’s an apples versus orange comparison. 

There are many similarities and differences between Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants The similarities in general include: 

  • Involvement in primary care.
  • Considered mid-level medical professionals in the healthcare field.
  • Want to help patients be comfortable while striving to get them back to full health.
  • Perform patient assessments, prescribe treatment, and perform diagnostic tests 

The differences, however,  between the two career paths are significant and include:

  • Separate qualifications, education, and responsibilities. 
  • Unassociated specialties. 
  • Receive distinct forms of supervision, if any, by providers.

Training Models

Here’s another way to view to nurse practitioner versus physician assistant question:

Nurse practitioners focus on the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of the patient with the disease. This is the training model used for all registered nurses. 

Physician assistants focus on the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease affecting the patient. This is the training model practiced by MDs.

Nurse practitioners are one of the four types of nurses. They have a degree as a Registered Nurse (RN), and have obtained additional education and training in patient care administration. Many do so by specializing in serving a particular patient “population”. These include:

  • Adult-gerontology 
  • Pediatrics 
  • Psychiatric and/or mental 
  • Women

An NP, for example, will: 

  • Examine how an illness affects the quality of the patient’s life. 
  • Focus on the patient’s health progression and restoration.
  • Consider factors such as cultural beliefs, ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic status affect treatment. (Example: priest or rabbi for Last Rites, denial of transfusion due to religious belief, family does not want the patient notified of their terminal illness, etc.)  
  • Implement any treatment plans in such a manner that values the patient’s preferences and beliefs as well as their families’ input (“We don’t want Grandma to know about the cancer.”)

Physician assistants, on the other hand, are more disease-centered. Like medical doctors (MD), they focus on providing care through disease management and prevention. They assist providers in getting patients to get well and back on their feet.

Training is the medical-school learning model. PAs are educated in general medicine, which is one of the reasons why many can be found working in Urgent Care centers. They may then, like MDs, specialize in different categories like surgery PA.

Note NPs specialize by earning certifications. They must undergo formal education and pass the appropriate exams for their specialties. PAs, on the other hand, do not need to undergo additional training or testing for new specialties. 

Scope of Practice 

Scope of Practice, as defined by the American Medical Association, are those activities, tasks, or jobs a healthcare professional is legally allowed to do as part of their job. In the US, the states determine what they are and their limits.

Job seekers comparing nurse practitioners versus physician assistants should take note, as:

  • There are currently 22 states and the District of Columbia that allow NPs to have full practice, or diagnose, prescribe, and treat patients without provider oversight. Examples: Alaska, Nebraska, South Dakota.
  • Sixteen states have granted NPs reduced authority status, allowing NPs to diagnose and treat patients, but require providers to prescribe medications. Example: Kansas, Louisiana, and Utah. 
  • Finally, 11 states require NPs to work under their provider. Example: California, Oklahoma, and Virginia.

Scope of practice is far more fractured for PAs. In Utah, for example, a PA who has less than 10,000 practice must work under their supervising provider. Afterwards, they no longer need to do so. A PA working in Illinois collaborates with their providers, who doesn’t need to be physically present to review their work. And so on. Many states require PAs and their providers to document the former’s duties and responsibilities. This includes the prescription of medication. The written agreement may – or may not – need the approval of that state’s medical boards.

Salaries and Job Opportunities

Nurse practitioner versus physician assistant on salary is, again, really no battle at all. Their niches are quite distinct, and they work together in their shared goal for best patient care. 

Here, though, is the most recent info if it factors in your job choice. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an NP makes around $120,680 per year. Employment opportunities are high, as the medical profession looks to grow 46 percent from 2021 to 2031. 

The BLS states PAs make on average $121,530 per year. Growth of employment opportunities is slower at 28 percent in the same time frame. 

Closing Thoughts

The “Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant” is a common debate for career seekers looking for something besides traditional RN and doctor roles. Both career paths are valued in healthcare with their distinct jobs and responsibilities. 

Contact an expert at Cybernet if you’re interested in learning more about how these two medical professionals excel in their jobs through use of medical computers, medical grade monitors, and tablets.