To shed light on nurse practitioner vs physician assistant, we will go into detail to reveal all there is to know on each of them. Nurse practitioners and physician and assistants are both advanced healthcare positions that have been recently created to keep pace with the changing environment and needs of patients. You already know the revolution changes that keep coming in the sector of healthcare hence the need to change dynamics once in a while. Both these specialties have so much in common with only mild differences that have been confusing many people especially students who want to make a choice on their future education and career.


NP vs PA Overview

Nurse practitioners are advanced professionals who have either earned a master’s or a doctorate degree in a specific area of specialization such ad adult or child care. The duties they perform may vary from one state to another but they generally perform diagnosis and offer medication for illnesses and conditions within their area of specialization. Depending on their education and state regulations, an NP can be allowed to operate privately or if they have to be attached to a physician with more qualification and license of practice. To become operational, you have to be licensed before you can start your practice.

A physician assistant practices direct medicine but that has to be under the supervision of a licensed physician. They perform healthcare calls at homes, hospitals and other nursing institutions under the directive of their overall physician who has to approve of every decision they make. As of 2012, the Bureau of Labor statistics placed the number of programs for PAs at 179. To qualify for such programs, one has to have an undergraduate degree. This has to be accompanied by practical experience on any field of nursing. The course work for most of the programs last for 2 years (of course there are some that are longer while others take less than 2 years). It is compulsory to acquire state license of practice. It is also a requirement in all states that you must pass Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE).


Major Similarities

Both professionals are trained to take care of the ill and it is not such a big deal to find one doing the same duty done by the other. Some of the common duties both of them have to perform include:

  • Digging into patients’ medical histories
  • Screening patients to discover their conditions and illnesses
  • Refer clients to other specialties for the conditions they cannot deal with
  • General prescription of medication
  • Perform lab tests and offer interpretation to the results
  • Treat common diseases and injuries. These are the cases which do not require any kind of specialty

Another similarity is that both have to hold formal degree before getting a job. What differentiates them is that NPs need advanced education as opposed to PAs who need lesser educational qualification and learning periods.

Another common thing you will see in both of these careers is that they both have chances to work in the same environments. They can both find jobs in hospitals, home care institutions, travel companies, factories, nursing agencies, non-profits organizations and so on.

Major Differences


As much as these 2 professionals are more close to each, there exist clear differences that you should know before you make your final decision on which path to follow. Here is an elaboration of the few differences that may exist between the 2:

Education Requirements

PAs qualify through general examinations called the PANCE and they are never required to complete a residency. This is a general qualification which does not focus on a specific field and that is why their career does not have many narrower choices to specialize in. They do not require a prior qualification before they are considered for the choice. On the other hand, NPs take a more specific kind of examination which will require them to get specialization in a narrower subdivision such as geriatrics or pediatrics. They are also supposed to have experience as BNs before they are considered for a qualification. PAs have lesser areas of specialization hence their scope of duties is way less to what NPs have in their typical day. As much as they have similar duties, NPs can perform almost all duties done by PAs but on the other hand, PAs are not in any position to perform some of the advanced duties done by NPs.


NPs are at liberty to perform most of their duties without the scrutiny of any other senior officer. PAs are under the constant watch of a physician and their decisions and actions have to be ratified before they are implemented.

PAs are not the ones who decide the length of their working shifts. Since they work under someone else, it is dependent on how long the physician has to work that their duration on work is based on. NPs are relatively independent and they can define their work duration but of course, they have to bear in mind the set regulations for how long a shift should last at their place of work.

Areas of Specialty

NPs can narrow down their specialization into a number of options. These include:

  • Basic care
  • School nursing
  • Cardiology
  • Neonatology
  • Emergency care
  • Family healthcare practice
  • Pediatrics

On the other hand, PAs can take their specialization down to the following narrow smaller fields:

  • Pediatric practice
  • Family care practice
  • Pediatrics
  • Geriatrics

As you can see, the former has a wider scope of choice to narrow down their career to as compared to PAs.


NP vs PA: Quick Stats and Facts

  • There are more women than men in both of these niches but their ratios vary. The ratio in NPs is much higher at 80% as compared to 45%.
  • The salary for both is differentiated by an individual’s specialty and workplace settings and not more by the other factors such as location play a lesser effect.
  • In general, PAs earn 5-7% less than what NPs earn whether on hourly or yearly basis
  • Despite the fact that there are more women than men in the both specialties, male practitioners earn more than the females. Salary reviews show that a male NP and PA will get between 11-13% more than what a female colleague with the same experience and education will earn.


Differences in Figures of NPs vs PAs in the US

In 2012, Bureau of Labor Statistics placed the number of NPs at 110,200 while APs trailed this figure at 86,700. There are more NPs than APs and this can be pinned down on the fact that the former get hefty pays and better working environment. It is also because many students are compelled to choose a more challenging career path.

In 2013, a nursing practitioner took home an annual mean salary of $95,070 while a PA raked in a yearly average of $87,990. On the hourly basis, NPs took $45.70 while PAs got $38.88. This is yet another difference that would compel nursing professionals to make a decision to be NPs as opposed to APs if they consider the monetary aspect to be an advantage.


In general, there is a prediction for the nursing careers to expand in an average of 26% by 2022. Coming to specific areas, each career path is expected to show a variance in the expected growth. The nursing practitioner filed is expected to register a 34% growth by the end of 2022. This is way above most of the other specialties and it may draw focus to it and get more students choosing it in the near future. The physician assistant specialty is expected to show a greater growth at 37% by the end of the same period. This is the highest growth projection that will be posted from any other nursing field. The actual numbers show that there will be 37,100 and 33,300 new vacancies for NPs and PAs respectively by the close of 2022.

Qualification Requirements

As it stands, you will need a master’s degree to qualify and be licensed to be an NP. However, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recommended that the qualification standards be taken up to the doctorate level by 2015. Most states have not complied with this recommendation and there are some that only need a graduate degree. To get a license of practice, PAs need a master’s degree from any credible medicine center or school of medicine.

NPs are supposed to choose an area of specialization. Before this, they are expected to have completed 500-700 clinical hour and 500 didactic hours. For APs are trained as generalist and do not need to choose an area of specialization. They will need a practical experience of more than 2,000 clinical hours and 1000 didactic hours.

Process of Licensing and Certification

Certification for NPs is sought from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or the American Nurse Credentialing Center (ANCC). PAs only need to pass the PANCE to get certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistant (NCCPA).

Once you are certified, it will not last indefinitely due to the changing dynamics in healthcare. You will have to re-certify within the timeframe set for each occupation. NPs are recertified after every 5 years by sitting for appropriate exams or by completing at least 1000 hour of active clinical practice. On top of that, they are also expected to have taken 75-150 educational units in their area of specialization. PAs will need 100 hours in continued medical education (CME) in a duration of 2 years and sit for the appropriate exam after 6 years.

Crucial Details About the Job


Generally, NPs work under the oversight of a senior physician. They will make consultations from time to time but most of the time they work independently. They are allowed to make decisions on their own if it falls within their area of specialty. Today, 250 practices in the US are run by NPs. That figure is expected to grow as there is a new legislation that will compel more states to allow the autonomy of NPs in their areas of work. Only 16 states allow for such autonomy but if the legislation is passed it is estimated that 14 more states will come on board totaling to 30 states that allow the independence of practice by NPs. On the PAs side, there are no circumstances to work independently. They are to work under the scrutiny of a physician for as long as they remain in that position.

Future Outlook for Nurse Professionals and Physician Assistants


From previous BLS predictions, the demand for nursing professionals will be looking to grow by at least 26% for the period from 2012 to 2022. This is a clear indication that there is a good future prospect to choose any the 2 choices but it come down to your preference.

Which Career is the Best for You?

Students and those who want to advance their education find themselves in need to make an informed decision about what they should pursue. One of the dilemmas you may find yourself is that of becoming a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. This is a good start to decide what nursing specialty should be for you. It comes down to the depth of anatomy you want to get indulged into and the time you are planning to dedicate to your education. You will need more time and dedication to become NP as opposed to what you need to become a PA. Your need to get a job fast may also be another factor to consider which of the 2 choices is good for you. To become an NP you will require 10 years of experience before you can get that job you are eyeing. For a physician assistant, you will need fewer years of experience as well as shorter time in school. If you put these factors into consideration, you will be able to make a choice that you will never regret in your lifetime.

You should never have such a hard time to make the right choice when it comes to nurse practitioner vs physician assistant. The good news with nursing is that the prospects for each specialty are pretty bright. Generally, there are jobs available for whichever choice you make. It will come down to your preference and passion. Now you are on the informed side so go ahead to decide a career choice that will bring a smile to your face every other time you wake up and get ready to go to work.

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