NP vs. PA

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If you are considering an advanced degree in healthcare, you may want to know the difference between the nurse practitioner and physician assistant occupations. The truth is these two careers are similar in some ways as well as different in others. Most importantly, the both provide career alternatives to professionals who want to work in advanced healthcare but do not want to make the commitment that is needed to become a physician.

On a very basic level, it is important to know that a nurse practitioner (NP) attends a nursing school while a physician assistant (PA) attends a medical school or center of medicine. Because of this, the philosophies that graduates come out of school with are slightly different. Nurses follow a patient-centered model, in which they focus on disease prevention and health education as well as handle assessment, diagnosis and treatment. Physician assistants follow a disease-centered model, in which they focus on the biologic and pathologic components of health as well as are involved in assessment, diagnosis and treatment. Another difference to consider when looking at a nurse practitioner vs physicians assistant career is the areas of specialization that are available. NPs can work in many different and diverse areas, such as geriatrics, mental health, pediatrics and women’s health. PAs have more of a generalized education, but can also specialize in areas that may include emergency medicine, orthopedics and general surgery. When thinking about the physician assistant vs nurse practitioner careers, keep in mind the different health care philosophies, educational options and specialty areas available to determine what best might fit for you.

Side-by-Side Comparison

There are many points to consider when looking at these two occupations. Below is a side-by-side comparison detailing more about nurse practitioner and physician assistant job preparation and training, on-the-job frameworks, and pay and career outlook. It’s important to have a robust understanding of a career before beginning any educational program. While reading, do keep in mind that both NPs and PAs will play important roles in health care in the future. This is because the U.S. could see a shortage of 90,000 physicians by 2022 and 130,000 physicians by 2025, reports the American Association of Medical Colleges. Because of this, both NPs and PAs will be needed to step in and help fill vital health care roles.

Nurse PractitionerPhysician Assistant
Number practicing in the U.S.110,200 as of 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).86,700 as of 2012, according to the BLS.
PayThe mean annual wage, as of May 2013, was $95,070, or $45.71 per hour for NPs, according to the BLS.Annual mean wages for PAs, as of 2013, were $94,350, or $45.36 per hour, the BLS reports.
Expected job growth34 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than average for all occupations, according to the BLS.38 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than average.
Anticipated number of new positions available by 202237,10033,300
Meeting the Requirements
Degree requirementsCurrently, NPs need a minimum of a master’s degree from an accredited school to become licensed within a state. Even though the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recommended that the new NP standard be the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) as of 2015, states still just require a master’s or graduate degree.PA’s need a minimum of a master’s degree from an accredited medical school or center of medicine to seek licensure.
Degrees availableA NP can seek a master’s or DNP from a nursing school, although the DNP is suggested by the AACN. In the U.S., there are 92 DNP programs available for nurse practitioners.170 physician assistant programs, most of which were master’s degrees, were available in 2012, according to the BLS.
Program detailsNPs typically choose a specialty area and need to complete 500 didactic hours and between 500 to 700 clinical hours.PAs are trained as generalists and typically need to complete about 1,000 didactic hours and more than 2,000 clinical hours.
School accreditationNP programs typically will be accredited through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). Click here to search for CCNE accredited schools. Students can search for accredited master’s degrees and DNP programs through the AACN web page that can be found here.PA programs are accredited through the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant, Inc. (ARC-PA). A list of PA programs is made available through the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) and can be found here.
Certification and Licensing
CertificationNPs can seek national certification in their specialty area through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.PAs need to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) available through the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA).
LicensingA RN license, a master’s or graduate degree and national certification are generally needed to seek state licensure.A master’s degree from an accredited school and national certification are generally needed to seek state licensure.
Licensing AgencyNPs seek licensure through a state board of nursing or board of medical examiners. The AACN provides links to the licensing agencies with information available here.PA seeks licensure through a state medical board, board of medical examiners or similar. A list of state licensing agencies available through the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) can be found here.
Re-certificationNPs must be re-certified every five years. They may sit for the appropriate exam or complete a minimum 1,000 hours of clinical practice and 75 to 150 continuing education units in their NP specialty.PAs need 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) hours every two years and an exam every six years.
Details about the Job
Practice FrameworkNPs generally work with physician oversight. However, currently 250 practices in the U.S. are operated solely by NPs, and legislation is being pushed to expand the number of states that allow NPs to work autonomously from 16 to 30, according to The Washington Post.PA cannot work independently of physicians.
Average number of prescriptions written per week46.58 in 2013, according to a survey done by Advance Healthcare Network49.76 in 2013
Average number of patients seen per week56.28 in 2013, per the Advance study61.11 in 2013
Average number of years in practice8.9 years, per Advance Healthcare Network11.97 in 2013

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