Nurse Practitioner Vs Physician’s Assistant

Often in the field of medical science, there are two or more careers which seem to be similar but can be quite different in nature. The relationship between a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant is of the same sort.  Though they may be similar in some aspects, they are quite different in others. If someone is interested in pursuing a career in similar lines, then it is important to learn the exact difference between these two occupations. Let us compare these two professions.


As far as the duties go, they are practically the same. The salary too is roughly the same. The main difference lies in their education. An NP learns from a nursing school, on the other hand, a PA has to learn from a medical school. The amount of training each one undergoes is also different. NPs can practice autonomously without the supervision of anyone. However, PAs aren’t authorized to do so. Another major difference in both these professionals lies in their approach to treatment. This is explained later in the article.

Job Duties

A nurse practitioner usually works under the supervision of a Physician. However, they can practice medicine independently in about 16 states. This might be extended to about 30 states soon.

Medically speaking, they can diagnose and treat their patients. They are also allowed to order tests and some minor operating procedures. They can also assist physicians or other doctors with surgery. Sometimes, they can handle some high-risk cases depending on their specialty. Patients also consult them regarding any medical doubts that they may have.

It is important to note that a Nurse Practitioner will take a patient centered approach to the treatment. This means that they respect a patient’s needs, wants and preferences before they perform certain procedures. They also focus on disease prevention and health education.

In contrast, a physician assistant isn’t allowed to work without the supervision of a physician. But in rural areas (where the reach of a physician is limited), PAs coordinate with their supervising physicians and act as primary health care personnel.

A PA takes down (or finds out) the medical history of a patient. They are also authorized to diagnose and treat patients under the supervision of their physician. Like NPs, they can also assist in some surgeries and take on some high-risk cases when possible. They treat minor wounds, apply casts and provide a range healthcare facilities.

Physician assistants, on the other hand, take a disease-centered approach to the treatment. They focus on the biological and pathological aspects of health and treat them after a probable diagnosis.

Education Requirements

A nurse practitioner undergoes education in a nursing school. They go for degrees such as Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). They are also required to become a registered nurse before applying for the licensure exam of the nurse practitioner. They could also choose to approach becoming an NP after becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). There are a ton of bridge courses like RN-MSN, LPN-MSN and even accelerated BSN course to achieve a master’s degree. Earlier a Master’s degree was enough to become an NP. However, there are talks about it becoming mandatory to have Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree to become one.

Additionally, an NP is required to spend about 500 hours in the classroom and about 700 hours in the clinic the get the required experience appear for the licensure exam.

In contrast, a physician assistant attends medical school to undergo education. They are required to get both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from any of the medical schools. The degree can be Master of Health Science (MHS) or Master of Medical Science (MMSc). There are many other options available. However, the degree needs to be from a certified school for the student to be able to give the PA licensure exam.

Moreover, PAs are supposed to undergo about 1000 hours in the classroom and an additional 2000 hours in the clinic.


The licensure exam for nurse practitioners is conducted by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) depending on the area of specialization that you have chosen. They need to get recertified every 5 years or undergo 1000 hours of clinical practice and about 100 education units in this duration.

Physician assistants need to give the licensing exam known as PANCE. They also must recertify themselves every 6 years with an exam known as PANRE. Additionally, they are supposed to spend about 100 hours in continuing medical education every two years.

Career Specializations

A nurse practitioner can choose to specialize in fields like geriatrics, adult, pediatric, family, psychiatric and diabetic care.

A Physician assistant on the other can specialize in fields like surgery, orthopedics, dermatology, urgent care and emergency.

Average Salary

As mentioned before, the salary of both professionals is about the same. They vary from $95,000 to $99,000 on an average. Both their salaries can increase by specializing in some or the other field. With about 20 years of experience, their salary might increase by $10,000.

The sheer length of this article should tell you about the vast difference between the two professions. There are obviously more differences and similarities. However, discussing them all in detail would take up too much of your time. For more details please to refer to other articles on our website.