Both nurse practitioners (NP’s) and physician assistants (PA’s) play a vital role in the health care industry and the well being of the patients they care for.
While nurse practitioners and physician assistants both have advanced educational degrees and are able to provide high levels of patient care to those in need of medical assistance including providing expert knowledge to help educate the patient about their condition, assisting patient with recovery programs, and diagnosing and treating a host of medical conditions and/or physical/mental ailments there are several differences between the two medical fields, the application of their medical knowledge and the types of training/education they receive.
PA vs NP (whats the difference?)
One of the major differences between a physician assistant and a nurse practitioner has to due with the type of education they receive.
The physician assistant program focuses on training PA’s on the field of medicine and to some extent PA’s may provide surgical assistance to a licensed physician in which they assist a surgeon with operations that involve surgery.
The nurse practitioner program trains existing nurse on an extensive knowledge based nursing model that allows NP’s to specialize in a particular field of healthcare such as geriatrics, neonatal care and mental health among many other specialized fields.
While PA’s may participate in surgical operations a nurse practitioner has not acquired the skills necessary to perform surgery and in many cases is not working under the supervision of a physician.
Another big difference between the two positions (as explained in the previous sentence) is the fact that physician assistant often works under the supervision of a physician who has acquired his/her doctorate degree while a nurse practitioner is able to work solely as a primary health care provider (generally without supervision) and can even open his/her own clinic, however nurse practitioners are not able to perform any types of surgical treatments and are limited in the types of care they can provide their patients with to the extent of their medical expertise, so a nurse practitioner that specializes in mental health may not be able provide medical prescriptions or treatments to an infant who needs neonatal care and vice versa.
Nurse practitioners can however choose to specialize in multiple fields in order to provide medical care to a wider range of patients.
In this respect nurse practitioners are able to diagnose and treat the medical conditions of patients within their field of expertise, prescribe medications and design treatment plans in order to create a recovery program for their patients.
Physician assistants may also train to provide care to a wide range of specialized fields; however they still operate under the supervision of a licensed physician.
If a physician assistant wants to open his/her own practice and provide additional medical care such as performing surgery (which a nurse practitioner cannot) they must go back to school and complete their doctorates degree as well as gain the necessary clinical care experience that is required in order to work as a primary physician healthcare provider and operate on their own.
Note: Even though most nurse practitioners are able to work alone there are some states that may still require a nurse practitioner to have limited supervision from a physician or a doctor in order to perform certain aspects of their clinical practice or at least have certain medical documentation signed off by a doctor, however some nurse practitioners are looking to eliminate this requirement in states that require a physician or doctors approval in order provide more direct medical care to their patients without the need to hire a doctor or physician in order to complete certain medical tasks.
Finally, physician assistants are able to begin working with a bachelor’s degree (such as a mentorship program) while they are in the process of earning their masters degree.
Most nurses who are interested in becoming a nurse practitioner must have at least their bachelor’s of science in nursing degree and have several years of experience working as a registered nurse before being able to participate in a NP program.
While physician assistants must hold a masters degree in order to be considered a full on physician assistant it is expected that in the next few years all nurse practitioner programs will require nurses to obtain their doctorates degree before they can begin working as a nurse practitioner.
When looking at the educational requirements of a physician assistant and a nurse practitioner those who work as physician assistants may begin working after around 6 years of education and training experience while nurse practitioners on average may be require to go through at least 10 years of education and training before being able to work in their profession to their full potential.