What’s The Difference Between a Physician Assistant and Nurse Practitioner?

Doctors, assistants, and nurses oh my!

We’re all aware of the average physician, aka a doctor.  Doctors come in all shapes and forms.  We all start out having a pediatrician, specializing in under 18s.  Then we move on to a primary-care physician.  If you’re lucky, the only doctor you’ll have in your life is a primary-care physician.  However, most of us aren’t and we end up meeting a few other doctors along the way.  Medicine doesn’t begin and end with doctors.  Physician Assistant and Nurse Practitioner are two very common terms you’ve probably come across, but do you know what the difference is?


The Physician Assistant

Physician assistants grew in popularity during World War I.  During World War I, the immense bloodshed required the US military to fast-track military physician training.  The end result of this fast-tracked training was the physician assistant.

Physician Assistants are often just that, assistants to physicians.  However, in the United States and most other countries with PA programs, physician assistants maintain the ability to do much of what physicians can.  So, how is a PA different from a physician.

First, physician assistants must practice under the supervision of a physician.  No, that doesn’t mean a physician assistant can’t be in the examination room with patients without a physician.  It just means that, regardless of the institution, a physician must oversee a physician assistant.  That said, the PAs can work with patients to develop treatment, in most states prescribe medicine, suture wounds, and carry out check-ups.  As you might have guessed, surgery is off limits to physician assistants.

Physician assistants are in high demand with a projected growth of 30% over the next ten years.  PAs also benefit from a fantastic annual salary with the average PA bringing in $98,180 annually.

Physician Assistants recently turned 50
Physician Assistants recently turned 50

The Nurse Practitioner

Nurse Practitioners are nurses who are highly trained and highly skilled.  They aren’t the typical nurse in that they are much more independent and have more freedoms that physicians have.  Nurse practitioners are becoming more popular in the United States due to a growing shortage of primary-care physicians and doctors.  Nurse practitioners aren’t required to complete the rigorous and time-consuming course work physicians are.  This allows nurse practitioners to practice sooner than physicians while at the same time, having much of the capabilities of a physician.

Nurse Practitioners have more independence than Physician Assistants.  In many US states, nurse practitioners aren’t required to practice alongside a physician and can hire out their services independently.  NPs can also perform minor surgeries and have more freedom to write prescriptions.

Nurse Practitioners are also in high demand with a projected ten-year growth rate of 15%.  The average salary of an NP is also healthy.  The average NP will make $95,661 in a year.

Unfortunately, you don’t know all of the medical professions now.  For example, what’s a Physician Hospitalist?  That’s for another time!

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