What’s The Difference Between A Physician Assistant And A Nurse Practitioner And What Should You Choose?

December 23, 2013

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Over the last two decades, several new medical and healthcare professions have been created to keep up with the need for specialized health care. Two such healthcare professions are that of a physician assistant and nurse practitioner. 
Both of these professions are somewhat similar, with only subtle differences between them. This close similarity in job descriptions often poses a problem, as many people find it difficult to differentiate between the two specialties. This article helps you understand the two specialties in detail and clears up any existing confusion between them.  Both physician assistants and nurse practitioners require a formal degree of education and both are trained to take care of the ill and deliver healthcare to those in need. While at first glance they may appear to be similar, there are some differences between the two professions which mainly relate to the type of education that each profession requires.
Nurse Practitioner: A nurse practitioner, or NP, is essentially a more academically advanced and experienced registered nurse. In fact, a registered nurse acquires a nurse practitioner certification when he or she advances from a bachelor’s degree (BN) to a master’s or doctoral degree and qualifies through a national exam. Nurse practitioners must follow through with continued education and recertify after a certain number of years. Nurse practitioners may also need to apply for additional responsibilities at the state level.
Physician Assistant (PA): A physician assistant, or PA, must also earn a master’s degree. After this, a physician assistant must qualify by taking a national certification exam, called the PANCE, and practice under a trained physician. Physician assistants must also pursue continued education and state licensure. In addition, PA’s have to recertify after a certain amount of time through another examination, which is called the PANRE.

Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant

One major difference between the two professions is the type of education required. Whereas physician assistants qualify through a more general medical examination, called the PANCE, and are not required to complete a residency, nurse practioners generally qualify through an exam more specific to population of focus, such as pediatrics or geriatrics, and have practical experience as BNs before qualifying. Usually, NPs and PAs are both able to diagnose and treat illness in addition to prescribe medication; however, nurse practitioners may have to apply on the state level for certain additional responsibilities, such as prescribing medication.
Another difference between the practice of physician assistants and nurse practitioners is that a physician assistant must practice under the supervision of a physician. Although pysician assistants, or PAs, may be able to perform certain duties on their own, they do this under the authority of their supervising physician. On the other hand, nurse practitioners may have more independence in that they can carry out some tasks in providing healthcare and assistance independently, without supervision by a physician, depending upon state laws, level of education, and additional certifications and qualifications achieved.
Because physician assistants have to work in sync with a qualified physician, the number of hours they work is more closely related to that of their supervising physician. On the other hand, nurse practitioners may have more autonomy in that regard. Since, in some states, nurse practitioners can work solo, nurse practitioners can decide when and for how long they work. If their work is not dependant on any other medical professional, they will have more discretion as to their own professional lives and routine.

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