3 key differences between a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant

Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant

Entering the health care field is an exciting decision, but you will have several years of classes, training, and learning ahead of you. This kind of commitment means you need to know what you're getting into and be aware of your options. One common question that students ask is the difference between a nurse practitioner and physician assistant. While there are many similarities, these professions have significant differences. Below are just a few to make your decision better informed.

Both Fields Pursue Higher Education and Examinations

When a nurse advances from a bachelor's to a master's or doctoral degree and completes an exam, they receive a nurse practitioner certification. Physicians Assistants also need to complete their master's degree and have their own certification process, the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (PANCE).

Both parties need to retest every few years in order to maintain their certification. Nurse practitioners need to recertify every five years, but can also recertify by meeting the clinical practice and continuing education (CE) requirements. In most states, that's 1,000 clinical hours and 75 continuing education hours. Physician Assistants need to recertify every 10 years and have 100 continuing medical education credits.

Physician Assistants Work Under the Guidance of Someone

Upon completion of their education and certification process, the Physician Assistant works under the supervision of their Physician. They may be able to complete certain individual duties, but often require approval beforehand.

Conversely, nurse practitioners don't need the supervision of a doctor to carry out their medical treatment, and can even run their own clinics and offices independently in 21 states. They also have prescriptive authority in all 50 states, which means patients don't necessarily need to see a doctor to receive treatment. Before pursuing a career as a nurse practitioner, check to see what your state requires, as you may need specific certifications and licensing to practice independently.

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Nurse Practitioners Tend to be More Patient-Centered

Nurse practitioners tend to have a long-term approach to working with patients. This is increasingly important when you look at the role of chronic disease in America. Nearly half of all Americans suffer from some form of chronic disease, and two-thirds of all death is caused by chronic disease like cancer or diabetes. Nurse practitioners work with their patients to form long-term health plans and provide health education and counseling to those who are at risk.

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Physicians Assistants, on the other hand, are more disease-centered. They work with physicians to identify problems with patients and brainstorm treatments and eventual cures. Their goal is to work with physicians to get patients as healthy as they can be and back on their feet.

Despite these differences, both career fields complete patient assessments, prescribe treatment, and perform diagnostic tests to determine the health of their patients.

While the education and legal practice operations are significantly different, the type of candidates that both fields attract is incredibly similar. Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants pursue their careers because they want to help people and have a passion for comforting patients and making them as healthy as possible.