Physician Assistant vs. Nurse Practitioner

By: Coach Sara So you’re dreaming about adding the title “Doctor” to your name. You start researching how to make that happen and get a big shock when you see how long and expensive a process it can be! If this sounds like you, Physician Assistant (PA) or Nurse Practitioner (NP) might be a great alternative career to consider. According to one Physician Assistant CAA spoke to, PA and NP careers are up to 90% identical! How will you choose which is right for you? Here are four important differences to keep in mind: 1. Education Many students don’t realize that doctors and nurses have differing approaches to healthcare; that difference is reflected in their education. Both careers, PA and NP, require a master’s degree and a licensing exam. To become a PA, there is no specific undergraduate major you must study, though there is a long list of required science coursework to get into PA schools, so majoring in biology is suggested. To become an NP, on the other hand, you should earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing and get your nursing license before entering an NP master’s program.


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2.  Independence Though PAs are fully-licensed medical professionals, they are not allowed to practice without the supervision of a doctor. An NP is considered an independent medical practitioner and has the option of setting up their own private practices. However, it is common to find an NP working alongside a doctor, just like a PA.   3.  Mobility Since PAs must work under the supervision of a doctor, you can generally find PAs in various work settings, from emergency rooms to outpatient clinics to operating rooms. Over the course of her career, a PA may find herself working in any or all of these settings. An NP will generally specialize in one area of care in which he will practice throughout his career.   4.  Opportunity Both PAs and NPs are among the nation’s fastest-growing professions. PA is currently the number four fastest-growing career, while NP is number ten. NP is the larger profession, with a projected 5,850 annual openings to PA’s 4,890. According to the PA we spoke to, doctors sometimes prefer to work with PAs simply because of their similar approach to medicine. However, with the rising demand for healthcare professionals, both of these careers will see huge growth over the coming decade.


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With their good pay and expanding opportunities, both Physician Assistant and Nurse Practitioner are great options for students interested in the healthcare field. The more you know about each career, the more easily you can decide which one best fits your personal interests and goals. We encourage our clients to contact CAA to discuss their options!