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Physician Assistant vs Nurse Practitioner

The most popular discussion I have come across while being pre-med was regarding the topic physician assistant versus nurse practitioner. If you take the time to look at job openings on some of the popular career websites many organizations will advertise the job opening, “nurse practitioner/physician assistant needed. You would think there is no difference but after all there is a reason these profession have two different names. Let us take this opportunity to set the public straight on the what each of these professions are all about.

When investigating the topic of physician assistant vs nurse practitioner, similarities and differences will be found amongst these two roles. First let’s review what a nurse practitioner is. A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice nurse who has completed either a master’s or a doctoral degree and has received training in the diagnosis and management of common and complex medical conditions. The nurse practitioner may hold a national certification in an area of specialty such as family, pediatrics, adult care or acute care and is licensed through nursing boards. Priorities of the Nurse practitioner role include prevention, wellness and patient education. Nurse practitioners are a primary health care provider and treats both physical and mental conditions through history assessments and physical exams. Patient care is individualized and is provided to all ages depending on their scope of practice. Within the United States, Nurse practitioners are licensed within the state they practice and are nationally board certified through organizations such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center, or the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. Nurse practitioner may either work independently or collaborate with a physician depending on the state they practice within. Prescriptive rights vary by state regulations.

Now let us continue discussion of a physician assistant vs nurse practitioner by discussing the role of a physician assistant. A physician assistant (PA) is a healthcare professional that is licensed to practice medicine with the supervision of a licensed physician. Roles include maintaining, preventing, and treating human illness and injury by providing health services that a physician would. Just like a nurse practitioner, the physician assistant performs physical exams, diagnoses and treats illnesses, interprets tests, counsels on preventative health care and writes prescriptions. The physician assistant also assists in surgery.

In our discussion of a physician assistant vs nurse practitioner, so far it may still seem like they are the same. Several differences exists. One big difference is the education of both. Although but professions have received a masters degree, the education of a physician assistant is within the medical model. Their profession is represented by the American Academy of Physician assistant. Their master’s degree may be in Physician Assistant Studies, Health Science, or Medical Sciences. Their certifying organization is the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Unlike an Nurse practitioner, a physician assistant cannot own a clinic and must work under the supervision of a Physician.

In concluding the topic of a physician assistant vs nurse practitioner, one should look more closely at both roles by reviewing university program websites and their national organizations. It may be more logical for a registered nurse that wants to advance their career to become a nurse practitioner since the underlying philosophy is within the nursing model. A physician assistant may be better well suited for someone that was pre-med or in biological sciences that wants to assist in surgery or work very closely with a doctor. My suggestion is to take a look at the programs universities offer and perhaps speak with someone that is already a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant.