Difference Between Nurse Practitioner & Physician Assistant

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Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are highly educated, licensed professionals who provide medical care. Both are authorized to make medical diagnoses, order diagnostic tests and lab work, and prescribe medications. However, they are educated differently, have different professional experience requirements and different supervision requirements. Most work in primary care, but they may also specialize in an area such as orthopedics or cardiology, or a patient population such as the elderly.

Similarities and Differences

  • Nurse practitioners must become registered nurses before they can become NPs. An RN might begin her career with a nursing diploma, associate degree or bachelor’s degree, while a PA must have a bachelor’s degree. Both are required to obtain a master’s degree, although either may have a doctorate. Both NPs and PAs must be licensed to practice. Each takes a national licensing exam, although the exams are different. Certification as well as licensure is mandated in all states for NPs, but PAs pass only a certifying exam to become licensed. Each state regulates NPs and PAs, so specific requirements may vary from state to state. PAs must have a supervising physician, while some states allow NPs to practice independently. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports PAs earned an average annual salary of $94,350 in 2013, while NPs earned $95,070.

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