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What Is the Difference between a Nurse Practitioner and a Physician Assistant?

What Is the Difference between a Nurse Practitioner and a Physician Assistant?

People seeking to venture into the medical career, in most cases, find themselves in a dilemma of making an appropriate choice between nurse practitioners and physician assistants, despite the fact that the two serve in the health provision sector, they bear different roles in regard to the level of education they undergo and the training they are subjected to. Vital to note about nurse practitioners and physician assistants is that they are both mid-level medical practitioners. They are not doctors but assume some roles that are traditionally taken on by doctors. Some of the major roles that nurse practitioners and physician assistants play in common are making diagnoses and prescribing medication. Irrespective of the holding of low-ranking positions in the medical docket, services provided by nurse practitioners and physician assistants are more cost-friendly than those offered by other physicians.

Before defining the difference in roles played by nurse practitioners and physician assistants in relation to healthcare provision, it serves great significance to mention that NPs (nurse practitioners) and physician assistants (PAs) compete for similar positions. Noted competition is, however, mitigated by the fact that some specialized roles demand the competency of nurse practitioners over that of physician assistants and vice versa. Even though in some instances, nurse practitioners and physician assistants perform a similar role in the health profession, they are drawn from different traditions and educated in different schools or departments. Before making a choice of which medical career to pursue, students should base their decisions on healthcare philosophy, individual level interest, roles they intend to serve, and their previous exposure to healthcare. The differences existing between nurse practitioners and physician assistants are brought about by various factors, as will be discussed below.

The most notable difference between NAs and PAs is seen in the difference in the way they approach patient care. Moreover, models used to train both nurse practitioners and physician assistants display a notable difference in the way they are prepared to achieve the required nursing model. For instance, registered nurse receive their training in agreement with the nursing training sculpt while physician assistants attend training programs that go in line with the medical model (Brock, Nicholson, & Hooker, 2017). By being subjected to different rationing models, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants come into sight with varying perspectives and attitudes about patient care. Specifically, the nurse practitioner’s training model follows a patient-based model, whereas physician assistants adhere to the ailment-centered model. By following the noted training models, nurse practitioner gives attention to a patient’s needs from an emotional and mental perspective as much as from their physical problem.

On the other hand, physician assistants, through being subjected to a medical training model, places greater emphasis on the pathology of an ailment. Medical training models make physician assistants come within reach of patient care by focusing on the composition and physiological organizations that form a person’s body. Differences in patient care noted in nurse practitioners and physician assistants are further enhanced by other factors such as the role they play, specialties, education programs anatomy, among others. Starting with job basics, physician assistants bear the responsibility of diagnosing illness and injury, performing examinations, and providing treatment routines to patients.

In addition to the defined duties, it is vital mentioning that physician assistants carry out their duties without the supervision of Managing directors. Patient care duties performed by physician assistants are governed by the scope of their training and professional code of ethics (Graves et al., 2016). A distinction exists between common duties performed by physician assistants and nurse practitioners in that despite performing the same roles as the physician assistant; their duties are predefined by the managing directors. Unlike physician assistants, the nurse practitioners’ primary role is ensuring that patients’ needs are tended to effectively. Additionally, nurse practitioners frequently practice independently without the consent of direct physician oversight. Duties performed by the physician assistants and nurse practitioners vary in that a nurse practitioner diagnoses and treats various illnesses and injuries while physician assistants major in a specific type of ailment.

Practice settings in which both the nurse practitioner and physician assistants perform their duties also bring about a notable difference between the two health practitioners. Considering that physician assistant work in collaboration with designated physicians, it implies that their duty performance is limited in doctor’s offices, hospitals, and additional situations in which they toil as a team with other medical experts (Graves et .al, 2016). The case is different in a nurse practitioners since they toil in myriads of settings where a supervisor is required. Specifically, instead of offering their services in offices, nurse practitioners practice their specialty in settings such as schools, skilled nursing facilities, and camps. In such settings, nurse practitioner offers similar services given by doctors, but in case of a challenge, they consult medical doctors in search of guidance. Specialties entailed by the two medical practitioners in consideration also display a degree of role differences.

Physician assistants concentrate on many dockets that specifically deal with definite types of ailment and mediation of the ailment in consideration. Major specialties of physician assistants include everything from dermatology medics to surgery. On the other hand, registered nurses get their qualifications in a specific populace, such as kin health, women’s health, and psychological health. Moreover, a registered nurse practitioner can further specialize in the practice setting and type of disease (Buerhaus et al., 2015). The explained ideology implies that nurse practitioners can only specialize in a specific field that he or she is conversant with. This presents a definite reason why many hospitals have nurses who specifically specialize in a particular medical condition.

Practice autonomy displayed by physician assistants and nurse practitioners raises an additional difference in the role served by a nurse practitioner and physician assistant. The level of operating independently attributed to general practitioner assistants has more to do with the means by which laws are read in each state. Self-government and liberty, however, signify something diverse when providing a definition of the scope of follow. Physician assistants are expected to toil under definite joint conformity with a managing director. Daily routine activities of the physician assistants require oversight from a physician. Noted ideology implies that physician assistant spends most of their time working autonomously. Irrespective of the noted ideology, Physician assistants can carry out their activities independently in cases where physician involvement in the wellbeing of a patient is limited to few visits per week.

Laws put forward by about half of the states for advanced registered nurses grant the nurse practitioner full freedom to practice independently as per their education qualifications. A nurse practitioner can thus operate with little or no supervision from a supervisor or a managing director. Unlike physician assistants, NPs are permitted to operate and prescribe without entering into a definite consensus with a physician. Irrespective of the permission granted to nurse practitioners to operate freely, many states expect them to uphold the collaborative agreement with supervisors who work directly above them. Many nurse practitioners working in both independent and states where joint collaboration is an expectation offer their services in sanatoriums as a fraction of a superior health provision team (Solomon et al., 2015). The noted difference implies that many medical professionals serving as physician assistant practice medicine autonomously while nurse practitioners do not operate autonomously. Upon doing away with a college education, physician assistants serve their medical role under a collaborative agreement. Nurse practitioners, having received their education with the application of a different model from nurse practitioners, are more patient-centered, while physician assistants are more disease-centered.

Nurse practitioners display the trait of working with patients. Nurses work with patients with the aim of defining a lasting health plan and providing health-based education and counseling to patients who are a risk. Moreover, the nurse practitioner’s role in taking care of the patient is defined for a specific population. Unlike nurse practitioners, physician assistants are more centered on addressing the healthcare needs of the general population without focusing on a specific group of people. Rather than working directly with the patients, physicians’ assistants, as earlier noted, are more disease-centered (Kartha, Restuccia, Burgess, Benzer, Glasgow, Hockenberry & Kaboli, 2014). To solve ailment-related problems, physician assistants work with physicians to pinpoint problems with patients and brainstorm treatments and define cures for the noted ailments. The major objective of physician assistants working together with physicians is to ensure that patients get back to their feet in the shortest time possible.

Even though the education and certification of nurse practitioners and physician assistants present less significance in the way they serve patients, the two perspectives present a notable difference between the two professionals. Certification and accreditation are performed by the Commission On Collegiate Nursing Education Or Accreditation Commission For Education In Nursing. Accreditation takes place after an individual has completed a master’s degree in nursing (Bay less & Hanaper, 2013). The requirement has, however, been by the rising shortages of nurses in many American regions. Accreditation of physician assistants is done through the Accreditation review commission for Physician Education. Education requirements for an individual to become physician assistants are not as high as that of a nurse practitioner since all it requires for one to become a general practitioner is a graduate program running for three years that majors in basic clinical rotations.

Despite serving in a similar docket, roles played by nurse practitioners and physician assistants display a degree of distinction. As noted in the essay, the differences are brought about by various factors such as job basics, autonomy, specialties, practice setting, and education and programs. Accreditation that the two individuals undergo also presents an additional role difference. The scope of operation that the two professionals are subjected to also presents notable differences between the nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Irrespective of the noted difference, the two careers in consideration play a vital role in assessing the needs of patients, prescribing treatment to patients, and performing diagnostic tests to determine the health status of their patients.


Bayless, T. M., & Hanauer, S. B. (2011). Advanced therapy of inflammatory bowel disease.

Brock, D. M., Nicholson, J. G., & Hooker, R. S. (2017). Physician assistant and nurse practitioner malpractice trends. Medical Care Research and Review, 74(5), 613-624.

Buerhaus, P. I., DesRoches, C. M., Dittus, R., & Donelan, K. (2015). Practice characteristics of primary care nurse practitioners and physicians. Nursing Outlook, 63(2), 144-153.

Graves, J. A., Mishra, P., Dittus, R. S., Parikh, R., Perloff, J., & Buerhaus, P. I. (2016). Role of geography and nurse practitioner scope-of-practice in efforts to expand primary care system capacity. Medical care, 54(1), 81-89.

Kartha, A., Restuccia, J. D., Burgess Jar, J. F., Benzer, J., Glasgow, J., Hockenberry, J., … & Kaboli, P. J. (2014). Nurse practitioner and physician assistant scope of practice in 118 acute care hospitals. Journal of hospital medicine, 9(10), 615-620.

Solomon, D. H., Fraenkel, L., Lu, B., Brown, E., Tsao, P., Losina, E., … & Bitton, A. (2015). Comparison of Care Provided in Practices with Nurse Practitioners and physician assistants Versus Subspecialist Physicians Only: a Cohort Study of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Arthritis care & research, 67(12), 1664-1670.


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What Is the Difference between a Nurse Practitioner and a Physician Assistant?

What Is the Difference between a Nurse Practitioner and a Physician Assistant?


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