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The healthcare field offers many rewarding career paths, including physician assistant (PA) and nurse practitioner (NP) jobs. While these careers might appear similar, there are notable differences that set them apart. Knowing more about both of these career paths can help you compare PA vs NP opportunities so you can choose the one that’s right for you.

These careers both offer a chance to provide patients with care, but in different ways. They also have different educational requirements. Keep the following information in mind as you compare a physician assistant vs nurse practitioner career.

What Is a Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners, or NPs, are healthcare workers who diagnose and treat illnesses while also providing patients with guidance in preventing and managing health conditions. Nurse practitioners are registered nurses with a specialty in caring for a specific population, such as geriatric patients, pediatric patients, adult patients, or patients with certain conditions, such as cancer. NPs are required to have an advanced education, such as a master’s degree in nursing in their chosen specialty. They must also meet and maintain state licensing requirements throughout their career.

Nurse practitioners earn a median salary of $114,510 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Depending on their experience and where they work, these nurses have salaries that can range from $82,960 to over $156,160 per year. The job outlook for NPs is 45 percent through 2029, which is considerably higher than the average job outlook for all careers.

Duties of a Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners perform a wide range of duties on a daily basis. These often include running diagnostic tests and interpreting the results, which helps them come up with a treatment plan. These diagnostic tests and treatments are for both acute and chronic health conditions. The types of health conditions NPs diagnose and treat can vary depending on the patient population they work with. For example, they might diagnose and treat conditions such as arthritis or Alzheimer’s more often when caring for elderly patients compared to pediatric patients or young and middle-aged adult patients.

NPs have several other duties, as well, such as prescribing medications as needed for managing or treating chronic or acute health conditions. These nurses also typically manage each patient’s care in general, which might include providing them with guidance or education on preventing diseases or other medical conditions through lifestyle changes.

What Is a Physician Assistant?

Physician assistants, or PAs, are healthcare workers who work with physicians and other healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat medical conditions. PAs also examine patients in addition to running diagnostic tests and interpreting the results.

These healthcare workers can work in any area of medicine, such as emergency medicine, primary care, and surgery. They also provide patients with education on managing health conditions and keep track of their progress as needed. PAs need a master’s degree and typically 2000 hours in clinical rotations. They must also pass a certification exam and meet the requirements for state licensing.

Physician assistants earn a median salary of $115,390 per year, according to BLS. However, their earnings can range from $76,700 to more than $162,470 depending on where they work and their experience. For example, PAs in outpatient care centers might earn $124,610 per year, while those working in physician offices might earn $113,460 per year. The job outlook for PAs through 2029 is 31 percent, which is also significantly higher than the national average for all jobs.

Duties of a PA

PAs are responsible for multiple duties that are part of providing quality care for patients. These duties often include reviewing a patient’s medical history, conducting an exam, performing diagnostic tests, and interpreting them. PAs might also be responsible for providing patients with treatment, such as treating injuries, managing chronic conditions, and providing vaccinations. Other duties PAs might handle include educating patients on managing health conditions or injuries, prescribing medications, and assessing each patient’s progress as needed.

Some PAs have duties that include participating in community outreach programs to educate residents on disease prevention and management. PAs might also be responsible for studying the latest treatment methods for certain diseases or medical conditions. In areas where physicians are not available on a regular basis, PAs might serve as primary care providers for the local community.

Differences and Similarities Between a Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant

The main difference between a nurse practitioner and physician assistant is their educational requirements. NPs have an educational background that focuses on a specialization within nursing, while PAs have an educational background that focuses on general medicine. Being an NP provides a chance to specialize in caring for a specific population. Being a PA often means caring for a more general patient population. Specific requirements, such as the number of hours of clinical rotations needed, also differ for PAs and NPs. When you’re comparing nurse practitioner vs PA keep this in mind in terms of your education. PAs often need a higher number of clinical rotation hours compared to NPs.

The similarities between NPs and PAs include providing care for patients, such as diagnosing and treating illnesses and promoting improved health and well-being. NPs and PAs also have a strong job outlook, as well as comparable salaries. When deciding between these careers, keep all of these differences and similarities in mind.

If you’re thinking of becoming a nurse practitioner, please visit American Sentinel College of Nursing and Health Science at Post University. We offer three nurse practitioner specializations with our online Master of Science in Nursing program that can help you gain the education needed for this healthcare career.


Thank you for reading! The views and information provided in this post do not reflect Post University programs and/or outcomes directly. If you are interested in learning more about our programs, you can find a list of our accredited online nursing programs or reach out directly! 

Please note jobs, career outcomes, and/or salaries highlighted in this blog do not reflect jobs, career outcomes, and/or salaries expected from any Post program. To learn more about Post’s program and their outcomes, please fill out a form to speak with an admissions representative.