Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant

Many people believe a nurse practitioner (NP) and physician assistant (PA) are the same thing even though they are really two separate positions. In fact, these two titles actually describe two very different career choices, each with its own salary range and job opportunities.

What Is A Nurse Practitioner

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has received further training and schooling and has met certain state licensing requirements. Usually these requirements include a graduate-level education such as a Master of Science Degree in Nursing. This extra training qualifies the nurse practitioner for more in-depth patient treatment responsibilities and for more professional autonomy than she would have as either a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse.

What Kind of Salary Does a Nurse Practitioner Earn?

The national average salary for a registered nurse is, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than $64,000 a year or about $31 an hour. Because a nurse practitioner is an RN who has met a higher level of qualifications and has an increased level of responsibilities, her earnings are higher than this average.

Demand for nurse practitioners is also growing. As the 2011 news article, “Are Nurse Practitioners the Solution to Shortage of Primary Care Doctors?” reported on PBS’s News Hour, some professionals believe that increased insurance coverage in America is actually creating a doctor shortage, since more people can now afford to visit a doctor.  To remedy this shortage, nurse practitioners are being called upon to fill the gap.

What is the Job Description of a Nurse Practitioner?

Sometimes referred to as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), nurse practitioners treat their patients for  physical and mental illnesses, just as doctors do. They perform physical exams, diagnose illnesses, provide preventative medical care, and perform well-baby checkups. They can order and interpret diagnostic tests such as blood panels, x-rays and mammograms. They can also write prescriptions for necessary medications and dispense birth control. In their practices, nurse practitioners can serve as a patient’s primary care physician, and see patients in every age group, from pediatrics through geriatrics. They can specialize in areas such as family practice or gynecology.

How to Become a Nurse Practitioner

To become a nurse practitioner, you first must become a register nurse (RN). From there, depending on the state in which you hope to be licensed, you may be expected to either earn a Master of Science Degree in Nursing or a Doctor of Nursing Practice. Many states also require national certification of their nurse practitioner candidates. Some form of advanced training beyond what is needed to be an RN is required by all 50 states.

What Kinds of Jobs are open to a Nurse Practitioner Qualified?

Jobs for nurse practitioners are wide ranging and can be found in rural and urban settings. They include primary care clinics, emergency centers, public health departments, student clinics that are associated with colleges and universities, and women’s health centers like Planned Parenthood. Nurse practitioners can also find work in traditional doctors’ offices, veterans’ hospitals, and home health care agencies.

Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant: What Are the Pros and Cons of These Careers

While both a career as a nurse practitioner and a career as a physician’s assistant require a love of medicine and a sincere desire to help people, there are some major differences between the two professions. PAs earn more than nurse practitioners; on average, according to the BLS, a PA can expect to earn $86,000 a year. A PA will, however, be required to have a Master Degree which they typically earn in a program specifically designed for that career choice. While some nurse practitioners also earn a Master Degree, it is not required by all the states and some learn their specialized skills in a certificate program instead. Another important difference between these two health care professions is where they can work. While a NP can work alone in a clinical setting, a PA must work under the direct supervision of a doctor.

Only you can decide which of these attributes is most important to you. Whichever job you choose, you can rest assured that you will be starting an important and satisfying career.