Both the nurse practitioner and physicians assistant are an integral part of the solution to the growing healthcare crisis in the United States. Both NP’s and PA’s provide cost-effective patient care, preventative care, and health promotion through community outreach programs. Both are established clinicians and both must complete a masters program and be certified in order to practice. Both the nurse practitioner and physicians assistant are required to retest for certification every few years.

However, while both parties have similar paths to practice their vocation, there are significant differences between nurse practitioner and physicians assistant. Below are some of the remarkable differences between the two. Keep in mind some of these differences apply to certain states and are not nationally recognized. If you’re thinking about advancing your career you may need to verify certain facts with your state of residence.

Nurse Practitioner

What You Do:

As a NP you must have your RN/BSN and obtain your master’s degree in nursing and obtain further clinical training in your chosen specialty. Once you have obtained your advanced degree and your certification you will be able to diagnose and manage a wide range of common, as well as complex, medical conditions effecting your community. Depending on the state in which you live, you may be able to practice independently, or under the guidance of a licensed physician.

As a nurse practitioner you will focus your care on the patient more holistically than a PA would. You’ll provide disease prevention education, health promotion, outreach, nutrition information, and medical counseling as necessary.

Nurse practitioners are allowed to prescribe medication in all 50 states, however FL does not permit NP’s to prescribe controlled substances.

Certification and Recertification Process:

As a nurse practitioner you will be required to sit for an initial examination to obtain certification.This national board certification must be in an area of specialization. These areas are acute care, adult, family, gerontology, neonatal, oncology, pediatric, psychiatric, or women’s health specialties.

Every 5 years going forward, you will need to be recertified. You may choose to sit for the exam, or, if you have met the required clinical practice hours and continued education, you will be meet the requirements to by-pass the exam. The number of clinical hours amassed must be a minimum of 1000 hours. These clinical hours must also be in your chosen area of specialization. Additionally you must meet 75 continuing education hours in your specialized field. Some states will require you to obtain pharmacology credits as well.

Insurance Reimbursement:

Nurse practitioners and physicians assistant are both eligible for payment/reimbursement from commercial insurers. Both nurse practitioner and physicians assistant are eligible for certification as Medicare and Medicaid providers.

Physicians Assistant

What You Do:

A Physicians Assistant must advance their medical training through a master’s degree and clinical hours. As a PA you will be more concerned with the medical scope of your patients healthcare.

You will be required, as a physicians assistant, to obtain the patients medical history, perform a physical examination, diagnose and treat your patient, order necessary tests and interpret the results. A PA also may assist in surgeries, write prescriptions, and make the rounds in hospitals, clinics, and skilled nursing facilities.

Your scope of practice will be medical and team related as you will work alongside, and under the supervision of, a physician. Your focus will be diseases, with a heavy emphasis on the biologic/pathologic aspects of health, assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.

You are allowed to write prescriptions in all states to some degree. You cannot prescribe controlled substances in Kentucky and Florida. The physician under whom you work will delegate your medical tasks according to your state’s guidelines. Onsite supervision by a physician isn’t required.

Certification and Recertification Process:

In addition to a graduate degree from an accredited program, obtaining PA certification requires a national certification exam and state licensure. Recertification requires you to complete 100 hours of Continuing Medical Education every 2 years, with a 50 hour focus on performance improvement and 50 hours of CME credits in specific categories.

You’ll be required to sit for examination every 10 years. Your re-certification maintenance mirrors the physicians recertification requirements.


Nurse Practitioner and Physicians Assistant

Although many of the differences between nurse practitioner and physicians assistant are significant, those who are called to either vocation are generally similar in nature. Both nurse practitioner and physicians assistant are typically very compassionate individuals who strive to improve the health of their patients. Either choice is a wonderfully noble career move.


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