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Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant

Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant

Although it may seem that nurse practitioners and physician assistants are very closely-related, there are many similarities and differences that you should be aware of before making such an important decision about your future.

With the current healthcare system undergoing a massive physician shortage due to the rapid advancement of care, an aging population, and less students pursuing medical degrees, healthcare providers are looking more and more to ancillary positions such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants to take on more responsibilities and fill the gaps.

We've gone through the data so you don't have to and put together a comparison that will hopefully help you with this tough choice.

Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant: Similarities & Differences

Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant

Physician Assistant


First, nurse practitioners must earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing or a closely-related field.

A national movement by universities has largely shifted nurse practitioner graduate programs to the doctoral-level, rather than a master’s degree, and most require 4-5 years of work experience before applying.

The total number of years to complete a nurse practitioner’s education is 8-10 years.
Physician assistants must first complete a 4-year bachelor’s degree program in a physical science or premed, followed by completing an accredited PA program.

These are typically master’s degree programs that take about 26 months to complete and involve both classroom studies and clinical rotations.

Certifications & Licensing

Each state has its own requirements for the certification and/or licensure of nurse practitioners. Add NPs must adhere to the specified licensing and certification requirements of their state’s board.

Click here to find the board for your state
Post-graduation, physician assistants must become certified by taking the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE)which is made up of 7 section covering the following:
  • History Taking  & Performing Physical Exams
  • Using Lab & Diagnostic Studies
  • Formulating Most Likely Diagnosis
  • Health Maintenance
  • Clinical Intervention
  • Pharmaceutical Therapeutics
  • Applying Basic Science Concepts
Click here to find the board for your state


  • Identification and treatment of common acute illnesses and injuries
  • Provide necessary immunizations
  • Management of chronic health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression
  • Order and evaluate diagnostic tests such as EKGs, x-rays, and laboratory tests
  • Prescribe therapies and routine medications
  • Perform medical procedures
  • Provide counseling and educational services to patients, their families, and caregivers.

  • Taking a patient’s medical history
  • Performing physical exams
  • Ordering laboratory tests and interpreting results
  • Diagnosing and prescribing treatments for illnesses
  • Counseling patients
  • Assisting in surgery
  • Setting fractures

Working Conditions

Only about 15% of nurse practitioners in the workforce own their own practices.

Common places of employment include:
  • Medical clinics
  • Doctor’s offices
  • Hospitals
  • Managed care organizations
  • Service organizations
  • Community health centers
  • Community college and university campuses
  • Employee healthcare centers
  • Healthcare technology companies
  • Research facilities
  • Governmental agencies

  • Physician assistants can work in many different healthcare environments, including:
  • Hospitals and clinics
  • Doctor’s offices
  • Outpatient care centers
  • Government agencies
  • Community colleges and universities


The 25th percentile of nurse practitioners earn $91,486 ($43.98 per hour), $98,600 ($47.40 per hour) for those at the 50th percentile, and $107,113 ($51.50 per hour) at the 75th percentile.

This salary will likely climb as the demand for more nurse practitioners in the healthcare industry rises over the next several decades.
Physician assistants at the 25th percentile earn $86,283 ($42.92 per hour), $96,995 ($46.63 per

hour) at the 50th percentile, and at the 75% percentile they earn $106,937 ($51.41 per hour).

As with nurse practitioners, the salary for physician assistants is expected to rise with the increased demand of advanced care over the next few decades.

Career Outlook

There are currently 127,000 nurse practitioners in the workforce and the numbers are expected to grow to 192,000 by 2030.

With the quality of healthcare advancing on what seems like a daily basis, healthcare organizations are looking more and more to nurse practitioners to fill the gaps where they are short on physicians and take care of our aging population.
As with nurse practitioners, career professionals expect the number of openings to rise dramatically by 2030. Currently, there are 94,000 physician assistants in the U.S. workforce, but that number is projected to climb by 50,000 up to 142,200.


While these two careers may seem very closely related, there are many distinct differences that separate them. For instance, nurse practitioners have more autonomy and more responsibility, but must complete a few years of extra education in order to get there. They make a little more than physician assistants, but are generally offered more leadership roles.

Nurse practitioners will be the go-to when it comes to filling the gaps in the physician shortage, but physician assistants will continue to play a vital role in high quality patient care in the future.