NP vs. PA Salary: Find out the Difference in Earnings?

Written By: Darby Faubion BSN, RN

If you are considering a career as a healthcare provider but are not sure if medical school is something you want to pursue, there are several other options. Two clinical pathways that are growing in popularity are those of the nurse practitioner and physician assistant. One of the most important questions people have when choosing a career is “how much money will I make?” In this article, we will explore the salary difference between a physician assistant and nurse practitioner (NP vs PA salary) and discuss factors that determine which career pays more.

Nurse Practitioner (NP) vs. Physician Assistant (PA): What Do They Do?

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are often referred to as advanced practice providers. Both are required to earn a master’s degree in their chosen discipline.

Physician assistants practice under the direct supervision of a licensed physician. Physician assistants graduate with a general education degree in the field of science or healthcare. They can later pursue postgraduate training in a specific specialty area.

Occupational duties for a physician assistant may include:

• Review medical histories
• Examine patients
• Diagnose and treat injury/illness
• Prescribe medication

Nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have achieved a master's degree in nursing. They may work more independently than physician assistants and may own their own clinics. NPs choose a specialty field such as family medicine, mental health, or pediatrics.

Some responsibilities of nurse practitioners include:

• Diagnose and treat acute and chronic illnesses, infections, and injuries
• Prescribe medication
• Order and/or conduct diagnostic tests
• Educate patients about illness and medications

Entry-Level NP vs. PA Salary

The difference in the entry-level salary of NP vs PA is typically less than $10,000. Of course, some factors such as the practice setting, or the location of practice may affect the rate of pay. Physician assistants typically have an entry-level salary of approximately $72,000. According to ZipRecruiter, some entry-level physician assistant salaries are as high as $142,000. On the other hand, in some places, entry-level nurse practitioners may earn as much as $117,000.

Occupation Entry-Level Salary
Nurse Practitioner $81,410
Physician Assistant $72,720
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Hourly PA vs. NP Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nurse practitioners earn an average hourly pay rate of $53.77, while physician assistants earn $54.04. As the demand for more qualified healthcare professionals increases and with work experience, both physician assistants and nurse practitioners can expect to see an increase in their earnings.

Occupation Average Hourly Pay
Nurse Practitioner $53.77
Physician Assistant $54.04
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Average Annual Salary of NP vs. PA

The difference between a PA and NP salary is minimal, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS reports an average salary that only differs by less than $1,000.

Physician assistants typically earn an average annual salary of $112,410. However, as many as ten percent may make as low as $72,720, and another ten percent earn a higher wage of a little more than $157,000, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nurse practitioners are paid an average yearly salary of about $111,840, with lows of approximately $81,000 and highs of $152,000.

The average annual salary of both nurse practitioners and physician assistants may be influenced by years of experience, any specialty certifications, the type of healthcare setting where they work, and the geographical location of the work setting. Further nurse practitioners or physician assistants who work in hospitals, nursing homes, or assisted living centers may be offered varying rates of pay for working alternating shifts, weekends, or holidays. Some physician assistants or nurse practitioners may work for home health or hospice agencies, which may require in-home visits with patients for admissions or recertification for services. In these cases, an additional fee may be offered, which could have a positive impact on their annual earning potential.

Occupation Average Annual Salary
Nurse Practitioner $111,840
Physician Assistant $112,410
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Experience-Wise PA vs. NP Salary

Both physician assistants and nurse practitioners have the potential to earn substantial incomes, even in entry-level positions. As years of experience increase, earnings follow. On average, each additional five years of work experience that a PA or NP has can mean between $9,000 to $27,000 more in annual income. Additionally, the more experience a nurse practitioner or physician assistant has in a specialty area, the more it can contribute to their earning potential.

Occupation Level of Experience Hourly Monthly Annual
Nurse Practitioner Starting (Entry-Level) $39.14 $6,780 $81,410
1-4 Years of Experience $44.61 $7,730 $92,790
5-9 Years of Experience $52.80 $9,150 $109,820
10-19 Years of Experience $61.07 $10,590 $127,030
20 Years or More Experience $73.15 $12,680 $152,160
Physician Assistant Starting (Entry-Level) $34.96 $6,060 $72,720
1-4 Years of Experience $44.62 $7,730 $92,800
5-9 Years of Experience $53.97 $9,360 $112,260
10-19 Years of Experience $62.75 $10,880 $130,530
20 Years or More Experience $75.54 $13,090 $157,120

Differences in Employee Benefits and Perks

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants typically enjoy similar benefits and perks. Although they may make rounds at hospitals or nursing homes, many enjoy the perk of not having to take after hours or weekend calls. Some employers offer bonuses for meeting patient care goals, maintaining an accident-free workplace, or for passing inspections with no errors. Benefits may include health insurance, holiday pay, sick leave, and paid personal time off.

PA vs. NP Salary Outlook

As the general population ages, the healthcare industry is seeing people who live longer and who also have a variety of chronic health conditions. The number of people requiring health care services means that the need for healthcare professionals will also increase. When there is a need for more workers, salaries are negotiable. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nurse practitioners will see a job increase of 28.19 percent, and physician assistants will experience an increase of 31.14 percent by 2028. These numbers indicate that the salary outlook is likely to be favorable for NPs and PAs.

Some employers offer percentage salary increases for employees who are willing to obtain specialty certifications in a concentration such as family medicine, geriatrics, mental health, or pediatrics. These increases are also favorable for salary outlook as most NPs and PAs prefer to work in a specific area of practice.

Some employers pay only what their pre-approved pay scale, typically based on years of experience, allows. Other employers may be willing to negotiate salary based on experience and certifications. By leveraging work experience and highlighting any skills that make them valuable to a new role, physician assistants and nurse practitioners can take an active part in improving the salary outlook for their chosen career.

State-Wise NP vs. PA Salary

The salary difference between an NP and a PA varies from state to state. While other factors may influence the salary a nurse practitioner or physician assistant is offered, geographical location is a significant factor. The cost of living in any given state typically has the most substantial impact on potential earnings.

For example, Tennessee currently pays nurse practitioners the least of all the United States, at about $96,510 annually. Kentucky pays physician assistants the lowest wages at approximately $84,870 yearly. The difference between NP vs PA salary in California, which is one of the states with the highest cost of living, is just over $11,000, with nurse practitioners earning about $138,660 per year and physician assistants earning $127,520.

State Nurse Practitioner Physician Assistant The Difference in Salary Between NPs and PAs
Alabama $99,570 $90,080 $9,490
Alaska $115,890 $128,530 -$12,640
Arizona $111,480 $109,640 $1,840
Arkansas $105,840 $97,970 $7,870
California $138,660 $127,520 $11,140
Colorado $106,760 $107,300 -$540
Connecticut $115,140 $137,060 -$21,920
Delaware $112,430 $111,310 $1,120
District of Columbia $111,950 $117,000 -$5,050
Florida $101,510 $108,510 -$7,000
Georgia $105,670 $101,460 $4,210
Hawaii $124,000 $117,200 $6,800
Idaho $110,860 $112,000 -$1,140
Illinois $107,860 $105,520 $2,340
Indiana $106,380 $96,120 $10,260
Iowa $109,910 $112,720 -$2,810
Kansas $100,550 $107,610 -$7,060
Kentucky $99,560 $84,870 $14,690
Louisiana $106,240 $86,490 $19,750
Maine $106,960 $113,250 -$6,290
Maryland $111,800 $109,620 $2,180
Massachusetts $122,240 $112,530 $9,710
Michigan $108,660 $110,510 -$1,850
Minnesota $122,850 $119,240 $3,610
Mississippi $110,740 $99,810 $10,930
Missouri $105,050 $95,090 $9,960
Montana $109,120 $112,330 -$3,210
Nebraska $105,450 $112,640 -$7,190
Nevada $115,970 $121,540 -$5,570
New Hampshire $110,680 $116,400 -$5,720
New Jersey $123,810 $129,440 -$5,630
New Mexico $111,930 $120,400 -$8,470
New York $122,550 $123,080 -$530
North Carolina $105,890 $108,210 -$2,320
North Dakota $110,950 $112,240 -$1,290
Ohio $103,780 $107,430 -$3,650
Oklahoma $113,200 $110,670 $2,530
Oregon $113,430 $114,320 -$890
Pennsylvania $101,950 $102,620 -$670
Rhode Island $115,310 N/A N/A
South Carolina $100,680 $106,840 -$6,160
South Dakota $102,230 $107,270 -$5,040
Tennessee $96,510 $90,760 $5,750
Texas $115,440 $109,270 $6,170
Utah $105,240 $104,740 $500
Vermont $105,840 $120,680 -$14,840
Virginia $109,110 $102,680 $6,430
Washington $126,920 $129,520 -$2,600
West Virginia $103,170 $102,500 $670
Wisconsin $112,130 $114,240 -$2,110
Wyoming $118,110 $116,820 $1,290
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Annual Job Openings Comparison

With expected job openings for nurse practitioners at 16,900 annually and physician assistants at 11,500, the outlook for employment opportunities is promising. As healthcare professionals grow older, they may choose retirement or shift their career focus to something that is less physically taxing, which creates an opportunity for new NPs and PAs to find employment. Growth in numbers of the aging population means the need for more qualified medical care providers will likely increase to accommodate the needs of patients.

Occupation New Replacement Annual Job Openings (New + Replacement)
Nurse Practitioner 5,330 11,570 16,900
Physician Assistant 3,700 7,800 11,500
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Job Outlook Comparison

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports an expected job growth rate of over 31 percent from 2018 to 2028 for physician assistants. The BLS also projects a growth rate of jobs for nurse practitioners of approximately 28 percent during the same timeframe. Physician assistants and nurse practitioners may have an increased role in patient care because it takes less time to train them than it takes for a physician to complete medical school.

A few things that may contribute to the favorable job outlook for NPs and PAs are as states increase the allowable procedures and practice guidelines for nurse practitioners and physician assistants, and insurance companies begin to allow coverage of more NP and PA procedures. As these professionals are given more freedom of practice, it is fair to expect that they will have growing roles in every area of medical care.

Occupation Employment New Employment Growth (2018-2028)
2018 2028 Number %
Nurse Practitioner 189,100 242,400 53,300 28.19%
Physician Assistant 118,800 155,700 37,000 31.14%
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

The Bottom Line

If you are trying to decide between a career as a physician assistant or a nurse practitioner, there are many things to consider. The difference between a PA vs NP salary is one factor to consider. Additionally, the level of freedom you hope to have to practice independently and what specialty area you may choose are other factors to ponder. Both careers are lucrative and can offer steady long-term income in an ever-evolving field.

Darby Faubion BSN, RN
Darby Faubion is a nurse and Allied Health educator with over twenty years' experience. She has assisted in developing curriculum for nursing programs and has instructed students at both community college and university levels.