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Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant - Which Career is Better?


Written By: Sarah Jividen BSN, RN, SCRN

If you have an interest in obtaining an advanced degree in the medical field, you may be wondering if becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) or physician assistant (PA) is right for you. In reality, the nurse practitioner vs. physician assistant roles are very similar as well as different, and to decide between the two requires a deep understanding of both professions.

NPs and PAs are independent contractors who provide medical care for a specific patient population. Attending an NP or a PA program will not make you a medical doctor. However, NPs and PAs offer similar types of patient care as many medical doctors do. They give medical care to patients, including diagnosing illness, writing prescriptions, and performing or assisting in medical procedures.


Why NP over PA? Or Vice Versa?


As clinicians, both NPs and PAs have thousands of hours of medical training, are educated within all areas of the human body, and collaborate with other healthcare professionals. Each profession practices in every state and within every specialty to help improve healthcare access and quality for all Americans.

If you are reading this, you may be asking the question, “Which is better: nurse practitioner or physician assistant?” The amount of overlap between the professions might surprise you, but they are not identical positions. Each has its own role within the healthcare industry, and both are essential to providing optimal patient care.

If you are looking for a full picture of what an NP and PA have to offer professionally and want to understand the difference between nurse practitioner and physician assistant professions, this article will break it down for you.


What is a Nurse Practitioner?


A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who provides care within many different specialties and patient populations, from birth to geriatrics and everything in between. NPs must achieve either a master's degree or doctorate at an accredited nurse practitioner program.

Nurse practitioners have the training and ability to provide high-quality care to millions of people across the United States. They are licensed contractors who can work independently in many parts of the country. However, about half of the states in America require that they work under the direct supervision of a medical doctor.

Many people see a nurse practitioner instead of a physician as their primary health care provider. Since nurse practitioners start as nurses before advancing their education, they often have years of in-depth, real-life experience working under both the nursing and medical model of care. Additionally, as a result of years of patient care at the bedside, most NPs have an excellent bedside manner as well.

Nurse practitioners have prescription writing authority in all 50 states in the US and the District of Columbia. (About half are required to do so only under the supervision of a physician, and the laws for NPs vary depending on the state).

In addition, nurse practitioners have similar roles as MDs and work as patient care clinicians. They educate, diagnose, and treat patients to help them stay healthy and manage various medical conditions.

Some of the responsibilities of a nurse practitioner include:

• Perform physical examinations
• Take medical histories
• Provide immunizations
• Prescribe and give medications
• Diagnose and treat various illnesses and injuries
• Educate and counsel patients about health conditions and diagnosis
• Perform or assist in procedures
• Teach patients and families about healthy lifestyle habits
• Order and interpret diagnostics tests, such as blood tests, MRIs, EEGs, ultrasounds, and x-rays
• Do clinical research

It is essential to understand that a nurse practitioner's job description depends on their specialty of care, the setting in which they work, their level of work experience, and state laws where they practice. Nurse practitioners can specialize in the type of care they want to give. For example, a nurse practitioner can decide to specialize as a geriatric NP and work in elder care homes or become a cardiovascular NP and work in a hospital that specializes in cardiovascular care.

As mentioned, state laws also dictate how much autonomy a nurse practitioner has within the state. Therefore, if you are considering becoming a nurse practitioner, it is crucial to review the details for how nurse practitioners are allowed to practice within your state. This affects everything from signature authority and independence to CE hour requirements.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), nurse practitioners have full practice authority in the following states:

• Alaska
• Arizona
• Colorado
• Connecticut
• District of Columbia
• Hawaii
• Idaho
• Iowa
• Maine
• Maryland
• Minnesota
• Montana
• Nebraska
• Nevada
• New Hampshire
• New Mexico
• North Dakota
• Oregon Rhode Island
• Vermont
• Washington
• Wyoming

"Full practice authority" means that an NP within the state where they practice has legal ability to give patient care, diagnose illness and disease, manage patient care treatments, write prescriptions without physician oversight, and order and evaluate diagnostic tests.In other words, nurse practitioners who live in a "full practice authority" state do not need to work under the licensure of physicians.

All other states in the US are either "reduced practice authority" states or "restricted practice authority" states," meaning they must have either a signed collaboration agreement with a physician or work under the license of a physician who provides direct oversight. The NNAP also says that some states do not require that a physician be present at the facility where a nurse practitioner is giving patient care. However, they need to be accessible and available by phone or email.

Many ask the question “is a nurse practitioner above a physician assistant?” The answer is that many think of nurse practitioners and physician assistants as being at the same level since the job descriptions are similar in many ways. Especially since both require at least a master’s degree to become licensed. But some nurse practitioners also have a DNP, which would put them at a higher educational level than a PA.


What is a Physician Assistant?


A Physician Assistant is a medical professional who works as an extension of a practicing physician. PAs are licensed to practice medicine while working closely with their supervising physicians to provide quality healthcare and increase access to medical care. Physician assistants often make it possible for a physician's office to treat more patients, either by reducing wait times in the office setting or by providing care to rural areas where there are fewer local physicians.

Like a nurse practitioner, physician assistants also diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications, and develop and manage patient treatment plans. They are also able to provide primary care for their patients independently from a physician.

Also, their job description depends on which specialty they assist in, the setting in which they work, their level of work experience, and the state laws where they practice.

Physician assistants often work in primary care and work directly with the same patients for years, without patients ever meeting the supervising physician. In that sense, they are able to work autonomously. However, they must always work under the supervision and licensure of a physician.

Physician assistants do sometimes work in areas without an MD present; however, by law, they are required to be in touch with their supervisory physicians and other healthcare providers.

Some of the responsibilities of a physician's assistant include:

• Perform physical examinations
• Take medical histories
• Provide immunizations
• Prescribe and give medications
• Diagnose and treat various illnesses and injuries
• Educate and counsel patients about health conditions and diagnosis
• Perform procedures
• Assist in surgeries
• Teach patients and families about healthy lifestyle habits
• Order and interpret diagnostics tests, such as blood tests, MRIs, EEGs, ultrasounds, and x-rays
• Do patient rounds in hospitals and nursing homes
• Do clinical research

States laws vary regarding prescriptive authority, supervisory arrangement with physicians, and scope of practice; however, it is mandatory in all 50 states that all physician assistants practice under the guidance of a physician.


What are the Key Similarities Between Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant?


#1. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants work under a medical model.


A Medical model is the "set of procedures in which all doctors are trained." This model includes medical history, patient complaint, physical examination, diagnostic testing, diagnosis, and prognosis. This model is different from the nursing model, which is constructed by theories and concepts and is used to help nurses assess, plan, and implement patient care by giving them a framework for how to practice. When nurse practitioners graduate to advanced nursing care, they move from practicing with the nursing model and practice with the medical model.

#2. Both nurse practitioners and physician assistants allow a practice to see more patients.


Since NPs and PAs collaborate with and perform many of the same duties as physicians, a practice can see more patients on a day-to-day basis than they would be able to otherwise.

#3. Both nurse practitioners and physician assistants must have at least a master's degree and pass national certification exams.


Both NPs and PAs must earn at least a master's degree (however, many NPs also hold a doctorate). Both NP and PA curriculums are focused on the same types of education: pathophysiology, pharmacology, and health assessment. In addition, both NPs and PAs study course work within the classroom setting as well as in clinical rotations with direct patient care.

After earning their master's degrees, PA and NP graduates must also pursue licensure and pass national certification exams before they can practice professionally.

#4. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants work in similar types of patient care settings.


You can find NPs and PAs working in physician's offices, hospitals, outpatient centers, and clinics.

#5. Demand for both nurse practitioners and physician assistants is high.


Whether you choose between becoming a nurse practitioner or physician assistant, you are joining a profession that needs you. According to the department of US labor statistics, the job outlook for NPs and PAs is bright. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 31 percent from 2018 to 2028." As the demand for healthcare services grows, physician assistants will be needed to provide care to patients.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also states that "employment for nurse practitioners is projected to grow 26 percent from 2018 to 2028."

#6. NPs and PAs have similar (and high) earning potential in their careers.


Both nurse practitioners and physician assistants in the U.S. have the opportunity to make a lot of money throughout the course of their careers. Starting salary for an NP is $39.14 an hour (or $81,410 annually) and starting salary for a PA is $34.96 an hour (or $72,720 annually).

Once an NP or PA gets more experience under their belt their hourly wages also increase. The average hourly wage for an NP is $53.77 and the average hourly wage for a PA is $54.40. The average annual salary for an NP is $111,840 and the average salary for a PA is $112,410.
(Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)


What are the Key Differences Between Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants?


#1. In some states, nurse practitioners can practice independently from physicians and have their own practice.


One of the key differences of a nurse practitioner vs physician assistant is that PAs must practice under an agreement with and under the supervision of a physician. This is a legal requirement in all 50 states in the US. The physician does not always need to be present. However, they must be reachable quickly, if needed. By definition, a physician assistant is an assistant to the physician to whom they have an agreement.

At least 21 states in the US are "full practice authority" states, which means that nurse practitioners are allowed to work independently within their scope of practice without physician supervision.

#2. To be a nurse practitioner, you must become an RN first.


Nurse practitioners must have an RN degree and preferably a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) to have a shot at being accepted to a nurse practitioner program.

A PA needs a bachelor's degree in some field. However, it is not mandatory that the undergraduate degree is in a healthcare-related field. It is required that those who wish to attend PA school complete prerequisite classes that include pre-med sciences like chemistry, biology, microbiology, nutrition, anatomy, and physiology. The exact prerequisite core science classes vary from school to school.

Most schools say that the strongest PA school candidates will have some degree of hands-on patient care experience before applying to their university. After looking through several different PA program admission requirements, it appears that most PA schools recommend anywhere from 3 to 12 months of non-specific medical or healthcare job experience. Although that is not required for every PA program.

#3. Nurse practitioner programs are generally more specialized within a specific medical area.


When students graduate with a Master’s of Physician Assistant Studies, they have a general medical knowledge within all medical fields. They are able to jump into any type of specialty upon graduation. Many PAs say that they like being able to choose their specialty after studying every field of medicine. Then after a few years on the job they become “specialized” within that field.

Those who are interested in becoming a nurse practitioner are required to choose a specialty before starting an NP program. When they graduate, they are specialized within a specific medical field. For example, an NP graduate can become a neuro/trauma NP or emergency medicine NP. Changing specialties at a later date requires more time and education to do so.

#4. There are multiple different types of NP programs to choose from.


Upon graduation, PAs achieve a more generalized education to work within different specialties. Most programs to achieve a master's degree as a PA are approximately 24-36 months (2-3 years). However, NP schools can take many forms, and there are multiple ways to achieve your degree.

The total time it takes to graduate from an NP program depends on the program and university that you are attending. Programs vary on length.

Here are the different types of NP programs and timeframe for each (if you go full time)

• RN to MSN nurse practitioner program: 30-36 months
• BSN to MSN nurse practitioner program: 15-24 months
• Direct Entry MSN nurse practitioner program: 20-24 months
• BSN to DNP nurse practitioner program: 3-4 years
• MSN to DNP nurse practitioner program: 1-2 years
• Post-master's certification nurse practitioner program: 12 to 16 months (full-time), or 16-24 months (part-time)

The Following is an In-Depth Comparison of Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant.


1. NP vs. PA: What Do They do?


The role of nurse practitioners and physician assistants are very similar. Both professions treat illnesses, write prescriptions, and work closely with physicians. Because the careers are so similar the unique differences between the two professions may not be clear right off the bat.

NPs and PAs have the following responsibilities:

• Prescribe medication to patients
• Perform physical assessments and exams
• Document medical histories
• Diagnosis illnesses
• Treat injures
• Perform physicals and screenings
• Give vaccines
• Educate and counsel patients about healthy living and nutrition
• Screen patients and refer them to specialties when needed
• Order laboratory and other diagnostic tests

Below are more specifics about the careers of nurse practitioners versus physician assistants.

A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse with an advanced masters or doctoral degree. They are also known as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). An NP can work in many different healthcare environments such as hospitals, outpatients surgery centers, skilled nursing facilities, and physician offices.

NPs are independent contractors and often work directly with physicians and other healthcare providers. However, in about half US states, they are also allowed to have a practice of their own, without physician supervision.

A physician assistant is not a nurse, but a masters degree prepared clinician who works as an assistant to a medical doctor. As long as a PA is working under a doctor's license (for which they have a pre-written agreement), they are allowed to practice medicine in a similar way that a medical doctor can. Since a PA works as an extension to a physician, it allows a practice to see more patients and provide efficient medical care for a specific patient population.


2. Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant: What Education is Required to Become?


A nurse practitioner must have a minimum of a master's degree to become a nurse practitioner. However, many also have a doctorate of nursing practice.

To become a physician assistant, a Masters Degree in Physician Assistant Studies from an accredited university is required.

Also, the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) is making a future change to the nurse practitioner education requirements. As of now, NPs are able to earn their title with a master’s degree program. However, by 2025 it appears that all graduating nurse practitioners will also be required to have a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) as the minimum requirement.


3. PA vs. NP: How Long Does it Take to Become?


The time frame it will take for you to graduate from nurse practitioner school depends on the specific program that you are attending. Additionally, it also depends on the school you choose to go to, as the timeframes differ slightly from program to program.

Here are the different types of NP programs and the approximate timeframe for each:

• RN to MSN nurse practitioner program: 30-36 months (full-time), or 36-48 months (part-time)
• BSN to MSN nurse practitioner program: 15-24 months (full-time), or 24-48 months (part-time)
• direct entry MSN nurse practitioner program: 20-24 months (full-time), or 24-48 months (part-time)
• BSN to DNP nurse practitioner program: 3-4 years (full-time), or 4-7 year (part-time)
• MSN to DNP nurse practitioner program: 1-2 years (full-time), or 2 to 4 years (part-time)
• Post-master's certification nurse practitioner program: 12 to 16 months (full-time), or 16-24 months (part-time)

Upon graduation, PAs achieve a more generalized education to work within different specialties. Most programs to achieve a master's degree as a PA are approximately 24-36 months (2-3 years).


4. Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant: How Much Does It Cost to Become?


Nurse practitioner programs vary in price depending on the school, however, they usually fall within the following ranges:

• RN to MSN nurse practitioner program: $22,070 - $231,600
• BSN to MSN nurse practitioner program: $18,810 - $185,280
• Direct Entry MSN nurse practitioner program: $22,570 - $222,340
• BSN to DNP nurse practitioner program: $26,490 - $254,260
• MSN to DNP nurse practitioner program: $17,660 - $169,510
• Post-master's certification nurse practitioner program: $9,710 - $83,690

Physician Assistant programs also vary in price depending on location and whether it is a public or private school. In general, they usually fall within the following ranges for the 27-month program:

• Public resident tuition for a 27-month PA program on average is $79,941
• Non-resident tuition for a 27-month PA program on average is $90,659


5. NP vs. PA: Admission Requirements


Nurse practitioner education requirements are variable depending on your school of choice.

But most include the following:

• Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited nursing program
• An unencumbered RN license
• Prospective students must have a strong academic history (requirements vary per individual program but usually must be a 3.0 or above)
• At least one year or more of clinical nursing experience
• Must possess a strong drive for academia
• 2-3 letters of recommendation
• A completed application for the school you want to attend
• A letter of intent and achievement goals with an NP degree
• An interview (online or in-person)

Physician assistant education requirements are variable depending on your school of choice. But most include the following:

• A bachelor’s degree (in any field), or it’s equivalent from an accredited institution
• A minimum undergraduate grade point average of 3.0
• All science prerequisites must be completed
• Completed application for the school where you are applying
• Completion of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) or Medical College Admission Test examination (MCAT). The exam must be taken within five years of the year that an application is submitted.
• Hands-on, paid, patient care clinical experience is preferred (but not always required)
• 2-3 letters of reference
• A face-to-face interview


6. NP vs. PA: Curriculum


Nurse practitioner education varies, as there are so many types of nurse practitioner specialties. Therefore, the curriculum is also slightly different, depending on which area of medicine you want to practice.

Here is a sample curriculum for a nurse practitioner who wishes to specialize in family practice (FNP)

• Advanced Pathophysiology
• Advanced Health Assessment and Clinical Reasoning
• Advanced Health Assessment Lab
• Advanced Pharmacotherapeutics
• Primary Care of the Adult
• Roles and Contest for Advanced Nursing Practice
• Advanced Health Assessment
• Nursing in the Primary Care of the Women
• Nursing in the Primary Care of the Child and Adolescent
• Family Nurse Practitioner Domains and Core Competencies
• Primary Care of the Elderly
• Primary Health Care For The Family
• Transition to Advanced Nursing Practice
• Primary Health Care of the Family
• Clinical Decisions Makes to the Family Nurse Practitioner
• Family Nurse Practitioner Preceptorship

In addition to classroom coursework, nurse practitioner education requires clinical rotations in the specialty setting and includes hospitals, clinics, or private practitioner’s offices.

Curriculum for PA school varies depending on what school you attend, but these are some of the expected classes you will be required to take:

• Anatomy and Physiology 1
• Physical Diagnosis and Patient Evaluation 1
• Pharmacology 1
• Professional Issues for Physician Assistants
• Principles of Medicine
• Principles of Psychiatry
• Health Care Delivery
• Anatomy and Physiology 2
• Physical Diagnosis and Patient Evaluation 2
• Pharmacology 2
• Clinical Lab and Diagnostic Methods
• Clinical Neurology
• Principles of Pediatrics
• Principles of Obstetrics and Gynecology
• Principles of Orthopedics
• Principles of Surgery
• Aspects of Primary Care
• Emergency Medicine and Critical Care
• Aging and Rehabilitation Medicine
• Research

In addition to classroom coursework, PA education requires clinical rotations in a variety of medical settings, including clinical opportunities at hospitals, clinics, private practitioner’s offices, and multispecialty clinics. The clinical rotation education will likely include:

• Ambulatory Medicine
• Emergency Medicine
• Family Practice Medicine
• Surgery
• Pediatrics
• Inpatient Medicine
• Mental Health
• Obstetrics and Gynecology


7. Physician Assistant vs. Nurse Practitioner: Certification and Licensure Requirements


Nurse practitioner school graduates are required to take a specialty-specific national certification exam to show their competence in their field of work. After passing they then become certified as an NP.

There is no licensure exam for nurse practitioners like the NCLEX-RN for registered nurses. Licensure laws may vary and depend on the state, and NPs are licensed by the Board of Nursing for the states in which they will practice. But in general, states use the NP certification exam to determine competency and allow NPs to work within their scope of practice.

A nurse practitioner license needs to be renewed every 2 or 3 years, depending on the state's requirements.

Upon graduation from an accredited PA school, Physician Assistants are required to pass the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam (PANCE). Once this exam is passed, the PA earns the credentials of Physician Assistant-Certified (PA-C).

The physician assistant license must be renewed every two years.


8. PA vs. NP: Continuing Education Requirements


Continuing education requirements for nurse practitioners depend on the specialty and state where the NP practices. For example, in some states, nurse practitioners must have a minimum of 30 hours of continuing education. Other states have 15 or fewer hours of CEUs to complete.

The bottom line is that it depends on where you live. Nurse practitioners must stay on top of what their individual state requires to maintain licensure. needs to recertify must understand the CEU rules for their state

PAs are required to be certified by the Nationals Commission of Certification of PAs. This certification requires that they complete 100 hours of continuing education every two years and pass a recertification exam every six years to maintain their certification.


9. Differences in Specialization Options


Nurse practitioners choose their medical specialty before starting an NP program. Physician assistants graduate with general medical education and choose their specialty after graduation.

Here are a few NP specialties to choose from:

• Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
• Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner
• Family Nurse Practitioner
• Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
• Cardiac Nurse Practitioner
• Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner
• Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
• Women's Health Nurse Practitioner
• Oncology Nurse Practitioner
• Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
• Pediatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner

Here are some of the most popular specialties for physician assistants:

• Family medicine/general practice
• Surgical
• Emergency Medicine
• Internal Medicine
• Dermatology
• Hospital Medicine
• General surgery
• Pediatrics
• Obstetrics/gynecology


10. Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant: Scope of Practice


When you are deciding between a nurse practitioner or PA career it is important to understand the scope of practice of both professions. "Scope of practice" for an NP or PA entails the professional medical duties and tasks a medical professional is allowed to perform within the legal scope of their profession.

The scope of practice for a nurse practitioner includes diagnosing illnesses, managing medications, writing prescriptions, and planning care for the patient population for which they are specialized. The full scope of a nurse practitioner's work depends on the state in which they are licensed to practice, and state laws vary in all 50 states. An NP has the ability to work independently from physicians, but about half of US states require NPs to work under the licensure of a physician.

It is always important for prospective NP students to understand the legal scope of practice of their state if they are considering going to school to become an NP.

Like a nurse practitioner, physician assistants also diagnose illnesses, prescribe medications, and develop and manage patient treatment plans. They are also able to provide primary care for their patients, independently from a physician.

Physician assistants often work in primary care and work directly with the same patients for years, without them even having them meet the supervising physician. In that sense, they are able to work autonomously; however, they must always work under the supervision and licensure of a physician.

In addition, their scope of practice depends on which specialty they provide assistance in, the setting in which they work, their level of work experiences, and the state laws where they practice.


11. Differences in How Many Are Currently Employed in the U.S?


Nurse Practitioner Physician Assistant
200,600 120,090
(Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)


12. Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant: Where Do They Work?


Nurse practitioners work in a variety of setting, such as:

• Hospitals (specialty areas and outpatient clinics)
• Health Care Centers
• Clinics
• Physician offices
• Hospitals (speciality areas, emergency room, outpatient clinics, and other patient areas)
• Long term care
• NP-led clinics in states where NPs have the authority to maintain an independent clinic

Physician assistants also work in different healthcare settings, such as:

• Hospitals (operating rooms, outpatient clinics, or other specialty areas)
• Surgery centers
• Outpatient clinics
• Physician offices


13. Physician Assistant vs. Nurse Practitioner: Work Environment


Nurse practitioners have extremely busy jobs and do experience some level of stress. They have a high level of social interaction and regularly communicate with patients and other healthcare professionals. Their job involves caring for the health and safety of others. On occasion, NPs are placed in complex situations due to physical or mental health issues. Many NPs state that they must spend a significant amount of time at the computer documenting patient care during and in-between patient visits.

NPs work in collaboration with other health professions in an indoor hospital or another healthcare facility. They are sometimes exposed to occupational hazards such as infections or diseases. They work in direct patient care and often are in close proximity to patients.

The work environment for a physician assistant can also be hectic and stressful. PAs also have a high level of social interaction and communicate directly with patients and other healthcare professionals. PAs are usually working with, or close, to another physician.

Like NPs, a PA is also sometimes exposed to occupational hazards such as infections or diseases. They work in direct patient care and often are in close proximity to patients.


14. Differences in Work Hours


Nurse practitioners who work in an office setting usually work Monday through Friday and 40 hours a week. NPs who work in the hospital generally either work 12-hour shifts, three days a week, or 8-hour shifts, five days a week (although sometimes alternative schedules are flexible). Sometimes NPs are required to work evenings and weekends, holidays, or be on-call. Most NPs work full-time, although there are opportunities for part-time work.

Since physician assistants and nurse practitioners work in similar environments, they often also have similar types of work schedules. PAs who work in an office usually work Monday through Friday, and 40 hours a week (or more). With a 5 day a week office schedule, PAs rarely have to work weekends or holidays. But PAs who work in a hospital setting may work 8,10, or 12-hour shifts and also sometimes work on weekends, holidays, or evenings/nights.

PAs are also sometimes required to be on-call, and there are occasional opportunities for part-time work.


15. NP vs. PA: Career Advancement Opportunities


Nurse practitioners with a master's degree may want to consider achieving a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) to advance their careers. But if going back to school doesn't interest you, you may also consider pursuing a position in education as a nursing instructor or higher management in the hospital. Nurse practitioners are often qualified to become a director of nursing services or even a chief nursing officer (CNO).

A master’s degree in Physician Assistant Studies is a terminal education, meaning that there is no higher level a PA can achieve within the profession. For a PA to advance their career, they may consider a master’s degree or a Ph.D. within another healthcare specialty. A PA also may want to consider an administrative position within the healthcare facility where they are employed.


16. Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant: Starting Salary


Occupation Hourly Monthly Annual
Nurse Practitioner $39.14 $6,780 $81,410
Physician Assistant $34.9 $6,060 $72,720
(Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)


17. Differences in Average Hourly Wage


Nurse Practitioner Physician Assistant
$53.77 $54.04
(Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)


18. PA vs. NP: Average Annual Salary


Nurse Practitioner Physician Assistant
$111,840 $112,410
(Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)


19. Differences in Salary by Level of Experience


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


20. Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant: Annual Job Openings


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: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)


21. Differences in Job Outlook


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: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)


22. PA vs. NP: Job Satisfaction


According to the US News & World Report, job satisfaction among nurse practitioners is high. In fact, they rated becoming a nurse practitioner as one of the best jobs in the US. The two reasons for this high rank were anticipated demand for more NPs and salary. Many reports say that average pay for nurse practitioners is at or above the $100,000/year mark.

Physician assistants also report high job satisfaction and growing salaries, according to a recent survey reported on Becker's Healthcare Review. Only 6 percent of the PAs surveyed said they were unsatisfied with their careers, and most experienced PAs are earning over $100k per year.


23. Professional Organizations


The following is a list of Nurse Practitioner Organizations:

American Association of Nurse Practitioners
National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties
American Family Nurse Practitioner
Gerontological Advanced Practice Nurses Association
National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP)
Association of Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurses
Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health
American Academy of Emergency Nurse Practitioners

The following is a list of Physician Assistant Organizations:

American Academy of PAs
National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants
Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA)
American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants
American Academy of Nephrology PAs
Association of Neurosurgical Physician Assistants
Association of Physician Assistants in Cardiovascular Surgery (APACVS)


Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant: Which Career Path is Right for You?


Even though the roles are similar, there are still some major differences between a nurse practitioner and physician assistant.

We hope that this in-depth analysis of the NP vs PA roles helps provide clarity. Both professions offer a career full of opportunities, professional growth, earning potential, and advancement opportunities—best of luck to you on your educational journey as a healthcare clinician.


Sarah Jividen BSN, RN, SCRN
Sarah Jividen is a healthcare content writer and experienced ER and neuro/trauma nurse. Her writing is focused on the nursing profession, breaking medical news, evidence-based healthcare and wellness trends, and motherhood. When she is not working you might find Sarah playing with her two toddlers, or exploring the great outdoors.