The health team is composed of many different members. In fact, there are a lot of professions involved in providing health care to the public. Each profession carries a specific task or responsibility in order to attain and maintain the wellness of the patient/s. Some are assigned to diagnose and order treatments for the patient. Others are involved in obtaining laboratory or diagnostic results while there are also some that are tasked to provide bedside care. Two of the most common professions included in the health team are the Nurse Practitioner (NP) and the Physician Assistant (PA). Most of us think that these two are similar to each other; however, there is actually a difference between them in terms of their job description and limitations. So what is the difference between NPs and PAs?
Identifying the Responsibilities of Both Professions
The facts show that the similarities between PAs and NPs far outweigh the differences. What is important for patients to know is that – whether they see a PA or an NP– they are being treated by a highly educated, well-trained healthcare provider who places the patient at the center of their care. Both NPs and PAs take medical histories, conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, develop treatment plans, counsel on preventive care and write prescriptions. Nevertheless, they differ from each other when it comes to education, some of their duties, flexibility and how they practice. Below is a detailed description of these health professions, which can help you distinguish between the two.
Learning More about the Nurse Practitioner (NP)
First of all, an NP is always a Registered Nurse. This means that one cannot become an NP if he or she is not registered as a Licensed Nurse. However, what sets the NP apart from the regular Registered Nurse is that the former already has advanced academic achievement and as well as additional experience in the medical setting or field. In most cases, it is required for a Nurse to become an NP to acquire a Master’s degree. This particular degree can be in Nursing or in any other field as long as it is still related to health care. Aside from this, an NP must also gain additional clinical experience. This particular clinical experience allows more hands-on knowledge that is related to the treatment of the disease as well as its diagnosis.
Because of this added training, experience, and education, an NP is capable of diagnosing and managing most of the illnesses that appear commonly. Most of the times, NPs are also able to provide general family health care. Some of the other specialty areas that can be handled by NPs include Adult Care, Emergency Medicine, Geriatric Medicine, Family Medicine, Adult Health, Neonatal Care, Home Health Nursing, Pediatrics, Oncology, Women’s Health, Psychiatric and Mental Health and as well as Occupational Health. NPs are also allowed to diagnose diseases, like chronic diseases, and provide treatment plans about it. They can also prescribe medications and order tests for the patient. NPs are also provided with many hospital privileges.
NPs are also focused on providing patient education and as well as disease preventions and health maintenance. They can also have their own practices or they can also work in cooperation with the other health care profession. According to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, an NP is expected to work at least 36 hours a week and can earn a median salary of $97,000 on an annual basis. This makes an NP a great way to help others while making a good living.
Learning More about the Physician Assistant (PA)
A PA is a nationally certified and state-licensed Medical professional. The typical PA enters a PA graduate school program with a Bachelor of Science degree and has completed some course and lab work in biology, chemistry, human anatomy and physiology and microbiology, as well as 1,000-4,000 hours of hands-on healthcare experience. It’s not unusual for PAs to have previous experience in patient care as an Emergency Medical Technician, Paramedic, Physical Therapist or Certified Athletic Trainer. All PA programs are required to include extensive education in the Medical Sciences and their application in clinical practice. All PAs must do upwards of 1,700 hours of clinical rotations in a variety of practice settings. The mandatory rotations include Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, General Surgery, Emergency Medicine, Women’s Health, Geriatrics and Psychiatry. Nearly all PAs graduate with a Master’s degree.
PAs practice in every specialty and subspecialty, such as Primary Care, Internal Medicine, Family Medicine, Emergency Medicine, Orthopaedics, Oncology, Neurosurgery, Pediatrics, Cardiovascular Surgery, Dermatology, Women’s Health, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Psychiatric and Mental Health, Geriatrics, Occupational Health, Urology, Ophthalmology, Cardiology, Sleep Medicine and more. PAs care for patients in a variety of settings, including solo and group practices, clinics, urgent care centers, specialty group practices, hospitals, long-term acute care facilities, nursing homes.
Since the beginning of the profession, PAs have practiced medicine on healthcare teams with physicians and other providers. This mindset and experience make PAs experts in team medicine, which has gained traction in the past decade and is becoming the norm throughout health care. Most PAs work in solo physician or a group practice, while others prefer to work in a large hospital or for a health system. Some PAs, especially those in rural areas, own and or run the practice with a great deal of autonomy. According to the American Academy of PA, the median salary of a PAs is $97,000 annually.
PAs are considered Medical generalists because they are educated to practice in every medical specialty and clinical setting. They diagnose and treat illness and chronic diseases, order and interpret tests, coordinate care, prescribe medication and counsel patients about preventive care. PAs learn to make life-saving diagnostic and therapeutic decisions while working autonomously or in collaboration with other members of the healthcare team. PAs also have many hospital privileges.
The scope of practice for NPs and PAs—what they’re allowed to do and practice under the terms of their professional license–differs from state to state and practice setting to practice setting. For example, some NPs practice independently, while PAs practice in collaboration with a physician. More often than not, NPs and PAs practice autonomously in medically underserved rural areas. Both NPs and PAs are required to collaborate with an outside health discipline in order to provide patient care in a hospital setting.
Another key area NPs differ from PAs is their education. NPs are educated in the Nursing model, and PAs are educated in the Medical model.
PAs can perform first assist in surgery and a variety of procedures, while NPs can only perform certain procedures and minor surgeries. As Medical generalists, PAs have a flexibility that is unique among health care providers. PAs can quickly and easily move into specialties where they are needed because of a physician shortage. Physicians and NPs are required to go back to school if they want to switch specialties. And in the case of physicians, they’re required to do another residency as well.
These are the main differences between NPs and the PAs. Although they vary specifically on their education, some of their responsibilities and the way they practice as members of the health team, both professions play an increasingly vital role as front-line healthcare providers who are increasing patients’ access to quality care.
Thank you to the American Academy of PAs (https://www.aapa.org/) and its members for correcting the original version of this article.