The Difference Between a PA & NP

As a way to introduce you to the difference between the nurse practitioner vs physician assistant, we have gathered together information on the job description, the training required as well as what the pay difference is when it comes to an NP vs PA.  Also, before we get into the main details about the major differences between the two, it should be known that if you are looking to branch out on your own in the future and owning your own practice, then it is only possible through the Nurse Practitioner profession as no matter how high one advances in their career, they must always be under the supervision of a physician. So this can be a major difference to consider when it comes to the nurse practitioner vs physician assistant topic. So basically a nurse practitioner is and independent practitioner whereas a physician assistant has a position that is considered subordinate. Also, 2011 showed that there are 167,857 NP’s practicing, and a total of around 85,000 PA’s, so it may be true that the demand for nurse practitioners may be currently higher than for physician assistants although the demand for PA’s is predicted to go up within the time frame of 2008 to 2012 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Nurse Practitioner Vs Physician Assistant Pay Scale

According to, salaries for each profession are as follows:

  • NP median Salary for the USA is $90,009. This median is surrounded by percentiles that range from the 10 percentile earning as low as $77,531 to the 90th percentile earning $103,155 annually
  • For PA’s, the professions median salary is currently at $89,878 per year with percentiles ranging from $74,538 at the 10 percentile to up to $106,318 for 90th percentile.

So as far as the nurse practitioner vs physician assistant annual pay goes, there really isn’t much difference. These number can change due to working in different specialties just like any other career, as well as how high the demand is for the particular specialty.

Differences Between Schooling Prerequisites

As far as the schooling requirements go for nurse practitioners, it is said that 5 percent of practicing NP’s have a bachelor’s degree whereas 95 percent of them have a masters degree, and the last 3 percent have either a PHD or a DNP. The schooling requirements that nurse practitioners fulfill are:

  • An associates degree where the that involves course studies geared towards preparing its students to learn the technical scope of what the practice will entail.
  • A bachelor’s degree in science which consists of courses that include; microbiology, organic chemistry, child and adult health, health assessment, statistics, community health nursing, nutrition, bioethics, theory of nursing and psychology.
  • A two-year masters or doctors degree which includes higher education courses like; drug therapy, pathophysiology, health policy, concepts of nursing, pharmacotherapy, the nurse practitioner role, the social and cultural influences on health as well as higher education courses on some of the classes that the bachelor degree studies consists of.

Physician Assistant Schooling

When it comes to the schooling requirements that aspiring PA’s must complete, there are a couple different criteria. Many programs demand a bachelor’s degree in order to be accepted but there are certain accredited PA programs that allow one to participate with as little as an associate’s or a minimum of 60 college credits.  The main difference when it comes to nurse practitioner vs physician assistant schooling is that there are a more limited number of accredited schools for physician assistants in the US, currently a little over 160, compared to schools for nurse practitioners which there are over 800. Besides the requirement of 60 credits for acceptance, other requirements may include:

  • A bachelor’s of science degree from an accredited college or university.
  • Completion of a program that is accredited by the standards of the NCCPA which last anywhere from 24 to 36 months and awards those who pass with a masters degree in physician assistant studies. These programs have requirements for acceptance that can consist of criteria that include certain prerequisite courses, minimum cumulative GPA’s which usually start at 3.0, letters of recommendation, background checks, hand on clinical experience among others.

So the obvious difference when it comes to the NP vs PA as far as schooling goes is that once classes are over, you are either a certified nurse if you took an NP program or a certified physician assistant after the conclusion of a PA course. So training difference includes PA’s learning more of a medical approach whereas NP’s learn about being a nurse.

Jobs Differences Between The Two Careers

When it come to the physician assistant vs nurse practitioner  job description differences, there are two main aspects that stand out, which are:

  • PA’s can work in the surgical specialty assisting the physician during surgeries whereas nurse practitioners do not do so. Although it has been rumored that NP’s are starting to train for the surgical specialty.
  • Another difference is that they both are able to provide medication, but the PA must do so under “limited supervision” whereas the NP can do so without having to consult with the MD beforehand.
  • Although there are many similar specialties for both professions, there are a lot more specialties for the nurse practitioner than there are physician assistant specialties. Other than that, the main job description is very similar, other than the surgical specialty, which both of them do some of the following; diagnosing and treating sicknesses and diseases, giving referrals to patients for needed care, providing prescriptions, advising patients on alternative care plans, overall examination of patients medical history and giving physical and mental exams in order to gain information on abnormalities.