Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant: Learn the Differences and Similarities

If you’re considering a healthcare career, you may be contemplating if you want to become a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. There are some similarities and differences, so continue reading if you would like to learn about these rewarding professions.

Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant Overview

Nurse Practitioner vs Physician AssistantNurse practitioners generally work independently of physicians and offer both nursing and healthcare services. All states allow them to prescribe medication.

Physician assistants on the other hand, practice directly under a physician. They are able to perform many of the same tasks as physicians such as diagnosing and treating patients, reading x-rays, ordering tests, and prescribing certain medications. Most states require these assistants to consult with physicians.

Job Duties

Nurse Practitioners

They are responsible for a wide array of daily tasks including:

  • Deciding on treatment options for each patient
  • Ordering lab tests
  • Recording the health history for each patient
  • Performing physical exams
  • Educating patients on preventive care
  • Giving immunizations
  • Suturing wounds

Physician Assistants

They also have several duties including:

  • Obtaining a patient’s medical history
  • Performing physical exams
  • Determining abnormal conditions by performing or ordering diagnostic tests such as electrocardiograms and x-rays
  • Suturing wounds
  • Providing continuity of care by developing and executing patient management plans
  • Following infection control policies and protocols to protect both patients and healthcare professionals


Nurse Practitioners

These nurses must first earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree followed by a Master of Science in Nursing Degree. Many MSN programs include a nurse practitioner track with subject specializations such as family care or pediatric care. Coursework for the MSN may include: Advanced Nursing Research, Nursing Policies, Health Assessment, Nursing and the Healthcare System, and Pathophysiology.

Physician Assistants

They need to earn a Bachelor of Science degree and a master’s degree in physician assisting. Courses in the master’s program may include: Clinical Management, Diagnostic Process, Pathophysiology, Anatomy, Pharmacology, Biochemistry,and  Disease Prevention.


Nurse Practitioners

There are several credentialing bodies for nurse practitioners, though it’s important to know which national certifications your state accepts. One of the most common is the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.

Physician Assistants

If you want to become a physician assistant, you’ll first need to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam offered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants.

Work Environment

Nurse Practitioners

These nurses can choose between several work environments including: hospitals, physicians’ offices, hospice facilities, government and community health agencies, and nursing homes.

Physician Assistants

Those who work in this profession can find employment in hospitals, government facilities, and schools. If you work in a hospital there will be times you’ll have a shift that falls on a weekend, evening, or holiday.


Both professions have several specialties to choose from.

Nurse Practitioner

  • Family Primary Care
  • Geriatric Primary Care
  • Gerontology Acute Care
  • Pediatric Primary Care
  • Nurse Anesthetist
  • Public Health Nursing
  • Nurse-Midwifery
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist
  • Health Systems Management

Physician Assistant

  • Radiology
  • Dermatology
  • Emergency Medicine
  • Psychiatry
  • Urgent Care
  • Pediatrics
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Primary Care
  • Surgery
  • Internal Medicine
  • Occupational Health

Job Outlook and Salary

Nurse Practitioners

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth for this profession is expected to rise 34 percent through 2022, and the median annual salary is $89,960.

Physician Assistants

The Bureau estimates a job growth of 38.4 percent through 2022, and the median annual salary in 2013 was $92,970.

For both professions, salary is based on location (those who work in metropolitan areas earn more than practitioners and assistants who work in a rural environment), education, certification, and experience.

Hopefully, this overview will help you decide if one of these professions is the right career for you. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.