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Nurse Practitioners vs Physician Assistants

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants have many similarities between roles with overlapping skills. These medical professionals are able to provide care that includes annual checkups, sick visits in clinics, urgent care, ordering labs and tests, and other basic medical services. However, the education, training, and path toward becoming certified look different for both positions. Keep reading to learn more about the similarities and differences between nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners primarily focus on the monitoring of patients and providing direct care that includes:

  • Recording medical histories, for an accurate medical record
  • Collecting information, data, and samples from patients
  • Completing detailed examinations and observing patients
  • Ordering of lab tests to be completed
  • Prescribing medication and care
  • Managing others on the nursing team: RNs, LPNs, etc.

But the daily workload of a nurse practitioner can vary depending on the field that they work in (emergency services, pediatrics, psychiatric, women’s health).

Physician Assistants

Physician assistants diagnose illnesses, create treatment plans, and prescribe medications as needed. As the title suggests, by law PAs work directly under the supervision of a physician or surgeon. Typically, on the daily basis, PAs can be found:

  • Recording medical history
  • Performing exams
  • Educating patients on preventative care
  • Ordering diagnostic tests
  • Diagnosing illnesses
  • Documenting patient information and analyzing results from treatment plans
  • Prescribing medications
  • Performing procedures and assisting in surgeries
  • Making hospital rounds
  • Performing clinical research with a medical team

You can find PAs working in most healthcare facilities: hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, and community health centers. Physician assistants can also practice a variety of specialties like family practice, dermatology, anesthesia, radiology, and surgery.


Although there is some overlap between NPs and PAs, there are also some clear differences between the two positions. Nurse practitioners more generally specialize in treating patients within a certain population, meaning that their focus might be on those in a certain age group or those with a particular condition. On the other hand, physician assistants have a focused area of medicine or specialty.

While both NPs and PAs are given the power to work autonomously, PAs are required by law to work under a physician. However, in some states in the U.S. nurse practitioners are able to practice independently, offering more freedom and flexibility.

With the nursing shortage in full effect and expected to increase in severity, many facilities are needing more positions than ever filled. For these reasons it is important for healthcare facilities to know which positions are needed to fill their needs. For more information on the nursing shortage, view our past blog here

Or if you’re unsure that your healthcare facility is currently understaffed, our previous blog explains some of the key signs that can help you identify when you are short-staffed. Read it here.

There are also differences in the training and education that nurse practitioners and physician assistants go through. NPs adhere to the nursing style of patient-focused care, while PAs follow the medical model of disease-centered care. An example of this difference in action is a nurse practitioner spending more time throughout the day proving bedside care in a hospital, while a physician assistant could end up in a surgical specialty.

For education, nurse practitioners first become a registered nurse after completing their BSN and passing the NCLE, then become licensed in the state. After becoming a registered nurse, they must earn a graduate degree like MSN.

With PAs, they must complete a related bachelor’s degree, and then enroll in a master’s level PA program, before they can be licensed by passing the PANCE.

More Similarities

Another similarity between nurse practitioners and physician assistants is that both careers earn competitive salaries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that PAs earn a median income of $112,260 a year, while NPs earned $115,800. Additionally, both of these careers have been predicted to quickly grow, with PAs expected to see 31% between 2019 and 2029, and NPs to see 45%.

If your healthcare facility is short-staffed and needs help finding the right candidates to fill your positions, AnyPlace MD offers healthcare staffing services with tens of thousands of available candidates. APMD has access to highly qualified nurses, travel nurses, medical assistants, surgical techs, physicians, and advanced practice providers all over the country. Learn more about our healthcare staffing services here

If more help is needed, we also specialize in hospital management services that improve performance! View more about this service here

Call today to learn more about any of our available services!

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E. Randy Eckert, MD
Medical Director

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Brenda Thompson,
Vice President of Human Resources

With over 20 years of Human Resource and Operations experience, Brenda brings her expertise and specialized skill set to Dental Health Management Solutions, AnyPlace MD and AnyPlace Audiology.  Her successful career includes working as an Executive Director in senior living communities and advancing her Human Resources career to Vice President of Human Resources. Brenda has a specific style and approach to balance risk-management and employee satisfaction.

Shane Stevens - AnyPlace MD- COVID-19 Testing and Treatment Solutions

Shane Stevens

Throughout my career, I have served and volunteered with several organizations including serving as an advisory board member for Concordia University Texas, an annual participant and supporter of Hounds for Heroes, the Special Olympics, and many others. I have also served as a deacon at the Austin Baptist Church since 2009. Shane earned a BS in Long-Term Health Care Administration from Texas State University in San Marcos.