Did you know that there are more than 258,000 nurse practitioners (NPs) employed in the United States, as well as 140,000 physician assistants (PAs)? Both NPs and PAs offer medical care that is combined with a focus on your individual health needs. And they can be a practical alternative to doctors. They may also help cut back on those long wait times.
Here’s a look at what NPs and PAs are, how they’re different and what kind of care you can expect from them.
A nurse practitioner, or NP, is a highly educated and trained health care provider who can fill many roles in health care, including being your primary care provider.
For someone to become an NP, they must:
They have to do hundreds of hours of coursework and practical training, which builds the advanced knowledge, skills and abilities needed to practice in primary care, acute care and long-term health settings. In addition to primary care, NPs work in community health clinics, hospitals, emergency rooms, psychiatric facilities and operating rooms. They take care of patients of all ages — from infants to older adults.
They play a very important and much needed role in health care, says Leanne Fowler, a Doctor of Nursing practice in New Orleans. “I think the greatest impact of their role is to improve and increase access to primary care, specialty care and hospital care,” says Fowler.
Besides taking part in primary care, NPs can:
What a nurse practitioner does and who they can do it for — also known as their scope of practice — depends on their licensure and training, as well as the laws of the state they work in. In some states, they can have their own private practice. In other states, they are required to be supervised by a medical doctor or contract with a physician to be able to offer their services.
Like NPs, physician assistants, or PAs, have to get a certain level of experience and education before they can work in hospitals and clinical practices. While they practice medicine under the direction and supervision of a licensed physician, they can also serve as primary care physicians.
Education-wise, PAs usually take this route:
Here’s a look at some of the things PAs can do:
Besides primary care, PAs also tend to practice in a number of health care disciplines, including:
Their jobs can also include clinical practice, patient education, team leadership, medical education, health administration and research.
While both an NP or a PA can serve as your primary care physician, there are some differences in what they do. The main differences include:
That’s really up to you. Since they can both do a lot of the same things that a doctor can do, such as perform physical exams and prescribe medications, they’ll both give you the care you need to stay healthy. And that’s what seeing a health care provider is all about.
A great way to have access to health care providers like these ones is by having a health insurance plan with a wide network of options. Explore your health insurance options online or call a licensed insurance agent at 1-844-211-7730.
American Association of Nurse Practitioners. “What’s a Nurse Practitioner (NP)?” Retrieved from https://www.aanp.org/about/all-about-nps/whats-a-nurse-practitioner Accessed June 14, 2023.
Marymount University. “Full Practice Authority States for Family Nurse Practitioners 2023.” Updated February 1, 2023. Retrieved from https://online.marymount.edu/blog/full-practice-authority-for-nurse-practitioners
Regis College. “What’s the Difference Between a Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant?” June 7, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.regiscollege.edu/blog/nursing/nurse-practitioner-vs-physician-assistant
Tufts University School of Medicine. “What Is a Physician Assistant?” Retrieved from https://medicine.tufts.edu/academics/physician-assistant/pa-program-overview/what-physician-assistant Accessed June 8, 2023.
University of Pittsburgh Online School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “What Degree(s) Do You Need to Become a PA?” January 21, 2022. Retrieved from https://online.shrs.pitt.edu/blog/what-degrees-do-you-need-to-become-a-physician-assistant/
University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. “Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant: Key Differences.” September 11, 2022. Retrieved from https://www.usa.edu/blog/np-vs-pa/
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics: Nurse Practitioners.” April 25, 2023. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291171.htm
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics: Physician Assistants.” April 25, 2023. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291071.htm#nat
The article above is provided as general information only. It is not intended to diagnose or recommend treatment of any illness, disease or condition. You should consult a qualified medical professional if you have questions or need more information.