Understanding the difference between Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants can be difficult for those outside of the medical profession. To compound that difficulty the differences also vary from state to state depending on the regulations in place. This article will provide a quick background on the difference between the two and assist you with understanding the differences between a Nurse Practitioner and a Physician Assistant.

Similarities

Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants are both qualified medical professionals that often have the equivalent of a master's degree (and sometimes even a doctorate) in some aspect of the medical field. Under the overall supervision of physicians, both handle many of the day to day activities in the medical profession where direct services are provided to patients. Both can diagnose and treat many illnesses, though the regulations vary from state to state in terms of their ability to prescribe medication.

While there are numerous differences noted below the salaries for each are broadly the same, with the US average salaries being virtually identical.

Differences

While generally Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants perform the same overall job there are some distinct differences.
  • Physician Supervision: Physician Assistants are required to work under physician supervision and cannot operate independently. Nurse Practitioners can operate autonomously in many states (19 and the District of Columbia) providing a distinct difference in those states, while in others they have the same supervision requirements. When operating autonomously they can offer some specified services within their skill set independently and not under physician direction.
  • Education Requirements: Physician Assistants tend to qualify through more general medical examinations, providing a broad scope of experience. Qualifying Nurse Practitioners tend to be far more focused in their education and work experience with a focus on a specific practice, i.e. pediatrics or surgery. This means that in a specific practice areas Nurse Practitioners tend to have a higher degree of knowledge and experience, whereas a Physician Assistant will be more of a generalist.
  • Hours: As Physician Assistants are required to work with physician supervision their hours are largely driven by the hours of the doctors they work for. In most contexts this means that Physician Assistants' flexibility in working hours is fairly limited. Nurse Practitioners can often have far more flexibility (depending on the state) in terms of setting hours and having discretion in their professional work hours. Even in states that technically require physician supervision there are some specified services they can provide outside of the doctors supervision, and the doctors working hours.
As the requirements and regulations for Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants vary from state to state it would be strongly recommended that you review the guidance applicable in the state you are looking into. The above comments are general guidelines and the differences can vary greatly.