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Physician assistant vs. nurse practitioner: which career is right for you?

10.25.2017 | By:
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Healthcare is a broad industry with many different specializations and fields of study. As you begin to consider an advanced degree in healthcare, it can be difficult to decide which one to pursue. Let’s take a look at two potential career paths.

Nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) both play an integral role in the healthcare system. Both are among the most advanced healthcare professions available without actually becoming a physician and, as a result, require a considerable amount of education. However, there are a few key differences between the two.

One of the main differences between the two occupations is the training involved. Nurse practitioners are trained in accordance with the nursing model, while physician assistants are trained with the medical model. As such, their resulting perspectives on healthcare and medicine are somewhat different, with the nursing model focusing more on patients and their prognosis and the medical model focusing more on disease pathology.

The difference in training also determines the specializations available to both professions, with nurse practitioners generally choosing a patient population like family, pediatrics or women’s health, while physician assistants tend to specialize in a specific area like dermatology, surgery or emergency medicine.

Unlike physician assistants, who are unable to practice on their own without the supervision of a practicing surgeon or physician, nurse practitioners are able to practice and even prescribe medication independently in many states. In fact, the specialized position of Family Nurse Practitioner is probably the type of nursing that is closest to functioning like a primary care physician.

Most physician assistant positions require a master’s degree, but not all of them. However, for nurse practitioners, a master’s degree in nursing is the minimum requirement to practice in any state. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing has actually recommended that nurse practitioners be required to hold a Doctor of Nursing Practice in the near future. As such, nurse practitioners earn an average yearly salary of $104,610, which is about $2,520 more than the average physician assistant salary.

Both nurse practitioners and physician assistants report a high degree of job satisfaction and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014), the number of jobs for both professions is expected to increase by roughly 30 percent through 2024. However, if your long-term goals include earning a doctoral degree that will help you advance your knowledge and skills in holistic, patient-centered care, you may find that a nurse practitioner program is the right fit for you. Although the schooling is more extensive, Texas Wesleyan offers an online, entry-level Doctor of Nursing Practice program to make it a little easier. You don’t need a master’s degree to apply and, because our program is online, you can keep working while you earn your DNP-FNP degree. Now that’s Smaller. Smarter.

 Get your Doctor of Nursing Practice - FNP from Texas Wesleyan University's School of Health Professions.