As you progress in your nursing or health care career, maybe you’ve considered becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP)…and maybe you’ve also considered the Physician’s Assistant route. Both are excellent options if you’re interested in medicine and health care but do not want to become a doctor.
Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are clinicians that diagnose and treat health conditions with an added emphasis on disease prevention and health management. They provide primary, acute and specialty health care services like performing/interpreting diagnostic tests, diagnosing and treating acute and chronic conditions, prescribing medications and managing patients’ overall care (and educating them on health, lifestyle and disease prevention).*
Like NPs, Physician Assistants (PAs), diagnose and manage illnesses and treatment plans, prescribe medications, counsel on preventative care and patients’ overall health, and provide services like physical examinations and other medical procedures. They might assist in surgeries, do clinical research, and make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes.**
The Main Differences
The American Academy of Physician Assistants explains it this way: PAs are educated in and trained to practice general medicine, whereas NPs are trained in the advanced practice of nursing and must choose a population focus when pursuing their education (e.g. pediatric nurse practitioner or family nurse practitioner).
How are the education requirements of a Nurse Practitioner different than those of a Physician Assistant?
Physician Assistants – Most students who go into a PA program hold bachelor’s degrees and have three years of health care experience. Most PA programs have prerequisites including chemistry, physiology, anatomy, microbiology, and biology. After graduating from an accredited PA program (about three years) and earning a master’s degree that includes 2,000 hours of clinical rotations, one must then take the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) and obtain state licensure.
Nurse Practitioner – Those who go into an NP program typically hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), although many colleges offer bridge programs for nurses with associate degrees only. To earn the master’s degree to become a Nurse Practitioner, students complete between 400 and 1,000 clinical hours, earn professional certification in a specific patient population focus, and get state Advanced Practice Registered Nurse licensure.
One distinction of Nurse Practitioners is the ability to specialize in a population area. There are six main population foci:
- Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (A-GNP)
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP)
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
- Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
- Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
- Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)
American Sentinel offers two Nurse Practitioner specialty tracks: Adult Gerontology Primary Care NP and Family NP.
Job Outlook and Opportunities
Demand for Nurse Practitioners is strong. In fact, nursejournal.org shares that there is a 20% increase in demand for NPs by the year 2022, with a median salary range above $96,000, depending on the state.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shares that employment of nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners is projected to grow 45 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. About 24,200 NP job openings are projected each year over the decade. An MSN NP or DNP can help you get there, if this is the path you choose.
Similarly, Physician Assistants are projected to grow much faster than average from 2019 to 2029—about 31%. The median annual wage was $112,260 in 2019.
Where can Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants practice? In a wide variety of settings!
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners says that NPs practice in “nearly every health care setting including clinics, hospitals, Veterans Affairs and Indian Health Care facilities, emergency rooms, urgent care sites, private physician or NP practices (both managed and owned by NPs), nursing homes, schools, colleges, retail clinics, public health departments, nurse managed clinics, homeless clinics, and home health.”
The American Academy of Physician Assistants explains that PAs practice in hospitals, urgent care centers, outpatient offices, clinics and schools/universities, rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes and correctional facilities. Some specialize in internal medicine, emergency medicine, surgical subspecialties, pediatric subspecialties and other settings such as psychiatry, hospice and palliative care and pain management.
Becoming an NP
If you enjoy being a Registered Nurse and providing care to patients and want to further your career options, boost your earning potential, and have greater autonomy in your job, consider the Nurse Practitioner pathway.
American Sentinel University offers two Nurse Practitioner specialty tracks, Adult Gerontology Primary Care NP and Family NP. Want to learn more? Browse program details online, where you can also reserve your seat for our next Nurse Practitioner Open House.
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