When thinking about popular healthcare careers, the comparison between physician assistants (PA) and registered nurses (NP) often comes to mind. Both careers are extremely rewarding and offer opportunities to make a positive impact. A large number of patients depend on the important work of medical assistants and nurses. Additionally, the salary and job prospects for these careers promise competitive wages with healthy job security compared to the national average.
What exactly are the differences between a physician assistant and a nurse practitioner? How do you decide between the two career paths? Although there is some overlap in the roles, the main distinguishing features between them are educational requirements, scope of practice and approach to health care.
If you are considering advancing your career in the medical field, now is the perfect time to choose your path. The path to becoming a physician assistant or nurse practitioner can be challenging, so it's important to find out early on which profession appeals to you the most. The best way to do this is to understand the differences between them.
What does a medical assistant do?
Medical assistants typically work under the supervision of a team of doctors or surgeons. Most of them work in doctor's offices or in state, municipal or private hospitals. One advantage of being a physician assistant over a registered nurse is that a physician assistant can work in any area of medicine, including emergency medicine, surgery, psychiatry, and primary care, without specializing in a degree or certification.
The job responsibilities of a physician assistant may include:
- Conducting patient assessments and providing diagnoses
- Ordering applicable diagnostic tests for patients, such as blood tests, laboratory tests, CT scans, and X-rays
- Educating patients on how to prevent disease and maintain optimal health
- Patient treatment: administer vaccinations, sew up wounds, fix broken bones, etc.
- prescribe medication
- Tracking the patient's progress and recovery
- Continuing education and research into the latest treatment methods to ensure quality patient care
The field of medicine that PAs work in usually dictates their duties. For example, a PA working with a team of surgeons may perform tasks such as closing incisions and providing post-operative patient care. A general practitioner PA may perform physical exams and administer routine vaccinations.
The area of activity of a PA depends on the federal state. In some states, PAs are allowed to prescribe medication, and while all PAs must be affiliated with collaborating physicians, the rigor of supervision can vary widely. Many PAs work with full autonomy as primary caregivers for their patients, especially in rural areas.
What does a nurse do?
Nurse practitioners are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). They typically work in outpatient centers, emergency centers, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities.
NPs provide acute and primary care along with specialized health services. Both NPs and PAs conduct patient evaluations, order and interpret diagnostic tests, provide treatments, prescribe medications, and educate patients on how to achieve and maintain optimal health. The central job functions of the two parts of the role overlap considerably.
When comparing a physician assistant to a nurse, perhaps the biggest difference between the two professions is the number of areas in which NPs can specialize. Areas of specialization include the following:
- emergency nurse
- Adult Gerontology Nurse
- Cardiac Nurse Practitioner
- Certified Nurse Midwife
- Certified anesthetist
- Clinical Nurse Specialist
- Medical assistant for dermatology
- Emergency Nurse Practitioner
- Practicing Family Nurse
- Holistic Nursing Practitioner
- hospice nurse
- Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
- Orthopedic Nurse
- Practicing Pediatric Nurse
- Psychiatric Nursing Practitioner
- Practitioner for surgical nurse
- Alternative practitioner for gynecology
The specialty of an NP ultimately determines day-to-day work functions. For example, adult gerontology nurses work with a patient base that includes older adults and therefore treat diseases and conditions such as dementia, osteoarthritis and osteoporosis for aging populations. Pediatric nurses work exclusively with children and adolescents and therefore focus on the prevention and treatment of injuries.
The numerous specialties and sub-specialties make becoming an NP an ideal option for those wishing to practice a highly specific form of healthcare or to work with a specific patient base. However, there are some definite trends regarding NPs and the subject areas in which they work.
According to 2021 data from the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), 88.9% of NPs in primary care are certified. The distribution of primary care certification areas breaks down as follows: 69.7% family, 10.8% adult, and 7% adult gerontology primary care, with the remaining primary certifications such as acute care and women's health scoring 5% or less.
This is how you become a medical assistant
To become a physician assistant, one must earn a master's degree — typically an MPAS, a Master of Health Science (MHS), or a Master of Medical Science (MMS) — from a program approved by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC) is accredited -PA). These PA training programs typically last three years and have the following entry requirements:
- A minimum of two years of college coursework, which includes courses in anatomy, biology, microbiology, physiology, and chemistry
- Hands-on patient experience working with patients (hours of experience vary); Experience may include working as a registered nurse (RN), EMT or paramedic, phlebotomist, medical technician, medical assistant, or certified nursing assistant
The majority of students enrolled in a PA program have a bachelor's degree in a science or health-related field and about three years of healthcare experience.
Courses in the PA program cover a wide variety of areas, including anatomy, behavioral sciences, biochemistry, clinical laboratory science, physiology, pharmacology, physical diagnosis, pathophysiology, and medical ethics.
PA programs also include more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations to gain experience in family medicine, emergency medicine, psychiatry, general surgery, pediatrics, and internal medicine.
After completing a PA program, the next step is to become certified. You can do this by passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). After passing the PANCE exam, you will bear the designation certified medical assistant (PA-C).
The final step in your journey to becoming a PA is obtaining a state license. Your local registration authority will provide you with a list of legal and regulatory requirements for your initial registration. After that, it's all about maintaining your certification; This requires completing 100 hours of continuing education every two years and taking the Physician Assistant National Recertifying Examination (PANRE) every 10 years.
how to become a nurse
The path to becoming an NP is very different from that of a PA, which is something to consider when weighing your options between a physician assistant and a nurse practitioner. Applying for the NP program involves certain educational requirements: The first is earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). The standard BSN program lasts four years; However, some accelerated BSN programs and RN-to-BSN programs operate on shorter schedules.
The BSN program provides the education and hands-on nursing experience needed to prepare you for the National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), a National Council certification exam that tests your knowledge and skills to become critical Thinking tests care. Passing this exam is required to obtain the state license. All states require functioning RNs to be licensed.
NPs are required to earn a Master of Science in Nursing, which offers multiple areas of specialization. If you are pursuing an MS in Nursing, you can choose either a generalist degree or a concentration, e.g. B. FNP (Family Nursing Specialization) or PMHNP (Psychiatric Mental Health Specialization).
Upon completion of graduate training, you must take a national certification exam specific to your area of focus. Several NP certification bodies conduct exams, including the following:
- American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANPCB) Certification Board
- American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
- Certification body of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).
- Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB)
- National Certification Society (NCC)
After passing the exam applicable to your specialty, you must apply for the NP license in your state (see your state's NP requirements). From that point forward, you must meet your renewal requirements and continuing education requirements to retain a valid Proof of Eligibility. Continuing education requirements and the duration of certification may vary by state and specialty.
Salary and job prospects as a medical assistant
When comparing medical assistants and nurses, it pays to consider salary ranges and career prospects. However, this is a case where the two careers are relatively balanced on both fronts.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for physician assistants in 2020 was $115,390. The BLS projects jobs will grow 31% between 2020 and 2030, much faster than the projected national average.
Nursing salary and job prospects
The BLS reports that anesthesiologists, midwives and nurses earned a median annual salary of $117,670 in 2020 and projects jobs will grow an estimated 45% between 2020 and 2030.
Education, experience, region, hiring facility, and other factors, including demand, can affect salaries. A hospital with no resident FNP staff may be willing to pay more than one with several.
FNP vs. PA
FNP is one of the most popular NP specialties. Comparisons between FNP and PA are regularly made because both are healthcare providers who require licensing, can work with physicians, diagnose and treat diseases, and prescribe medications. Additionally, both require board certification to practice. Then what are the main differences between the two?
Key Differences Between FNP and PA
The first major difference between an FNP and a PA is that although some states allow remote monitoring, PAs must work under the supervision of a cooperative physician. FNPs have more autonomy, but it's not absolute nationwide. FNPs have full operating authority in 24 states; This means they have the authority to assess, diagnose and treat patients, including prescribing medication, without supervision. In the remaining states, either reduced practice or limited authorization to practice limit their patient care abilities. PAs do not have different levels of exercise authority by location.
Another key difference lies in the issue of work environment and specialization. PAs may change work environment or specialty, e.g. B. Making the transition from emergency care to family care without having to return to school or earn a new certification. In contrast, FNPs who choose to switch physicians must complete the necessary training and licensing. For example, an FNP interested in becoming a CRNA would need to complete a CRNA program.
A final difference between FNPs and PAs is their approach. FNPs follow the nursing model while PAs follow the medical model. The model of care is a holistic approach that considers the whole of the patient—both physical and emotional needs—beyond the patient's symptoms. The medical model is predominantly cause and effect based and focuses on treating symptoms.
For example, a patient diagnosed with psoriasis is likely to be treated by a PA with a steroid-based drug, such as prednisone or betamethasone dispropionate, aimed at treating the symptoms. A FNP can dig deeper and may reveal that the patient is eating a lot of red meat and dairy products, foods that can cause psoriatic inflammation. In this case, the FNP will of course prescribe the necessary medication; However, the FNP will also recommend a change in diet to prevent future inflammation. When considering FNP vs. PA treatment methods, FNPs tend to think more holistically.
Choose the perfect path to your healthcare career
If you want to make a difference in the healthcare field, working as an NP or PA is a rewarding career path with strong job security and generous compensation. Although there are some distinct differences between the two, both focus on helping people.
At Northeastern University we offer oneOnline Program for MS in Nursingwith three concentration options: Adult Gerontology Primary Nurse (AGPCNP), Family Nurse (FNP), and Psychiatric Psychiatric Nurse (PMHNP). Learn about the program and concentrations, required coursework, and qualify online.
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