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Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant – What’s the Difference?

February 9, 2007
Both Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant are viable alternatives to medical school and both are important occupations when it comes to delivering quality healthcare. Learn more about each, including facts about salaries and specialties.

Overview of the Occupation, Salaries, and Specialties

Nurse Practitioner (NP)

A Nurse Practitioner (NP) is a registered nurse with advanced academic (having a masters degree) and clinical experience, which enables him or her to diagnose and manage most common illness, including chronic ones, either independently or as part of a health care team. NPs largely focus on health maintenance, disease prevention, counseling and patient education in a wide variety of settings.

Median Salary of Sample of 23,850 NPs Nationwide (2004):
$73,620 annually, working 36+ hours a week
(Taken from American Academy of Nurse Practitioners 2004 National NP Sample Survey)

Specialty Areas: Family NPs, Pediatric NPs, Adult NPs, Geriatric NPs, Women’s Health Care NPs, Neonatal NPs, Acute Care NPs, Occupational Health NPs, Certified Nurse Midwives, and Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists.

Physician Assistant (PA)

A Physician Assistant (PA) is formally trained to provide diagnostic, therapeutic, and preventive health care services, as delegated by a physician. Working as members of the health care team, they take medical histories, examine and treat patients, order and interpret laboratory tests and X rays, make diagnoses and treat minor injuries. PAs record progress notes, instruct and counsel patients, and order or carry out therapy. PAs also may have managerial duties and some supervise technicians and assistants.

Median National Salary (2006):
$69,517 annually, working 32 hours a week
(Taken from American Academy of Physician’s Assistants 2006 Census Highlights)

Specialty Areas: General internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, general and thoracic surgery, emergency medicine, orthopedics, and geriatrics. PAs specializing in surgery provide preoperative and postoperative care, and may work as first or second assistants during major surgery.

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