How Are PAs Different From NPs?

Physician assistants and nurse practitioners are not interchangeable. They have different backgrounds, training and scopes of practice. In addition to the generalist roles they play in healthcare, both PAs and NPs can specialize within their scope of practice.

Physician assistants are not nurses, but nurse practitioners are not physicians, either. Knowing how these two professions compare is a great way for individuals interested in the healthcare industry to understand what path they may want to take during their education. It’s also especially important for medical facilities to consider when hiring a PA or NP.

Both physician assistants and nurse practitioners can provide primary care services to patients. PAs are more likely to go into surgical specialties and work mostly at surgery centers, urgent cares or even as part of the management teams overseeing medical practices. Nurse practitioners, on the other hand, will most commonly be found working in women’s health or pediatrics. The majority of NPs work at hospitals, health clinics and schools.

But you may still be wondering, how are PAs Different from NPs? Here, we discuss all the differences and why you might need each one in your facility.

What is a physician assistant?

Physician assistants are medical professionals tasked to work under the supervision of physicians in various practice settings, including hospitals, private practices, correctional facilities and research laboratories. Under state-by-state employment laws, they can also be self-employed without referring to any physician for their supervisory requirements.

The path toward becoming a physician assistant starts by earning your bachelor’s degree in the field you wish to pursue, in addition to obtaining your medical training credentials in CPR and first aid. Next is applying for PA programs that span over two years of intensive clinical rotations, followed by three years in supervised professional clinical hours where students collaborate with experienced physicians.

What is a nurse practitioner?

Nurse practitioners have a university degree in nursing. They are required to complete additional certification courses or a graduate degree before practicing independently. In terms of employment options, NPs can choose from emergency rooms, hospitals, private practices and clinics.

How are PAs different from NPs?

Besides the difference in education, PAs and NPs differ in several ways.

Physician assistants focus more on hands-on treatment with less diagnostic evaluation, while nurse practitioners mainly focus on diagnosis and refer patients to physicians only if indicated. Physician assistants tend to be very autonomous workers who establish close relationships with their patients, while nurse practitioners tend to work as part of a team under the supervision of physicians.

Nurse practitioners tend to specialize in fields, whereas PAs tend to have a more generalized education. NPs also tend to have more autonomy in 24 states, where they have full practice authority. PAs work interdependently with physicians.

When should I hire a PA or NP for my facility?

You should hire a PA when you need a provider to provide direct patient care under the supervision of a physician. PAs diagnose and treat illness, injury or disease without supervision. They can also help manage chronic conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Nurse practitioners diagnose and treat acute and chronic illnesses, injuries, and diseases with relative autonomy from physicians. Nurse practitioners work in collaboration with physicians and may be given limited autonomy. If you want your staff to function autonomously while still having some oversight by a physician, then consider hiring nurse practitioners.

What are the key responsibilities of PA vs. NP?

PAs diagnose illness, injury and disease under varying levels of supervision from physicians. PAs provides health care services to people of all ages. Like nurses and NPs, PAs must be licensed by the state they work in. They must complete an accredited graduate-level or post-graduate program. 

PAs function under physician supervision and typically work at doctor’s offices or clinics providing primary care services like making diagnoses, treating illnesses, prescribing medicine, ordering tests and x-rays, giving immunizations, and referring patients to specialists when necessary.

PA responsibilities may also include prescribing drugs on the orders of a physician or through standing protocols or standing orders. A standing order is an established protocol for patient care that allows the physician assistant to make certain decisions without first seeking physician approval.

NPs diagnose, treat and manage chronic illnesses. NPs play a vital role in providing primary care as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Like all nurses, the NP must be registered with a state nursing board. The NP’s training includes both nursing science and medical sciences at the graduate level.

The NP works closely with other health care professionals to provide comprehensive health care services that include diagnostics, prescribing and providing follow-up care for patients. They have similar roles to physicians in some states. Nurse practitioner responsibilities include conducting exams, providing treatment, ordering tests and drugs on the orders of a physician or through standing protocols or standing orders.

Should I hire both PAs and NPs for my facility?

Yes, both PAs and NPs should be hired at a facility because they do different jobs. With the recent shortage of primary care physicians, you need all the help you can get. PAs and NPs both have a lot to offer – choose the one that will fit your facility best.

Hiring a physician assistant or nurse practitioner

Tinkbird Healthcare Staffing helps facilities across the country hire top-tier healthcare providers. Whether you are searching for a physician assistant, nurse practitioner, physician or registered nurse, Tinkbird can help you save time and money by handling the recruiting process for you. Our recruitment experts are here to help you find the right person for your position quickly. Contact us today to learn more.

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