Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant: Which one is for me? | Edcor

Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant: Which one is for me?

Provided by Grand Canyon University

One of the many benefits of working in health care is that the field offers a wide range of career paths with room for advancement. Two advanced, fast-growing occupations include the nurse practitioner or physician assistant, which are comparable, yet distinct areas in health care.

Both require advanced degrees and provide direct patient care, sometimes under the supervision of a physician, sometimes independently. NPs and PAs provide primary and preventative care, which includes diagnosing illness/injuries, providing treatment plans and prescribing medication.

In response to a physician shortage and high costs of the medical system, the field demands well-trained NPs and PAs who can perform responsibilities of the physician. Although these roles are similar in many respects, the following breaks down how they differ.

Nurse Practitioners follow a nursing, patient-centered model. This model addresses patients and patient outcomes holistically. NPs focus on health promotion, preventive care, the whole person and overall wellness (mental, emotional and physical).

Physician Assistants follow a medical, disease-centered model. This model addresses disease pathology with an approach to patient care that primarily surveys anatomical and physiological systems.

Nurse Practitioners serve specific populations. These populations range from family and adult-gerontology to women’s health and pediatrics; to name a few. Groups can be broad such as family practice or narrow such as neonatal.

Physician Assistants serve in a specialized disease- or medicine-centered area. These can range from surgical and emergency medicine to internal medicine and orthopedics.

Nurse Practitioners may work in setting such as hospitals, clinics, private physician practices, or practitioner-run clinics.

Physician Assistants may work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, skilled nursing facilities, PA-led clinics and schools.

Nurse Practitioners are increasingly granted the freedom to fully practice independently. In many states, NPs do not need a collaborative agreement with a physician to practice and prescribe; other states require collaborative agreements. Under a standard care agreement, NPs may still work autonomously without supervision yet are not independent practitioners.

Physician Assistants must work under the license/supervision of a physician but may still work day-to-day autonomously with limited physician involvement. They cannot establish an independent practice.

Nurse Practitioners must hold a master’s degree in nursing with a specific focus. NPs must be licensed and pass a national certification exam. Continuing education is required for recertification.

Physician Assistants must complete one of the required graduate programs for PA training. PAs must be licensed and pass a national certifying exam. Continuing education is required for recertification.

As of 2017, the median pay for nurse practitioners and physician assistants exceeds $100,000 and job growth is projected to be more than 30 percent (much faster than average), according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The jobs may differ, but they share one strong similarity—a passion to be a part of the high-demand, high-impact health care field, while helping to improve the health and wellness of others.

At Grand Canyon University, you can prepare to become a family nurse practitioner, acute care nurse practitioner or physician assistant. To learn about GCU’s scholarship opportunity, benefits and these programs, visit . For more information on NPs and PAs, visit and

For more information about our graduation rates, the median debt of students who completed the program and other important information, please visit our website at Please note, not all GCU programs are available in all states and in all learning modalities. Program availability is contingent on student enrollment. Grand Canyon University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (800-621-7440). Important policy information is available in the University Policy Handbook.

GCU, while reserving its lawful rights in light of its Christian mission, is committed to maintaining an academic environment that is free from unlawful discrimination. Further detail on GCU’s Non-Discrimination policies can be found at The information printed in this material is accurate as of NOVEMBER 2018. For the most up-to-date information about admission requirements, tuition, scholarships and more, visit ©2018 Grand Canyon University