Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant Career

If you have aspirations of working in a medical career or advancing in the field, but don’t want to become a doctor, there are a number of educational paths you can consider. If you want to work with patients in a high-level position, your two main choices are to become a nurse practitioner or to become a physician assistant. These are two careers that are closely related, so it is often hard for students to choose between them.

Both nurse practitioners and physician assistants often work closely with patients to diagnose and treat medical conditions. While there are some problems that only a doctor can handle, nurse practitioners and physician assistants can serve as point of entry for patients dealing with illness or injury. Both have the training to evaluate a patient’s condition and decide whether or not a medical doctor is needed. Bother also perform tasks such as preparing patients for surgery, prescribing medications, taking patients histories, consulting with doctors about patient care, taking vital signs, updating records, and overseeing RNs, LPNs, and CNAs (as well as volunteers or other lower-level medical personnel).

So where do the two professions differ? First, in education. Both fields have master’s degree programs for students. In order to become a nurse practitioner, you need to first become and RN. This takes as least two years, and you need another year of experience in most states before you qualify for RN-to-MSN programs. You can also get your bachelor’s degree right away and then qualify for an MSN program, which takes one to two additional years.

On the other hand, to become a physician assistant, you first need at least a bachelor’s degree in a medical field. You can then qualify for a physician assistant program, which typically takes two years. This is on top of your previous education, so don’t confuse physician assistants with healthcare workers who only have associate’s degrees. The training to become a physician assistant more closely resembles the training to become a doctor.

During your education, you’ll be asked to choose a specialty if you’re going to school to become a nurse practitioner. Some common specialties include acute care, mental health, geriatrics, women’s health, family practice, and pediatrics. With a physician assistant program, however, you typically don’t specialize. However, you will receive more training in surgical care, which is why you tend to see more nurse practitioners treating sick patients in a general care setting and more physician assistants working with surgical teams.

In terms of starting salary, a registered nurse earned $69,110 in May 2011, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, your exact salary depends on a number of factors, such as location, employer, specialization, and prior experience.

The Best Nurse Practitioner School Programs

Georgetown University
MSN in Family Nursing
MSN in Midwifery
Georgetown University — Georgetown University's online MS in nursing (MSN) programs in family nursing and midwifery follow the School of Nursing and Health Studies nursing model, which includes a mission of providing morally reflective healthcare scholars and leaders who strive to improve the wellbeing and health of all people with sensitivity to cultural differences and issues of justice.
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Walden University
Doctor of Nursing Practice
RN to MSN: Adult Gerontology NP
RN to MSN: Adult Gerontology Acute Care NP
Walden University — Students in the Doctor of Nursing Practice online program from Walden University study advanced methods in the practice of nursing across a variety of healthcare environments. Registered nurses with a master’s degree in nursing are able to obtain their diploma in an accelerated format.
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Purdue University
MSN in Nurse Practitioners
Purdue University — Purdue University MSN for Nurse Practitioners program prepares students to apply advanced methods in nursing in a dynamic healthcare environment. Courses include Advanced Nursing Roles, Theoretical Foundations of Advanced Nursing, and Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in a Diverse Community.
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South University
MSN in Nurse Practitioner
South University — The South University Master of Science in Nursing program offers a Nurse Practitioner specialization which is designed for Registered Nurses who wish to advance their skills, manage their patients care, and make critical decisions using evidence-based information. The program is offered online.
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Grand Canyon University
MSN in Nurse Education
MSN in Nurse Leadership
MBA/MSN in Leadership
Grand Canyon University — The Grand Canyon University College of Nursing and Health Sciences offers a wide variety of Master's programs tailored to meet the students specific interests. Specializations include Education, Nurse Leadership, and Leadership in Health Care Systems.
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Simmons College
RN to MSN for Family Nurse Practitioner
MSN in Family Nurse Practitioner
Simmons College — Simmons College offers an online MSN for Family Nurse Practitioners degree, a 36- to 47-credit program consisting of a Nursing Leadership Core, which features a theoretical curriculum, and a Nursing Practice Core, which puts theory into practice in real-world situations.
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