These days, many of us are getting routine healthcare from a PA or an NP–with terrific results. Physician assistants and nurse practitioners both play an essential and growing role in providing patient care. PAs and NPs make it easier for patients to get appointments quickly and receive ongoing, high-quality care from a trusted professional. Their roles are much more alike than different, but there are a few key differences.
What Are PAs and NPs?
Both physician assistants and nurse practitioners are healthcare providers who can diagnose illness, develop treatment plans, and prescribe medicine. Increasingly, those in both roles serve as the lead primary care provider for patients. According to the American Academy of PAs, physician assistants train as medical generalists with clinical experience in various medical fields. Nurse practitioners are usually certified in a specific area of primary care, including pediatrics, women’s health, and mental health. Nurse practitioners often have a particular focus on disease prevention and health management in a primary care setting.
While they’re not doctors, both types of providers can take on many of a physician’s traditional duties, especially in primary care. And both are growing fields as the need for primary care providers expands. According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, there are nearly 300,000 nurse practitioners licensed in the US. There are now 150,000 certified physician assistants in the US in 2021, according to the AAPA.
What Educational Credentials Do PAs and NPs Have?
Both PAs and NPs have at least a master’s degree-level certification. PAs must have a bachelor’s degree and complete a three-year physician assistant program modeled on medical school. PAs also complete 2,000 hours of clinical rotations in family medicine, general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine, and psychiatry, according to the AAPA. PAs are certified and regulated by the state medical board in most states. NPs complete a master’s or doctoral level nurse practitioner program along with 1,000 hours of clinical practice. NPs are regulated and licensed by the state nursing board. Many nurse practitioners come to NP programs after years or even decades of experience in nursing. So when you see an NP, you’re often getting access to a provider with a long history of excellent patient care.
How Are Physician Assistants and Nurse Practitioners Different from Doctors?
Both physician assistants and nurse practitioners can fulfill many of the same duties as a Medical Doctor (MD) or Osteopathic Doctor (DO.) They conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illness, prescribe medications, give advice on preventive care and perform some medical procedures. However, they cannot perform surgery. One key difference is that PAs must collaborate and consult with a physician as part of a “team practice” model of care. NPs have “full practice authority” in many states, so they are not required to practice with a doctor. However, many NPs also choose a team practice environment.
What Should I Call My PA or NP?
More and more patients see PAs and NPs as their primary care providers–with excellent results. One benefit of these providers’ expanded roles is the relationships they build with patients. But some patients are unsure what title to use since “doctor” doesn’t apply. Many NPs and PAs prefer to use their first name. Some prefer Mr. or Ms. with their last name, and some physician assistants use the title PA (as in “PA Smith”). It’s okay to ask your provider how they’d like you to address them. As these fields continue to grow, it’s a question they’re happy to answer.
PAs and NPs: A Complete Team for Excellent Care
The circle of primary care providers is expanding in recent decades, and it’s a positive thing. Every day, patients receive excellent care and build relationships with physician assistants and nurse practitioners. At Comprehensive Primary Care, physician assistants and nurse practitioners play an essential role, working in collaboration with MDs and DOs to prevent and treat illness and keep patients healthy. Our team practice model allows us to offer timely appointments, meet patient needs and focus on a patient-centered approach.