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Difference between PA (Physician Assistant) and NP (Nurse Practitioner)

Updated Jun 20, 2019

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants have important roles in the healthcare sector. They are responsible for providing direct care for the patients. These are advanced roles and can provide many opportunities for professionals to have a bright career in the future. Both professionals have the responsibility to handle patients and interact with them regularly under the supervision of a physician. They are considered mid-level practitioners but not doctors. As the healthcare sector continues to expand, the requirement for both nurse practitioners and physician assistants is increasing in demand. The shortage of trained medical staff is fulfilled by nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

PA vs. NP

Basis of comparison

Physician Assistants

Nurse Practitioners


They treat illnesses, conduct examinations, provide plans for treatment.

Apart from handling diagnosis and treatment, they provide health care guidelines and preventive measures to the patients.


They follow a disease-centered model that focuses on pathological and biological health components.   

They follow a patient-centered model that is focused on curing the patients.


They can perform their duties that are well under their scope but require the supervision of the Physician while prescribing medicines.

They can practice without the supervision of a physician and can administer medication autonomously.


They attend a medical school or a centre of medicine. They have to obtain a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Physician Assistant studies.   

They have to obtain a Bachelors and Masters Degree in Nursing


They have a generalized education and specialize in subjects like general medicine, orthopaedics, dermatology, and surgery.  

They can specialize in several areas like geriatrics, mental health, women’s health, and paediatrics.  

What is a NP (Nurse Practitioner)?

Nurse practitioners are certified and licensed medical professionals who are responsible for treating medical illnesses and taking care of patients. They can practice autonomously and work according to their specializations. They follow an approach that centres around the complete well being of the patients. Apart from their physical treatment, nurse practitioners have to handle their emotional needs as well. They also provide tips and guidelines to improve the patient’s health as they promote practices for disease prevention.

What is the Role and Scope of Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse practitioners work and interact directly with patients, and can manage patients with chronic diseases. They have been authorized to conduct physical examinations, analyze the results of the diagnostic tests and take the necessary steps. As they have the authorization for writing prescriptions to the patients, they also provide counselling to them. They follow a holistic approach to cure the following groups:

  • Elderly patients along with their family members
  • Children
  • Patients suffering from mental illness
  • Geriatric patients
  • People suffering from chronic illnesses

As per their scope of practice, they can work as ambulatory service staff, speciality care providers, long term cares services, etc. They can serve independently by running their own clinic, assisting a senior medical professional, as healthcare researchers, patient advocates, and consultants. They offer their services to families, individuals, communities, and groups. But as physicians are able to treat and prescribe any medical ailments across specialities, nurse practitioners have to stay within their speciality.

Nurse practitioners have a lifelong commitment to serving the patients by carrying out different responsibilities like the caregiver, researcher, administrator, mentor, and educator. They actively participate in healthcare activities in local, national, international and state levels.

What is a PA (Physician Assistant)?

A physician assistant is a healthcare professional who has the responsibility to diagnose, examine and treat the illnesses of patients under the supervision of a senior physician. The physicians do not always need to be on site and they communicate with the physician assistants over electronic media. As they are trained and educated to follow a more disease-centred model of practice, they are focused on the treatment of illnesses. They usually work in different settings and handle a variety of medical cases. There may be cases where the patients might not have met the supervising physician and are directly under the treatment of the physician assistant. In cases of complicated cases, the physician assistant has to contact the supervisor.

What is the Role and Scope of Physician Assistant?

The physician assistant has a variety of roles when assisting a senior physician. They are as follows:

  • Evaluation and analysis of diagnostic results.
  • Take steps for providing care based on the patient’s medical history.
  • They assist the senior physicians with surgeries and other complicated medical examinations.
  • They provide their rich medical know how to other medical staff in the hospital or any healthcare setting when a senior professional is absent.
  • Conduct physical examinations for patients.
  • Develop basic treatment plans
  • Educate the patients about good healthcare practices and counsel them.
  • Assist in emergencies.
  • They visit the patients at their homes or at the hospitals along with the physician to administer the treatment.

The physician assistant works at a variety of settings like primary care settings, hospitals, long term healthcare facilities, mental institutions, correctional facilities and community clinics. But their scope of work is somehow limited as they are under the supervision of a physician. This means that they cannot prescribe medications to the patients. They are only able to perform minor surgeries and are expected to learn the skills while working along with other doctors. Based on their experience and education, their scope of work will expand.


After analyzing the differences between nurse practitioners and physician assistants, it can be understood that nurse practitioners have a larger scope of work than physician assistants. Following a nurse model, nurse practitioners are trained to be a professional nurse that helps them while working. The physician assistants are trained under the medical model and learn the intricate details of a disease process along with its cure. Physician assistants can work as paramedics and in the military. However, both physician assistants and nurse practitioners can work according to their area of choice, like surgery clinics or emergencies. As both of these professionals have a similar salary, they are able to have a rewarding career.