Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: February 22, 2022  •  6 min read  •  Business
Approved Course is reader-supported. If you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small commission.

When you want to advance your nursing career, you will likely choose between becoming a nurse practitioner or physician assistant. These two positions require more education than nursing, but also allow you to take on more responsibility.

Of course, with more responsibility and training, you can earn a higher wage. It might be hard to see the difference between a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant, as a patient. However, from a career perspective, these are very different options.

Before you choose between becoming a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant, you should understand these career options. Let’s look at both and the key differences between each one.

Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant

What is a Nurse Practitioner?

A nurse practitioner (NP) takes on additional responsibilities compared to a registered nurse (RN). When you become a nurse practitioner, you will be an advanced practice registered nurse. you will be able to administer additional patient care.

As a nurse practitioner, you can prescribe medication, order diagnostic tests, provide treatment, examine patients, and diagnose illness. In some states, you will even be able to work independently from a physician.

What is a Physician Assistant?

A physician assistant (PA) works with physicians interdependently. When you become a physician assistant, you will be licensed to diagnose illness and provide treatment. You can prescribe medication for your patients, order lab tests, interpret lab tests, assist during surgery, develop treatment plans, and perform some minor procedures.

Nurse Practitioner vs Physician Assistant: The Key Differences

There are a few key areas where you will see differences between a nurse practitioner and a physician. Let’s look at a few of these differences below.


One of the main differences you will see when researching nurse practitioners and physician assistants are the education required. It’s not a huge difference, but both careers require different paths.

Nurse Practitioner Education Requirements

Physician Assistant Education Requirements

While the path to become a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant is similar, the degrees are certainly different. You will spend about the same amount of time in school since both require a master’s degree. However, if you become a nurse practitioner, you will attend a graduate nursing program. Physician assistants go through a master’s program based on medical education.

Scope of Practice

As a nurse practitioner works directly with patients making them the center of attention. If you become a physician assistant, you will use a disease-centered model.

With the nursing model, you will look at patients with a holistic approach. They get your attention and you will cater to their emotional and mental needs, along with their physical needs.

The medical model used by physician assistants puts a higher emphasis on disease pathology. You will approve patient care by putting an emphasis on the physiological and anatomical systems of the body.

Due to the differences in the scope of practice, nurse practitioners tend to specialize in family, geriatrics, women’s health, or pediatrics. On the other hand, physician assistants will likely specialize in internal medicine or emergency medicine. There are several other specialties for both, as well.

Career Outlook

While both careers have a very high growth rate, the growth rate for nurse practitioners is higher. It’s expected that nurse practitioner jobs will grow by about 45% over the next ten years. Physician assistant jobs are expected to grow by about 31% over the next ten years.

These growth rates are very high. Considering the growth rate of all occupations is about 5%, these are both on the higher side.

What is the Salary of a Nurse Practitioner?

As a nurse Practitioner, you will earn a salary ranging from about $98K per year to $133K per year. puts the median salary for this career at $114K per year. Your location and employer will determine your actual salary.

What is the Salary of a Physician Assistant?

According to, the range of salary for a physician assistant is $95K to $135K. The median salary falls right at about $115K. Your actual salary will depend on your employer and your location.

Can I complete a degree online to become a Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant?

Yes, you can complete an online Master of Science in Nursing Degree or a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies degree online. Some programs offer both online and classroom options, as well.

Will I need to recertify as a Nurse Practitioner or as a Physician Assistant?

Yes, in both careers, you will need to recertify every two years. For a nurse practitioner, you will need at least 1,000 clinical hours in your certified specialty, along with continuing education hours. Physician assistants will need 100 continuing education hours every two years. Every ten years, you will also need to pass the recertification exam.

What is the cost to become a Nurse Practitioner?

If you want to become a nurse practitioner, you will likely spend between $35K and $70K for your program. This doesn’t include the cost of your bachelor’s degree program.

What is the cost to become a Physician Assistant?

Becoming a physician assistant will likely cost between $60K and $90K. This cost will not include what you will spend to get your bachelor’s degree.

Both careers are very rewarding. The main difference is the scope of practice. If you want a more patient-centric career, become a nurse practitioner. If you prefer a more medicine-centric career, become a physician assistant.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.