The healthcare field has endless opportunities that reach many various scopes and levels. If you pursue an advanced degree, you may find yourself in between two critical career choices: a nurse practitioner or a physician’s assistant.

Nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician’s assistants (PAs) support much of today’s healthcare system. Students looking to pursue careers in healthcare commonly hold vague conceptualizations of both. Therefore, it’s helpful to understand the difference between the two fully. Before they decide, we inform them it’s wise to consider factors such as level of education needed, scope of responsibility, and range in salary. Many of these characteristics determine the main differences between NPs and PAs.

Level of Education

Both NPs and PAs must receive advanced levels of education. However, after obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree, the scope of their advanced training differs. Plus, the programs each receives also can vary.

More specifically, a PA typically receives a Master of Science after a three-year graduate program. These programs consist anywhere from 1,000 hours in a classroom setting and 1,000 to 2,000 hours in clinical. PAs certifications last for about 10 years.

In contrast, an NP receives a Master’s Degree in nursing typically followed by a Doctor of Nursing Practice. Programs for NPs consist of a bit less than PAs: anywhere from 500 hours in the classroom to 500 to 700 clinical hours. NP certifications last for about five years.


One of the most significant differences between PAs and NPs lies in their specialty. PAs tend to specialize in disease while NPs tend to concentrate on the patient. Furthermore, when it comes to the disease approach, their process tends to take longer than PAs’ patient method. Chronic diseases in the United States are not only rampant but also long-term. PAs thus strategize health plans and offer guidance to those who suffer from diseases while NP’s work to find subsequent cures.


The US Bureau of Labor Statistics notes minor differences between the two salaries. In 2017, the average wage consisted of $50 an hour for physician’s assistants while nurse practitioners received $53 an hour. Of course, much of this depends on the job’s demand per location and scope of the role.


The last but perhaps most notable difference depends on autonomy. In most states, PAs must lawfully abide by a collaborative agreement with a Doctor of Medicine. This agreement stands due to PAs level of autonomy; they may work without direct oversight and may even manage independent clinics.

In contrast, nurse practitioners must maintain that collaborative agreement and cannot work independently. Even so, many states currently seek to issue laws that allow independent management without direct oversight, similar to PAs. Presently, however, physician’s assistants outnumber NPs when it comes to working independently-led clinics.

Are you interested in becoming a nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant? Contact us so we can aid you with your dream career in healthcare.