The main difference between nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) is that NPs are educated and licensed to provide a wider range of care than PAs.
A NP has a master’s degree in nursing and is nationally certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). This professional association promotes excellence in all aspects of nursing practice and education. An NP can diagnose, treat, order tests and prescribe medications.
A PA has a bachelor’s degree in science or health care administration and is nationally certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). This independent group sets the standards for PA education, training and certification. A physician assistants has advanced training to perform many medical tasks under the supervision of a physician.
NPs are trained to diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, and prescribe medications. PAs can do these things as well, but they have more training in taking care of patients than NPs do. NPs are also trained in counseling patients on health issues, while PAs typically aren’t. Nurse practitioners are trained to provide primary care to patients, while PAs typically provide care under the supervision of a physician.
NPs can perform physical exams and diagnose illnesses, but may not perform surgery or order diagnostic tests without consulting a physician first. PAs can perform many of the same tasks as NPs, but their scope of practice varies from state to state.