Should I Become A Physician Assistant Or A Nurse Practitioner?
"I was planning to apply for a nursing program, with the goal of becoming a nurse practitioner. The reason I wanted to do that and not just aim for LVP or whatever is because I want to be able to take on more responsibility. But then I found out about physician assistants, and they sound like almost the same thing as nurse practitioners. Which one should I do?"
asked by Duncan from Wichita, KS
A nurse practitioner is a registered nurse with a master’s degree (in most cases). Nurse practitioners often already have a lot of work experience, because they start out as regular nurses, and go on to get their advanced degrees at a later time. They may work without the direct supervision of a doctor, and may even own private practices. Most nurse practitioners focus on preventative care and provide general services to treat basic illnesses and injuries. Like doctors, they are able to write prescriptions.
Physician assistants, like nurse practitioners, can take on a fair amount of responsibility, but only under the direct supervision of an attending physician. That means that if you were to become a physician assistant, you would be unable to run your own practice.
You can however take on numerous different tasks, including a wide range of diagnostic testing duties and treatments. You also have the power to write prescriptions. If you are interested in specialized medicine, you may prefer this role, since physician assistants often have the opportunity to pursue highly specialized roles. They also do not need to get an advanced degree. A simple two-year degree may allow you to become a physician assistant.
So the fundamental differences between the two can be summarized like this: A nurse practitioner can work independently of a doctor, but a physician assistant cannot. A physician assistant may take on a very specialized role, while a nurse practitioner is less likely to do so, particularly if he or she works alone in an independent practice. Under a physician, a nurse practitioner is more likely to pursue specialized medicine.
A nurse practitioner requires a master’s degree and extensive work experience, whereas a physician assistant does not. A two-year degree will get you started.
So ask yourself how much responsibility you want. Is it important for you to be able to operate an independent practice? Or would you be okay working under a supervisor? How much money and time do you have to spend on your education? Would you rather get a two-year degree and start making a high salary straightaway, or spend some extra time working your way up so you can take on more responsibility?
Good luck making your decision! Whatever choice you make, you should find many opportunities waiting for you.