In This Article
- How to Decide Which Career Is Right for You
- How to Become an NP
- How to Become a PA
- Professional Organizations for Nurse Practitioners
- Professional Organizations for Physician Assistants
The nurse practitioner (NP) and physician assistant (PA) occupations share similarities and some key differences. On this page, readers can explore how the two careers compare in terms of education requirements, responsibilities, salary, and more.
Readers can examine how to decide which career path is right for them, along with how to become an NP, and how to become a PA. This page also provides a list of professional organizations for PAs and NPs, with information about the unique advantages of membership.
Also covered below are the salary and job growth data for both professions, including the industries that offer the highest employment levels, concentration of jobs, and salary opportunities. This page examines common job settings for PAs and NPs, including specialty areas.
How to Decide Which Career Is Right for You
Consider which position meets your professional goals and educational preferences to identify your ideal career option. Examine factors like salary potential, education requirements, the scope and flexibility of practice for each position, and the job duties commonly required for PAs and NPs. You may also want to consider the scope of practice your desired state of residence allows NPs and PAs.
Although both academic paths require graduate degrees, each path differs. NPs pursue nursing education, first earning RN licensure before completing graduate NP programs. PA programs look for students with some experience in healthcare, but this includes other areas outside of nursing, like paramedic, respiratory technician, radiology, or surgical technician work. While most nurses go the route of NP, it is not unheard of for nurses to choose the PA route instead.
NPs and PAs may choose to specialize their work or practice in general or primary care. NPs serve as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), which includes an education centered on nursing care. PA programs emphasize general practice, diagnosis, procedural methods, and treatment. The career you choose should mirror your goals, interests, and the specialized roles you may wish to take on.
How to Become an NP
NPs must earn MSNs before they can practice professionally. At the master's level, nursing degrees feature concentration opportunities, allowing learners to focus their degrees on the NP pathway. Concentrations include family nurse practitioner, mental health nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, and neonatology.
Concentrations include family nurse practitioner, mental health nurse practitioner, adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner, and neonatology.
Admission requirements for MSN programs vary depending on the college or university, but common criteria include a bachelor of science in nursing degree, a current and active RN license, and CPR certification. Learners typically must meet a minimum GPA requirement, usually around 3.0. Admission materials commonly include official undergraduate transcripts, a completed application, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a current resume.
At the master's level, programs include classroom instruction and clinical experiences. Learners focus on pharmacology, advanced health assessment, and pathophysiology. Earning an MSN typically takes students about two years of full-time enrollment. Once they earn their degrees, they must pass a national certification exam in their chosen specialty of nursing, along with any state-specific requirements, to obtain their APRN licenses.
How to Become a PA
Prospective PAs should first earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited university. While admission requirements into PA school vary depending on the college or university, high GPAs and medical experience are typically required to gain admission. All PA programs are at the master's level which require each physician assistant student to hold a relevant bachelor's degree and work experience.
While admission requirements into PA school vary depending on the college or university, high GPAs and medical experience are typically required to gain admission.
PA students typically take between 24-27 months to earn their master's degrees, completing a curriculum (modeled after medical school curriculum) that covers topics such as human anatomy, physiology, pathology, and pharmacology. During their PA program, learners complete classroom, laboratory, and clinical coursework.
Relevant clinical experience for PA master's applicants can include previous work as an RN, nursing assistant, paramedic, or EMT. Eligible applicants do not necessarily have to have medical work experience but often have volunteer experiences at clinics or hospitals.
After earning a master's degree, each graduate must complete and pass the physician assistant national certifying examination administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. PAs must pass this certification exam every 10 years to maintain board certification. Once they have passed their certifying exam they must apply for and receive a license to practice from the state that they want to work in. PAs must also complete continuing education credits annually to maintain their licenses.
Professional Organizations for Nurse Practitioners
Joining a professional organization for NPs allows members to take advantage of many different benefits, including access to resources, events, and professional development ventures.
- American Association of Nurse PractitionersDedicated to advanced nurse practitioner practice and improving patient care, AANP supports more than 105,000 members, including NPs, organizations, and NP students.
- American Nurses AssociationAs the premier organization representing the interests of RNs across the United States, ANA aims to advance the nursing profession by promoting a safe, ethical work environment and fostering high standards for nursing practice.
- National League for NursingIn addition to offering professional development opportunities, this organization provides members with research grants, testing services, teaching resources, and public policy initiatives that promote nursing education programs.
Professional Organizations for Physician Assistants
The following organizations can provide PAs with many helpful benefits, including events, seminars, and opportunities for professional development and networking.
- American Academy of PA Committed to educating PAs and their patients, AAPA represents more than 131,000 PAs across the United States, covering all surgical and medical specialties.
- The Physician Assistant Foundation This nonprofit organization functions as the philanthropic arm of the AAPA to promote the work of PAs, along with their patients, students, and the community.
- National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants As the only certifying organization for PAs in the United States, NCCPA ensures that professional PAs meet the standards for cognitive skills and clinical knowledge necessary for effective practice.
Cynthia Taylor Chavoustie, MPAS, PA-C is an experienced physician assistant specializing in family medicine and gastroenterology. In 2005, she obtained her MA in physician assistant studies from the University of Nebraska. She has more than 15 years of clinical experience with all ages and in many different environments. Cynthia has always been committed to public awareness and overall health for herself as well as others.
Meredith Wallis, CNM, NP is a certified nurse-midwife, nurse practitioner, and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). She received her master’s degree in midwifery from Oregon Health & Science University in 2011. Meredith specializes in out-of-hospital birth, lactation support, and childbirth education. Her professional passions include holistic medicine, VBAC, and evidence-based care.