Is Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant a More Competitive Career?

Mohit Mathur

If you are looking to have significant influence in the health care sector but prefer not to pursue a a career as a Physician, there are options for you.  Jobs in the field of physician assistant or nurse practitioner have gained a lot of traction.  The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the number of physician assistants employed in the U.S. will be 31% greater in 2028 than it was in 2018. Similarly, according to the BLS, the number of nurse practitioner jobs is expected to be 28% higher in 2028 than in 2018.

Both professions require graduate-level education, and each allows the worker to order lab tests, diagnose illnesses, prescribe or administer medicine and provide health advice.  So how do you choose?  Here is a breakdown of the roles versus compensation.

Nurse Practitioner

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) says nurse practitioners (NPs) are “licensed, autonomous clinicians, focused on managing people’s health conditions and preventing disease.” NPs typically focus on one patient population, building their practice around geriatrics, dermatology, women’s health, pediatric, or other specialty areas.

The NP role has evolved over time, as the family practice model of care evolved to allow more midlevels to take on work traditionally handled by primary care doctors. NPs handle a variety of tasks, governed by the state they serve in. Typically, this includes health checkups, prescription refills, requesting lab tests, and treating patients.

NPs receive a six-to-eight-year education, and their salaries are over six figures. These professionals can work in a variety of settings, from small solo medical practices to large hospitals. Salary tends to be in the range of 118K-160K

Physician Assistant

The American Association of Physician Assistants (AAPA) says, “PAs are medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient’s principal healthcare providers.”

Physician assistants (PAs) can handle patient care, from taking histories and conducting exams to diagnosing and treating illnesses. PAs can order clinical tests and interpret them and develop treatment plans for their patients. They can prescribe medication and even perform or assist in surgeries.

PAs follow their study through the master’s degree level (typically six years or longer). PAs have more than 3,000 hours of direct patient contact before receiving their licensure. The AAPA says there are 150,000 PAs in the U.S. working in a variety of settings in all 50-states. Salaries tend to be in the range of 120-150K.

Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician Assistant: Which is Right for You?

Now that you understand the NP and PA roles in the healthcare field, which might be better for you to pursue? The NP role requires a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and potentially a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). NPs will choose a specialty focus area as part of this training. PAs pursue a similar degree but in a medical school. PAs follow a more disease-focused care model. In a side-by-side comparison, we found:

  • Job growth in both areas is predicted to be high, at 26% annual growth for NPs and 31% growth for PAs.
  • There will be more NP positions available than PAs but both areas are facing a staffing shortage.

If you’re considering either of these positions, we recommend talking with a recruiter from MedSource. Our teams have years of experience in these fields and can provide you with candid insider information on what to expect. Contact MedSource Consultants today to find out more.