nurse practitioner vs physician assistant


The healthcare sector plays a vital role in keeping people world wide in great shape. Beyond treating patients after an accident or illness, healthcare provides help to manage ongoing conditions or educate people about healthier lifestyles. The global healthcare industry is also very important in terms of employment and the economy. This sees people opting to move into this sector when choosing a career path and finding their dream job from the many roles modern healthcare provides.

Two popular career choices are Nurse Practitioner (NP) and Physician Assistant (PA). While both share excellent job satisfaction, competitive salaries, and fabulous career progression opportunities in common, they are in fact two distinct roles.

The similarities they share can sometimes see people conflate them together – but how do these jobs differ? For those considering moving into the health sector, this article explores both career options fully.

What does a nurse practitioner do?

 NPs are trained and licensed Registered Nurses (RNs) who continue their studies to become Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). Due to their background as RNs, NPs have core skills in patient care and patient education. They are ideally placed to operate at more senior levels to deliver the best acute or primary care.

 Working as an NP comes with a good variety of choice in career terms, as there are a number of specialties to focus on. The most popular include:

  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (CPNP-PC)
  • Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP)
  • Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner (AGNP)
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

NPs operate with a good level of autonomy, depending on state regulations. This makes the role a popular choice for nurses who wish to advance their careers and work with a high level of independence.

What does a physician assistant do?

 This advanced healthcare role involves working independently with a physician to deliver high-quality care to patients from a range of backgrounds. A PA has a good level of autonomy in some tasks, which appeals to many who work as PAs.

Though some tasks involve collaboration with doctors to provide the best care, it depends on state rules. The scope of what a PA can do is also governed by their supervising physician’s practice. PA roles can be found mainly in primary care settings but are not limited to this. To move into working life as a PA, interested individuals would usually need to complete a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPA).

What tasks do an NP and PA carry out?

 Precisely understanding the tasks each role includes daily is especially useful for those needing help choosing between the two or needing help understanding exactly how they differ.

For NPs, the most common duties include:

  • Patient examination and diagnosis.
  • Prescription of medication.
  • Educating patients around healthy living.
  • Ordering and analyzing diagnostic tests.
  • Management of acute and ongoing medical conditions.
  • Patient advocacy.

For individuals who are thinking of moving into a PA role, the main responsibilities are:

  • Obtaining patient medical histories.
  • Completing comprehensive patient examinations across the patient’s lifespan.
  • Performing medical procedures.
  • Ordering and analyzing diagnostic tests.
  • Patient counseling.
  • Patient advocacy.

NPs and PAs generally have their own set of duties to carry out each day. Despite this, the roles do overlap sometimes and cover similar areas. Patient advocacy is a good example and a key part of both jobs.

When determining the difference between a nurse practitioner vs physician assistant, consider what knowledge, skills and qualifications are needed for each role. To become a Physician Assistant (PA), one would need to be certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. Becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP) involves studying for a Master of Science in Nursing – Nurse Practitioner (MSNNP). Wilkes University is a popular choice for flexible study, offering a reputable online degree program.

But how do NPs and PAs advocate for patients in the modern healthcare system?

Patient advocacy in the modern healthcare system

In simple terms, patient advocacy is concerned with protecting patients’ rights, treating them ethically, and helping them access the high-quality treatment they deserve. Patient advocacy can also focus on fighting health inequalities that prevent certain communities from having access to quality healthcare or being mistreated within the sector. It may also see NPs and PAs speaking out on a patient’s behalf to address core issues that need resolving.

In this way, NPs and PAs who focus on advocacy work help promote equality within health and preserve the dignity of their patients. Advocating for patients can involve individuals, groups, whole communities, and caregivers or family members.

Although the best interests of patients have always been key to all healthcare roles, the modern health sector has put even greater emphasis on patient advocacy. This has been prompted by greater focus on the patient experience in the modern health industry and a desire by those at senior levels to work on behalf of patients. Good examples of this in action include making patient advocacy a core part of healthcare roles and removing injustices in access to care for specific population groups.

How do NPs and PAs advocate for patient rights?

For anyone planning to move into either an NP or PA role, patient advocacy will play a big part in working life. This sees professionals in both jobs keen to fight for patients’ rights and promote high level care for patients.

 But how do they do this?

 Educating patients

 One of the most important ways NPs and PAs advocate for people in their care is through patient education. This involves communicating in detail to patients about their current medical problems and helping them understand more about their health. It can also involve educating patients about how best to manage ongoing medical conditions, such as helping someone who has diabetes manage their blood sugar levels.

 Patient education is key for advocacy because it helps people understand their rights within the healthcare system and what help might be available to them. All this combined is not only a way to empower patients and help them get the best treatment but also lead them down the path to self-advocacy.

 Giving patients a voice

 By giving patients a voice (often when they do not feel confident enough to have their own or have the knowledge to raise concerns), professionals in both roles can advocate for them.

 This can have a hugely positive impact on the patient’s experience and the care people receive. If people in these roles did not advocate for patients by giving them a voice, they may well remain unheard and unseen. While advocacy can be for individual patients, NPs and PAs may also speak for whole communities or groups at times on specific issues.

 A good example of this in action is an NP staying in the room with a patient when a doctor is explaining their diagnosis to them. This enables the NP to help them ask any relevant questions about their condition, speak up if they have any concerns over the treatment plan, and turn medical jargon into something understandable.

 Standing up for patient rights

 Alongside patient education and giving patients a voice, this is perhaps the other major way advocacy by PAs and NPs in modern healthcare is vital. Standing up for patient rights is crucial within both jobs and helps to ensure people are always treated fairly.

Lobbying for patient rights can also help these professionals highlight current policies which infringe them and fight to make positive changes to the legislature. In the same way, fighting for patient rights can also help NPS and PAs lobby for new policies which enhance the rights of patients in healthcare or help specific communities get a fairer deal.  

Connecting patients with resources

The modern healthcare system can be a complex place for people to understand and this sometimes makes it hard for them to access the care they need. This might come down to not knowing which of the many healthcare departments is best to contact about their condition or which specific clinic in their area is accepted by their insurer.

 NPs and PAs advocate for patients by helping them navigate the healthcare system and connect them with the resources they need. This could involve finding resources inside and outside of clinical settings that could help patients manage conditions or be better informed about them. A good example of this could be a PA helping a patient find where the latest literature about managing their condition can be found within a hospital setting.

 Promoting patient advocacy professionally

 Doing what is best for patients lies at the heart of advocacy work and has always been a central tenet of the health sector. NPs and PAs can aid patient advocacy by promoting it even more within their workplace. This could involve talking to colleagues about patient advocacy, what it is, and how important it is to focus on in the evolving health industry.

 By doing this, healthcare professionals can ensure patients remain the focus of the health sector and that progress is always for their benefit. It also allows NPs and PAs to speak with colleagues who do not seem to take patient rights seriously or don’t do things in ways which are best for the patient.

 Checking for errors

 Patient advocacy within NP and PA roles can also mean taking the time to spot errors in treatments and mistakes in patient care. By being vigilant, these professionals can highlight mistakes before they can do any harm and improve the quality-of-care patients receive.

 This is a good example of putting the needs of patients first and being quick to protect them. In addition to flagging up obvious errors before they become an issue, NPs and PAs can also seek to clarify any confusion colleagues have around treatment options for patients or the prescription of medications.

 Importance of patient advocacy work for NPs and PAs

 There are many reasons why innovation in hospitals is so vital and this is true for all other healthcare settings. Patient advocacy work is also just as important and has a hugely positive impact on patient outcomes.

 By ensuring a patient can access the medical care they need, NPs and PAs can keep them healthier and ensure any conditions they have are treated properly. By helping patients navigate the complex network of modern healthcare systems, they can also reduce the stress patients might feel when doing this alone and ensure they find the most appropriate treatment options.

This boost for patient outcomes is the main benefit of advocacy work – but this is not all it can do. By fighting for patient rights and standing up to injustice within healthcare, PAs and NPs make the sector a fairer, more just place.

 Patient advocacy for PA and NP roles

Although these roles are different in many ways, they also overlap at times. Patient advocacy is a good example of this and forms a core part of both jobs. It is therefore vital for anyone thinking of moving down either career path to understand this and be prepared to advocate for the patients and communities they help.

By admin

Writing and blogging is my passion. Providing meaningful information to readers is my object.