The fundamental difference between PA's and NP's, as midlevel medical providers, is that the PA is able to work and switch to virtually any medical specialty area of practice while the NP is focused into a particular primary care area.
Because of the collaborative basis of PA practice (working under the supervision of physicians), an opportunity for continuing and diverse expertise in many specialty areas is possible.
This allows situations where, for example, a PA who switches from an orthopedics (or cardiology) practice to emergency medicine, may provide more musculoskeletal injury (cardiology) experience and understanding to this new setting, than the supervising ER doctor.
This maneuverability between specialties, creates not only a career choice of unlimited professional growth possibilities and also can add a unique (generalist with multiple specialty training) dimension to any healthcare specialty team.
A certified Physician's Assistant has to work in collaboration with a physician in a physician's office. All prescriptions must be co-signed by the doctor in charge.
A certified nurse practitioner can have a stand alone practice with no supervision by a physician. All scripts can be done by the nurse practitioner alone with no co-signing. And they can also do specific specialties like orthopedics, oncology, neurology, etc. just like a PA but have more freedom to prescribe and act without the consent of a physician.
Educationally, I believe but am not sure, but I think a PA is a bachelors degree with an internship. An NP is at least 6 years......a Bachelors degree in nursing followed by a Master's degree in a particular field such as pediatrics or adult medicine or geriatrics. A new PhD program is being done as well complete with a 1 year internship.
I wish everyone would get to know the differences and realize that there are some. Not putting one down over the other but my daughter-in-law is a nurse practitioner and everyone thinks she is a PA and always wants the doc to give his opinion after seeing her. Most of my docs have PA's and they are great....sometimes better than the doc. But an NP has more education and can have his/her own practice and doesn't need the doc there to confirm what they diagnose.
Actually, there are state to state differences in the amount of autonomy allowed to PA's and nurse practitioners. In Minnesota where I live, neither PA's or CNP's are required to have prescriptions they write cosigned by a physician. The differences are more subtle. Both PA's and CNP's are mid-level practitioners and have to work in a collaborative practice with a supervising MD. But CNP's are allowed to prescribe according to usual standards of practice where as a PA is only allowed to prescribe under protocol. What this boils down to is this: say you go to the clinic and have a sore throat. The instant strep test is positive. The nurse practitioner is allowed to prescribe any antibiotic for you that has the treatment of strep throat as an FDA approved indication. The PA is more confined. He or she has to have a written set of guidelines developed with their supervising physician specifying which drugs the MD is giving the PA the authority to prescribe in the treatment of strep throat. So the PA may have more limited choices than a CNP does. Other states may have their own sets of rules.
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In my state a NP is much more educated like jenny said. She can prescribe many drugs without a doc's approval, except for narcotic's; these need to be co-signed by a physician. I think PA's have two years of college here in Ohio...janiee