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Nurse Practitioner or Physician Assistant: Is Either Career Right for You?

Are you ready to take the next steps in your nursing career? In the nursing field, you can pursue many career paths, some of which remain rooted near the bedside, and others that branch out into administrative or systems-level leadership opportunities. If you’re interested in a career path that keeps you in a hands-on care role, two popular options include becoming a nurse practitioner (NP) or a physician assistant (PA).

What Coursework Provides You the Most Value? Both nurse practitioner and physician assistant licenses require a master’s degree from an accredited university. Typically, the program for both will take two to three years after your bachelor’s, although there are some accelerated programs that can take as little as fifteen months.

Coursework for a physician assistant degree involves science-heavy courses meant to expose nurses to different fields of medicine and help them gain a basic understanding of each area.

The coursework for a nurse practitioner is different. Students focus on advanced nursing skills rather than basic understandings. Both degrees require clinical hours, with nurse practitioner requirements being around 600 to 1,000 hours and physician assistants requiring between 1,500 and 2,000 hours.

What Do You Want to Specialize In? Depending on the area of medicine that you are looking to get into as a nurse, each of the two degrees mentioned have their advantages. For example, if you are interested in moving into mental health, becoming a nurse practitioner would be an appropriate route, as Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners are used widely across the nation in mental health practices. If emergency room and surgery physician assistant specializations sound more interesting, pursuing a career as a physician assistant would be more ideal.

How Much Independence Do You Want? If your goal is to run your own practice, whether it be as a midwife, a family nurse practitioner, or other medical specialty, then a nurse practitioner degree is the better choice. Due to legislative changes over the past years, nurse practitioners are now able to run their own practice in 19 states. Unlike a physician assistant, a nurse practitioner does not need a physician’s supervision. While there are still instances where physician assistants can run their own practice, they will still need a physician to oversee certain things and sign off on particular charts or procedures.

How Much Experience Do You Have? Nurse practitioners often have ten years of nursing experience on average. They also must have a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) before being eligible for a nurse practitioner program. This requirement is due to the fact that nurse practitioners may practice on their own, and mastery of all medicine in their specialty is required before they can be certified. Pursing a degree as a physician assistant is perhaps better for younger, less experienced nurses who want to expand their options career now.

While the differences between a nurse practitioner and a physician assistant may not seem very obvious to a patient, the medical world demands two very different types of service from each one. If you’re already in the nursing field and want to further your career, a degree in either of these professions can be incredibly rewarding and very profitable.

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