What is a PA?
A PA is a medically trained practitioner who has received graduate level education and is concerned with preventing, maintaining, and treating human illness and injury by providing a broad range of health care services with a team of physicians and other healthcare providers. Physician Assistants conduct comprehensive physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, counsel on preventive health care, assist in surgery, give medical orders and write prescriptions.
PAs work in hospitals, clinics, and other types of health facilities, and exercise autonomy in medical decision making. They are educated in the medical model designed to complement physician training, rather than in the nursing model as nurse practitioners are. A clinical internship precedes obtaining a license to practice as a PA. Renewal of licensure is necessary every few years, varying by state. In the United States, the PA profession is represented by the American Academy of Physician Assistants.
PAs are not to be confused with medical assistants, who perform administrative and simple clinical tasks with limited postsecondary education under the direct supervision of physicians and other health professionals, or nursing assistants.
What is a Nurse Practioner?
A Nurse Practitioner (NP) is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) who has completed graduate-level education (either a Master of nursing or Doctor of Nursing Practice degree). Nurse Practitioners treat both physical and mental conditions through comprehensive history taking, physical exams, ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests. NPs can then diagnose the disease and provide appropriate treatment for the patients, including prescribing medications. NPs can serve as a patient’s primary health care provider, and see patients of all ages depending on their specialty (family, pediatrics, geriatrics, etc.). The core philosophy of the field is individualized care who focus on patients’ conditions as well as the effects of illness on the lives of the patients and their families. NPs make prevention, wellness, and patient education priorities. In addition to health care services, NPs conduct research and are often active in patient advocacy activities. To become licensed/certified to practice, Nurse Practitioners hold national board certification in an area of specialty (such as family medicine, women’s health, pediatrics, adult, acute care, etc.), and are licensed through the state nursing boards.
According to the International Council of Nurses, an NP/Advanced Practice Nurse is “a registered nurse who has acquired the expert knowledge base, complex decision-making skills and clinical competencies for expanded practice, the characteristics of which would be determined by the context in which s/he is credentialed to practice.”