Deciding Between a Nurse Practitioner Program and a Physician Assistant Program

Because the health care industry is expected to grow by nearly a fifth over the next few years, medical training is a shrewd investment in your future. As you develop your education and long-term career plans, you need to decide on a specific career track and specialties. When comparing similar career tracks, it can be difficult to decide which are insignificant and which can influence your future for the better. Here, we’ll take a look at the differences you can expect if you choose either a nurse practitioner (NP) or a physician assistant (PA) track.

Investment Versus Payback

Although both PA and NP programs are generally considered master’s degree programs that you can enter after earning a four-year degree, the NP requirements are geared more toward experienced nurses. If you’re eligible to enter an NP program, that’s probably the best way to capitalize on your previous achievements. Here are the pros and cons of investing in your future with this program.

NP Pros:

  • Plays to your strengths well if you’re an experienced nurse
  • Can be less expensive than a PA program, as long as you’re already an RN
  • Work off student loans after nursing school and before starting the NP program
  • Delivers superior career payback with similar time investment
  • Fewer requirements for renewing NP certification versus PA certification

NP Cons:

  • High eligibility requirements, such as four-year nursing school
  • Must renew certification every five years, rather than six

Specific Job Differences

Although a physician assistant and a nurse practitioner can have very similar jobs, there can be crucial differences between their respective responsibilities. There is some common ground, but an NP can have a significantly broader scope of practice than is likely to be open to a PA. Consider these pros and cons of choosing the NP program.

Scope of Practice Pros:

  • In many states, an NP can work without being supervised by a physician.
  • An NP often has more freedom in prescribing medications and other important duties.
  • An NP is allowed by law in most states to perform authoritative duties such as signing handicap parking permits and death certificates.

Scope of Practice Cons:

  • An NP may sometimes have less prescriptive authority than a PA, depending on the state.

Career Development

In the decade leading up to 2022, both PA and NP job opportunities are likely to increase considerably. The huge demand for these health care providers will result in more and more shortages, meaning you won’t lack for job opportunities, no matter which track you choose. The salaries for each career track are somewhat comparable, but future career development may differ. Here are the pros and cons of the NP track for your long-term career.

Career Opportunity Pros:

  • An NP has a wider range of specializations available.
  • As an NP, you could eventually open your own independent practice in certain states.

Career Opportunity Cons:

  • It takes longer for your career to develop, especially if you haven’t become an RN yet.

These pros and cons demonstrate how choosing between two similar career tracks can affect work responsibilities and opportunities. If you’re interested in learning more about nurse practitioner programs, check out nursing program requirements and course listings at IPFW today. Two NP programs are available, and both can be taken online for your convenience.

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