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What is a Physician Assistant and Nurse Practitioner and what can they do in comparison to a doctor?

Most people do not know the difference between a physician assistant and a nurse practitioner. You may visit either type of healthcare provider in one of our offices or your primary care office, more often than you visit with a doctor. But what’s the difference? 


PA stands for Physician Assistant. A PA has several years of postgraduate training in clinical medicine after a college degree & are educated at a master’s degree level. According to the American Association of Physician Assistants (AAPA), the average PA student enters the program with over 3,000 hours of direct patient contact experience. The typical PA program lasts about 27 months. Our PAs are board certified and take continuing medical education courses every year just like our physicians do.


NP stands for Nurse Practitioner, and they first obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing and then attend postgraduate training and graduate with a Master’s Degree in Nursing. They must have an active RN license plus more advanced training along with clinical experience. It typically takes anywhere from 2 to 4 years to get a nurse practitioner degree. NPs are also board certified and take continuing medical education courses yearly.


Now that we have the basic education backgrounds out of the way, let's discuss the responsibility differences between a physician assistant and nurse practitioner. Keep in mind that the services performed by a PA differ from state to state because a PA is licensed on a state level. Physician assistants practice with an emphasis on diagnosing, treating diseases, and assessing. A PA might be responsible for the following: diagnosing acute and chronic conditions, ordering, performing and interpreting diagnostic tests, diagnosing and treating injuries and illness, and prescribing medications to treat certain medical conditions. Nurse practitioners often provide more specialized care.  NPs also emphasize preventive care and health promotion to their patients. Nurse practitioners may be responsible for the following: diagnosing acute and chronic conditions, ordering, performing and interpreting diagnostic tests, treating acute and chronic conditions, prescribing medications, patient education on improving health with lifestyle changes and habits, and counseling on a variety of health needs and concerns. 


There are many responsibilities and services that apply to both nurse practitioners & physician assistants. However, one key difference when it comes to NPs vs PAs is their approach to patient care. These differences are due to the educational programs each type of provider undertakes and the training they receive while in school. Nurse practitioners are trained in taking a nursing approach to patient care. This means that providers focus on patient care rather than focusing on a specific type of medicine. Physician assistants are trained using a medical model. This means that they learn to provide care through prevention and disease management. Most Pa’s specialize in a specific field of medicine. 

At Pain Care, we are proud to have both physician assistants and nurse practitioners among some of our remarkable providers. Our patients benefit from both approaches to care and our NP's & PA’s are a valuable part of Pain Care. Both disciplines treat patients with all types of pain: cervical & lumbar radiculopathy, complex regional pain syndrome, degenerative disc disease, facet joint syndrome, fibromyalgia, herniated discs, migraine headaches, peripheral neuralgia, lumbar radiculopathy, post laminectomy syndrome, spinal stenosis, kyphosis, ect. Call our office at 770-771-6580 to make an appointment with one of our nurse practitioners, physician assistant or physicians today!

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