Have you ever wondered how many NPs you’re competing with in the new grad job market? Or, have you considered the rate at which the NP profession is growing compared to that of physician assistants and physicians? If you’re a numbers kind of person, we’ve got a quick look at the data from the NP, PA and MD professions and the why behind these trends. 

When it comes to number of annual graduates, nurse practitioners have surpassed physicians…by a little. In the 2015-2016 school year, NP schools saw 2,369 more students graduate from their programs than U.S. medical schools. In contrast, physician assistants inaugurated just about 8,000 graduates into the profession.

How has the number of nurse practitioner graduates risen to exceed that of physicians? 

To start, the American Medical Association, which lobbies for physicians, keeps the number of practicing physicians in the United States intentionally low. The organization advocates for a limited number of residency positions, the gateway to practice for doctors. It also limits the number of accredited medical schools. Keeping the number of doctors low ensures that physician wages stay high given the demand for their services. 

Nurse practitioners, however, are not bound by the AMA or other professional organizations when it comes to their numbers. Rather, nursing organizations have actively promoted the NP profession as a solution to the demand for healthcare in our country. Employers use nurse practitioners to fill gaps left by the physician shortage at an affordable cost. Demand for NPs coupled with the ease of entry into the profession has allowed nurse practitioners’ numbers to rise. 

Why haven’t we seen the number of physician assistants increase similarly to the number of NPs? Nursing schools have embraced the online education model allowing for exponential growth. In contrast, physician assistant programs overwhelmingly stick to education in the bricks and mortar setting. Increasing the number of PA grads means adding infrastructure to match growing numbers. Growth among PAs is therefore slower than that of NPs. 

What do you think the implications of these graduation trends will be?



American Association of Nurse Practitioners

American Association of Medical Colleges

Physician Assistant Education Association 


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