The NP vs. PA dilemma is a common one among aspiring healthcare professionals. If you aren’t already a nurse and are planning a career as a medical provider it can be difficult to decide between the two paths. Physician assistants and nurse practitioners work in similar settings and for many employers are interchangeable. NPs and PA’s have similar incomes and, for many students the time spent in school for either career path will be similar. One way to help in making the NP vs. PA decision is to focus on your end game- finding a job.
There are a few factors employer take into consideration when choosing to hire nurse practitioners over physician assistants or vice versa. Looking at these aspects of the hiring process before you choose your career path will help you maximize your future employment outlook.
Operating based on tradition is easy. The simplest route to take in hiring a new employee is to maintain status quo, to avoid rocking the boat. If an employer, for one reason or another has traditionally hired nurse practitioners or physician assistants exclusively, they will likely continue to do so. This way, they can keep contracts, salaries and credentialing processes similar without having to modify their hiring process.
The tendency for companies to hire NPs or PA’s is usually local or regional. If you know where you want to work in the future, look at job postings for that area. This way, if there is a strong trend toward hiring either type of provider you can take this into consideration when planning your education.
Nurse practitioner and physician assistant’s ability to practice is regulated by state law, in some states more heavily than others. If states laws are more relaxed, favoring one profession over the other, employers will likely trend towards this type of provider. For example, if nurse practitioners in one state are allowed to practice without a physician on site and physician assistants are not, hiring a NP offers employers more flexibility in operating their practice. This is often seen in retail clinics which favor nurse practitioners as a result of physician supervision laws.
Look into state laws for both NPs and PA’s where you plan to reside once you graduate. State laws can affect not only the freedom you have in your future career but also employment opportunities.
Nurse practitioner programs and physician assistant programs operate with different theoretical backgrounds. NP programs naturally embrace nursing theory while PA programs teach students with traditional medical theory in mind. As a result, nurse practitioners tend to have a bent towards preventative medicine but PA’s are more likely to be trained in areas like surgery. While nurse practitioners can be trained to work in surgical settings, PA’s may be more prepared for this role, especially right out of school. This affects employer’s hiring decisions.
Personal experience weighs heavily in every decision we make; the same holds true for employers. If an employer has hired nurse practitioners in the past and these employees have provided significant value and worked well within the practice, this employer will likely look to hire NPs in the future. In the same light, if an employer has hired excellent PA’s in the past, they may look to hire physician assistants in the future.
If you are looking for a job, and sense a tendency towards once profession over the other, you can always address the experience component of this preference with evidence that you will be a high performer.
Overall, are NPs or PAs more marketable?
Fortunately, in the current job market there are plenty of job opportunities for both nurse practitioners and physician assistants. With healthcare reform and our aging population straining the healthcare system, employers are looking to hire. Regardless of if you decide to become an NP or PA, you will be able to find a job once you graduate. But, paying attention to trends in your area and being aware of factors influencing hiring decisions can help you navigate the job market more effectively.