Differences between an Advanced Practice Practitioners and Physician Assistants


Differences between an Advanced Practice Practitioners and Physician Assistants

An advanced practice practitioner is a registered nurse who has a postgraduate education in the field of nursing. The academic qualification in this case can be a masters or doctorate degree in a specific nursing specialty (Bryant-Lukosius, DiCenso, Browne & Pinelli, 2004). On the other hand, physician assistants are specially trained professionals that are responsible for carrying out diagnosis and treatment, roles that form the foundation of healthcare delivery. They operate under the supervision and guidance of an osteopathic physician or a licensed medical doctor (Holt, 1998). A physician assistant obtains medical histories, carries out laboratory tests, does follow-ups and refers patients to specialists whenever the need arises.


There are several differences between advanced practice practitioners and physician assistants one of them being the education requirements. The learning model for the former is a medical-nursing model while that of a physician assistant is a medical-physician one. While both professionals must have to have a pre-requisite bachelor’s degree, an advanced practice practitioner has to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing or a related field while a physician assistant is only required to have a bachelor’s degree regardless of the field before specializing in specific areas relevant to his/her job (Pulcini Jelic, Gul & Loke, 2010; Cawley, 2007). Moreover, one has to have a master’s or doctorate degree and to take a national exam in order to qualify as an advanced practice practitioner. In contrast, to qualify as a physician assistant, the individual has to take a Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) after obtaining an undergraduate or master’s degree (Hooker, Hess & Cipher, 2002).

Besides, certification and recertification requirements and procedures account for significant differences between advanced practice practitioners and physician assistants. The former can only be certified by major certifying agencies, notably the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Centre (ANCC) (Pulcini et al, 2010). On the other hand, the latter need to possess certification and state licensure from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) (Hooker, Hess & Cipher, 2002). Additionally, all advanced practice practitioners are recertified every 5 years while a physician assistant go through a recertification exam every 10 years. The requirements are equivalent to a total of 100 continuing medical education (CME) credits every 2 years for the physician assistant and 15 continuing education (CE) credits every year for the advanced practice practitioners.


Another major difference between the two professions is the fact that physician assistants require the supervision of osteopathic physicians or licensed doctors while advanced practice practitioners are currently allowed to practice independently in 21 out of the 50 states (Cawley, 2007; Pulcini et al, 2010). However, in the remaining states, the level of involvement of the physicians in the practice of advanced practice practitioners varies greatly. It is also worth noting that the professional practice of an advanced practice practitioner is patient-centered while that of the physician assistant is disease-centered (Jones, 2007). The former focus on the advanced primary care of their patients in general while the latter dwell on the biological or pathological aspects of the patient in terms of health assessment.

All in all, both professions are equally rewarding. None should be considered more important than the other, just in the same way that no patient is more important than the next. The analysis provided here shows that different specialties are required in order to ensure that all patients’ needs catered for appropriately in the healthcare sector. This is why both advanced practice practitioners and physician assistants play a pivotal role in promoting positive care outcomes.


Bryant‐Lukosius, D., DiCenso, A., Browne, G. & Pinelli, J. (2004). Advanced practice nursing roles: Development, implementation and evaluation. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 48(5), 519-529.

Cawley, J. F. (2007). Physician assistant education: An abbreviated history. The Journal of Physician Assistant Education, 18(3), 6-15.

Holt, N. (1998). “Confusion’s masterpiece”: The development of the physician assistant profession. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 72(2), 246-278.

Hooker, R. S., Hess, B., & Cipher, D. (2002). A comparison of physician assistant programs by national certification examination scores. The Journal of Physician Assistant Education, 13(2), 81-86.

Jones, P. E. (2007). Physician assistant education in the United States. Academic Medicine, 82(9), 882-887.

Pulcini, J., Jelic, M., Gul, R., & Loke, A. Y. (2010). An international survey on advanced practice nursing education, practice, and regulation. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 42(1), 31-39.

Get a 10% discount on an order above $50