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FNP vs PA: Which Career Path is Right for You?

FNP vs PA: Which Career is Right for You? University of the Cumberlands

Fri, 01/14/2022 - 3:46pm

The world of nursing is full of different specialties and programs. If you are considering a career in nursing or the medical field, you may find the many different qualifications, certifications, and abbreviations to be a little confusing. At University of the Cumberlands, we have a wide range of healthcare-related programs to fit your interests, but you will want to start your journey with a thorough understanding of what these are.

Two commonly used terms are family nurse practitioner (FNP) and physician assistant (PA). If you are comparing different types of nurses and come across these terms, you will want to know the differences of an FNP vs PA. Here is what you need to know about these two career options, what type of patient care they provide, and how you can choose between them.

What is a Family Nurse practitioner (FNP)?

An FNP (family nurse practitioner) is a type of advanced practice registered nurse, performing many of the same actions as a physician, including prescribing medications and developing treatment plans. As long as the illness or injury falls under primary care, an APRN can treat it. Family nurse practitioners are APRNs who treat patients of all ages and, as such, can treat entire families. They have training to treat geriatric patients and pediatric patients as well as adults.

Specifically, a FNP can help:

  • Diagnose acute and chronic medical conditions
  • Prescribe medications and treatments
  • Provide general patient care
  • Perform diagnostic testing
  • Counsel and educate patients about their health and diseases

Nurse practitioners are able to practice in a physician’s office or independently of a physician, depending on the state in which they practice. In 24 states, they have full practice authority, but in the remaining 26 they must work with a physician.

Difference Between General NP vs FNP

The main difference between an FNP and a general nurse practitioner is that a general NP is not trained to care for children and the elderly. An NP focuses primarily on the general adult population. Thus, they are not able to work as a family practice practitioner.

What is a Physician Assistant?

A physician assistant is a person who studies medicine but not nursing. These professionals study a master’s level of medical education and can do many of the same tasks that a family nurse practitioner performs. This includes:

  • Performing medical examinations
  • Diagnosing and treating illnesses
  • Helping with surgery and medical procedures
  • Taking patient medical history
  • Counseling and educating patients about their treatment

However, a physician assistant always works alongside a physician. They must report to the physician or get the physician’s help if there is a complication or a non-standard treatment issue.

Comparing Required Education: Physician Assistant & Nurse Practitioner

The main difference between a family nurse practitioner and a physician assistant is in the type of education they receive. There are some similarities between these two types of practitioners. Both require advanced education in their field, and both require clinical training and examination for license approval.

A family nurse practitioner is an advanced practice nursing professional. These types of nurses typically follow this kind of educational path:

  • Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing—normally a four-year program—from an accredited school.
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN examination to become a registered nurse.
  • Earn a graduate degree, either a Master of Science in Nursing or a Doctor of Science in Nursing. Choose a Family Nurse Practitioner specialty, if available.
  • Complete a clinical practicum as required by the program.
  • Become a Certified Nurse Practitioner by taking a national certification exam.
  • Re-certify with 100 hours of continuing education and 1,000 clinical hours every five years.

On the other hand, physician's assistants do not become registered nurses or any type of nurse. On their educational path, they will:

  • Earn a master’s degree from an accredited physician assistant program.
  • Complete supervised clinical practice as required by the program.
  • Pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam to receive a state license.
  • Re-certify with 100 hours of continuing education every two years and a re-certification exam every six to 10 years.

PA vs FNP Career Path

The career path and job outlook of a PA and an FNP is quite similar. Both medical professionals will work in primary care or acute care facilities, and some will find employment in specialty care facilities. Because they can work with people of all age groups, these professionals may also find employment in nursing homes and pediatric clinics working with elderly or very young patients.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse practitioners earn an average of $117,670 a year. This field is expected to grow 45% by 2030, adding 121,400 jobs in that time.

The salary range and growth for physician’s assistants are similar. The BLS expects an average salary of $115,390 a year for this field. Though slightly lower, it is in line with that of an FNP. The BLS also expects to see a 31% job growth rate between 2020 and 2030. Though this is slower than that of family nurse practitioners, it is still much faster than average for all careers.

Day-to-Day Differences

There are few day-to-day differences between a family nurse practitioner and a physician assistant. Both will see patients, prescribe medications, diagnose conditions, and help patients understand what they can do to maintain their health. Both work in clinics, hospitals, doctor's offices, nursing homes, and similar medical facilities.

The primary difference is that, in many states, a family nurse practitioner can serve as a primary care provider without the oversight of a doctor. If they choose to practice in this way, they are the person responsible for the decisions regarding patient health and care. 

However, this also gives them the freedom to make what they believe are the best decisions for their patients without oversight. For physician assistants, they will always answer to the doctor that leads the practice. This can mean more paperwork and reporting, and it may also mean getting the doctor's input on patient care and treatment plans.

So, should you pursue an FNP or PA program? The answer may lie in where you are currently in your education. Remember, a PA is not a nurse, but an FNP is. If you are currently pursuing nursing training, or are already an RN, then pursuing a FNP program would be ideal. If you are just starting your journey, you will need to decide if you want to pursue nursing or non-nursing medical training. It may be faster to pursue the PA program if you are not already working on a nursing degree.

Regardless of the career path you choose, University of the Cumberlands has programs for both options. The master’s in nursing – family nurse practitioner is an option if you wish to pursue an FNP role. This program is available online for your convenience. The Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies is an option for those considering a PA career. If you are just starting out and need an undergraduate degree, you can choose the pre-physician assistant degree program, which will set the right foundation for further study as a PA. 

If you are interested in learning more about the nursing graduate programs offered at the University of the Cumberlands, contact an admissions counselor or request more information today.

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