There is this myth that still seems to be circulating around that Physician Assistants (PAs) can do more than Nurse Practitioners (NPs). For example, if you want to have a role that involves more invasive procedures like central line or chest tube placement, you need to become a PA. This is not true and in fact is becoming more false each year as the NP role and profession keeps changing and adapting to hospital needs and patient populations.
Many times in the past I had the discussion with my fellow nurse colleagues about whether to go to PA school or NP school, when contemplating going back to school. I considered going to PA school on the basis that I wanted to be able to do invasive procedures and assist in the operating room. At the time, in my hospital, we only had PAs in this type of role and I really didn't know how the NP role had evolved into invasive tracks such as the ACNP role.
Don't get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against PAs and work with some fabulous ones, I just want to provide a little "clarity" for those who are still unsure about which track they should take and what each role can actually do. The difference between the two roles is really just that one track requires a nursing license and one doesn't. The NP track tends to have a foundation that involves more nurse theory and evidenced based practice, while the PA track tends to have more of a straightforward medical approach.
I'm not saying that you don't learn medical management in NP school, you're just relating that management to nurse theory and research, where as in some PA schools, they only have 1-2 classes on evidence based medicine. The prerequisites are different as well. Prerequisites for NP school are usually obtained in your undergraduate program so no extra classes are required, where as, some PA schools require organic chemistry and biochemistry. For somebody with a nursing degree, these classes would have to be taken post-nursing degree because most undergraduate nursing programs don't tend to require these types of chemistries. This is just something to think about if you're considering going to PA school.
Looking at programs people can argue that PA schools require a lot more clinical hours to complete in their programs, but you have to keep in mind the general PA student. The general PA student doesn't have much hands-on patient experience, so the hospital is essentially a new environment for them and they will therefore require more hours. In NP School you still a lot of clinical hours to complete in the hospital (or clinic), but you've also probably worked a couple years prior to graduate school (and continue to work through school) so those extra hours at the PA students are getting, you've already had those in real world situations touching real patients.
With all of this being said there is NOTHING WRONG with a nurse going to PA school. Sometimes people don't want the "nursing foundation," they want the straightforward medical foundation, which is totally fine, to each his own. Whether you go the NP or PA track, by the end of your program, you will still come out doing the same job, being just as good at your job, and eventually (hopefully) making the same salary. So, if you think that you want to become a PA because they can do invasive procedures, now you know that NPs can also do invasive procedures with the appropriate program and training. I have had an attending physician tell me that they would much rather hire an NP than a PA because NPs most likely already have nursing experience and know how to talk to patients. But, I also do realize I'm a little biased being that I'm an NP graduate.
Check out PA or NP? Between the Two Careers video