Difference Between APRN & PA

Oct 03, 2019

APRNs and PAs both work closely with patients in high-stress environments. However, APRNs focus on serving specific types of patients while PAs focus on specific types of medical care. Learn more about the differences between these careers in this article.

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Comparing APRNs to PAs

Advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) and physician assistants (PAs) both work with physicians to help diagnose, treat, and care for patients. They can work in similar environments, from hospitals to private clinics. However, their jobs differ in the types of exams they must pass to be licensed and certified. Their areas of focus also differ, with APRNs specializing in caring for specific types of patients, while PAs deal more with specific types of medicine.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2018)* Job Growth (2018-2028)*
Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Master's degree $113,930 26%
Physician Assistant Master's degree $108,610 31%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of APRNs vs PAs

Both APRNs and PAs are usually expected to earn a master's degree from an accredited program, which usually takes at least two years of postgraduate study. APRNs are also usually required to be licensed registered nurses and obtain additional certifications depending on their area of specialization and state requirements. These can include the Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA), the Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) and many others. PAs must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE) to be licensed. Both APRNs and PAs work closely with patients.


APRN is a blanket term that can include nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners. These designations can determine which type of patient they focus on, from infants to the elderly, as well as what type of certification(s) they require and how often they need to recertify (most APRNs need to recertify every 4-5 years). APRNs can be expected to perform physical exams, diagnose patients, create and contribute to patient care plans, and administer medicine. Some APRNs may travel to patient homes to offer treatment or work in outpatient care centers like birthing centers. APRNs can work for long hours and often need to exercise compassion and communication skills in order to effectively relay treatment plans to patients and physicians.

Job responsibilities of an APRN can also include:

  • Traveling to distant areas where healthcare workers are in short supply
  • Caring for their own well-being as they lift and move patients throughout a work day
  • Following guidelines to protect themselves against infectious diseases they may come in contact with
  • Observing patient responses to medications and making quick changes to treatment plans
  • Managing other nurses on staff


PAs can work in many areas of medicine, including primary care, surgery, and psychiatry. Depending on where they work, they can function as the primary care provider if their clinic's physician is not always available. PAs are licensed to examine patients, order diagnostic tests, treat patients, and educate patients on how to treat their illness. Their treatment plans tend to focus on how to manage a patient's physical conditions. PAs can also research new treatments. Every two years, they must complete 100 hours of continuing education; every 10 years they must pass a recertification exam. Because PAs can be trained faster to perform physician-type tasks, they tend to be in high demand as the population ages and chronic illnesses increase.

Job responsibilities of a PA include:

  • Instructing groups in outreach programs on how to manage disease
  • Taking and reviewing medical histories from patients
  • Staying on their feet for long periods of time
  • Being on call for work requests
  • Prescribing medicine to a patient

Related Careers

If you would like a job as an APRN, you may also be interested in a job as a registered nurse, since both careers require you to diagnose and manage a patient's health. People interested in jobs as a PA might also consider work as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), as the work not only requires them to perform similar medical services as a PA but also fulfills patient care experience requirements for admission into a physician assistant graduate program.

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