Physician assistants and nurses are both health care professionals who work under the supervision of a doctor to provide direct care to patients and educate them about health promotion. All physician assistants, or P.A.s, require a master’s degree, while there are a variety of educational options for nurses, from associate degrees to doctorates. Nurse practitioners, who have a master’s degree, are the most similar to physician assistants. While both can fulfill similar roles in patient care, the education of a physician assistant is more rooted in medicine, and physicians might be more willing to allow them greater autonomy than nurses or nurse practitioners.

Physician Assistant

Physician assistants practice medicine and treat patients under the supervision of a surgeon or physician. They interview and review patients’ histories, perform physical examinations and order tests like blood tests or x-rays. Physician assistants are also able to diagnose patients’ illnesses, and provide treatment or prescribe medicine. They can work in all areas of medicine, from family medicine to surgery to psychiatry. A surgical physician assistant, for example, might close incisions during the operation and provide care before and after the operation.

Physician Assistant Degree Requirements

Many universities offer physician assistant programs for students who have a bachelor’s degree in any discipline, as long as they have taken certain prerequisite courses. The graduate program is generally three years, and combines classroom and practical courses in a variety of clinical settings. Courses cover topics like behavioral sciences, where students learn how to help patients with issues related to growth and development, sexuality, death and dying, and health promotion. Other courses introduce students to key areas of medicine like cardiology, infectious diseases, pediatrics, geriatrics, surgery, pharmacology and women’s health.


Nurses fill various roles in the health care industry, depending upon their level of education. Registered nurses are generally required to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, while a nurse practitioner is required to have a master’s degree. Nurse practitioners can diagnose and treat a variety of acute and chronic illnesses and injuries, order tests like x-rays or laboratory analysis, and prescribe medication. Many nurses and nurse practitioners spend time educating patients and the general public about health promotion and disease prevention.

Nursing Degree Requirements

A master’s degree in nursing practice is a graduate program that usually takes 1.5 years to complete. Most programs require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing. The curriculum builds upon the skills and knowledge that students have gained in the bachelor’s nursing program, and in practice as a registered nurse. The curriculum includes both classroom instruction and clinical experience, where students can gain practical knowledge by working with patients under faculty supervision. Courses include advanced pharmacology and advanced pathophysiology, and classes in specialty areas like family nursing, geriatric nursing or acute care nursing.

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