HealthJanuary 06, 2020

NPs and PAs by the numbers: the data behind America’s frontline healthcare providers

Learning the key differences between NPs and PAs can your team help build more efficient marketing campaigns and reach your target audience with ease.

NPs and PAs are assuming increasing levels of responsibility in the healthcare industry. A growing population composed partly of aging baby boomers and the increasing prevalence of chronic disease are driving the need for lower cost primary care. NPs and PAs can take on much of the role of traditional, more expensive physicians.

NP employment is forecasted to grow at a rate of 26% from now until 2028 while PA employment is expected to grow at a rate of 31%. Both rates are much higher than the average growth rate of 5% for all occupations reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts. PA is the fifth-fastest growing job in the United States.

As the roles of NPs and PAs expand, understanding the differences between the two can help information providers, such as pharma and research facilitators, better engage with these frontline healthcare providers.

Differentiating between NPs and PAs

NPs and PAs are independently licensed providers. PAs are trained based on the medical model, whereas NPs draw from nursing tradition with a more holistic approach to wellness. PAs tend to specialize. According to, more than 25% of PAs have a surgical specialty. On the other hand, NPs serve specific population segments, which can be as broad as primary care.

A new study by Kantar Media highlights that the two roles are similar in terms of methods of interaction with patients. The majority of NPs and PAs use patient portals to communicate with patients, and both NPs and PAs use computers and laptop predominantly to write prescriptions.

Methods used for patient interactions: NPs vs. PAs

  NPs2 PAs

 Patient portal

58%  47%
 Email 38%  29%
 Text message 18% 13% 
 Mobile app  6%  3%

Source: Kantar Media 2019 Sources & Interactions Physician Assistant/Nurse Practitioner Edition 2019

Tools used for prescriptions: NPs vs. PAs

  Prescription Pads Computer/Laptop Smartphone/Tablet 


58%  47%  4%
 PAs  6%  3% 4% 

Source: Kantar Media 2019 Sources & Interactions Physician Assistant/Nurse Practitioner Edition 2019

Practice requirements

A PA will have a master’s degree and typically complete 2,000 hours of clinical rotational. NPs also have a master’s degree, often in science and nursing or a doctor of nursing practice, but they are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs).

An NP will also have a national certification in a patient focus and complete clinical work at different stages under the supervision of a university, both when seeking RN licensing and when pursuing advanced licensing. For advanced practice, a licensed RN will complete 600 hours of additional clinical experience. Thus, an NP will need additional formal training requirements and an additional certification exam. This is not the case with PAs, who can change specialties more easily.

Medication metrics

In 2019, the American Association for Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reported that 95.7% of NPs prescribe medications. NPs in full-time practice write approximately 20 prescriptions per day on average, and the majority (57.4%) see three or more patients per hour.

According to the 2018 Statistical Profile of Certified Physician Assistants, the average PA sees 73 patients a week. The table below outlines where these two healthcare providers tend to practice.

Where do NPs and PAs practice?

 Practice Setting NPs2 PAs1


14.5%  36.5%
 Office-based private practice 53.9%  53.3%
 Urgent care 4.3% 5.9% 
 Other  27.3%  4.3%

1Source: AAAP Salary Survey, 2019
2Source: American Association of Nurse Practioners, 2019


There is some difference in the number of NPs and PAs who focus on primary care – areas such as adult and geriatrics, women’s health, and pediatrics. According to the AANP, in 2018, more than 87% of NPs were trained in primary care, while the AAPA reported that 20.8% of PAs specialized in primary care rather than surgical subspecialties or internal medicine. The top areas of practice for Certified PAs are shown below.

Top areas of practice for certified PAs

 Area of Practice Certified PAs

 Family Medicine/General Practice

 Surgical Specialties  18.5%
 Emergency Medicine  13% 
 Internal Medicine Subspecialties  9.4%
 Internal Medicine General Practice 4.7% 
 Dermatology  4%

Source: National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants, 2018

Sources of information for NPs and PAs

One area of similarity between NPs and PAs is where they turn for information. Both NPs and PAs choose to use professional portals for their information needs.

Top five information sources for NPs and PAs

 Information Source NPs PAs 

 Professional Portals (e.g., Medscape, UpToDate)

 86% 84% 
 Colleagues (physicians)  68% 79% 
 Colleagues (other NPs/PAs) 70%  70% 
 Conferences/symposiums 72% 64% 
 Professional journals (print) 64%   61%

Source: Kantar Media 2019 Sources & Interactions Physician Assistant/Nurse Practitioner Edition 2019

In summary, both NPs and PAs are frontline providers in healthcare today. While PAs are trained based on the medical model, NPs assume an overall holistic approach. PAs often specialize in sub areas, whereas 87% of NPs focus on primary care. With their excellent credentials and training, both occupations face increasing demand for their talents.

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