Doctors and nurses—MDs and RNs—have long been the most common types of providers in health care. Today, your care team may include medical professionals in different roles with different credentials and certifications, which can get confusing. Physician assistants (PAs) and advanced practice nurse practitioners (ARNPs) are two additional types of providers you may see in clinical settings, including The Polyclinic. What exactly is their role and what’s the difference between the two?


PAs and ARNPs are both nationally certified and state-licensed medical professionals who can take on a wide range of responsibilities. PAs and ARNPs work in both primary care and specialty care. In some departments at The Polyclinic, they may serve as your primary care provider and in others, they may be part of your care team.

PAs and ARNPs can:

  • Take your medical history

  • Conduct physical exams

  • Diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries

  • Manage complex medical conditions

  • Order, perform, and interpret tests

  • Develop treatment plans

  • Provide preventive care and health education

  • Assist in surgery

  • Write prescriptions and manage medications

  • May make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes


PAs and ARNPs may take on many of the same responsibilities, but they are not the same thing. Here are a few of the main differences:

PA – Training:

PAs undergo three years of training with many of the same courses as medical schools such as anatomy, pharmacology, microbiology and more. They also complete more than 2,000 clinical hours in the specialty they choose. PAs train on the physician model. Their approach is focused on the biologic and pathologic aspects of health and disease to inform the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of patients.

ARNP – Training:

ARNPs must complete a master’s or doctoral degree program, have advanced clinical training, and pass their certification exams. They train as a registered nurse and then complete additional training before entering an ARNP program. ARNP students average 720 clinical hours since they already have patient care experience as a nurse. ARNPs train on the nursing model or philosophy and focus on wellness, disease prevention, and health education in the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses and injuries.

PAs’ and ARNPs’ specific duties vary depending on their experience, specialty, work setting, and state laws. Medical and surgical services provided by PAs and ARNPs are covered by nearly all commercial insurance companies as well as Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE plans.

December 3, 2018 | by The Polyclinic