Many patients who in the past may have visited doctors for routine health care needs now instead often see nurse practitioners or physician assistants, who also increasingly play key roles in hospitals. The expansion in nurse practitioners and physician assistants comes amid a continued shortfall of primary care physicians.
Nurse practitioners in New York must choose a specialty, such as family health, pediatrics or psychiatry, while physician assistants are trained as medical generalists, said Donna Ferrara, who chairs the physician assistant program at Stony Brook.
Another difference is that physician assistants are educated more similarly to how a doctor is, to focus on the body’s respiratory, digestive and other systems, and symptoms common to those systems, said Ellen Kurtzman, a professor of health administration at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Nurse practitioners are educated more intensely on prevention and health promotion, in addition to receiving clinical training, she said.