Characteristics of nurse practitioners and physician assistants in the United States

J Am Assoc Nurse Pract. 2016 Jan;28(1):39-46. doi: 10.1002/2327-6924.12293. Epub 2015 Sep 2.


Background: Nurse practitioners (NP) and physician assistants (PA) serve as independent or semiautonomous providers and as fundamental members of healthcare teams.

Purpose: Differentiating roles of health professionals is needed for optimal employment utilization. Clinically practicing PAs and NPs were characterized.

Methodology: Data included wage and workforce projections to 2022.Variables included number practicing, age, gender, race, ethnicity, education, principal employer, practice specialty, and wages.

Results: Health delivery establishments employed 88,110 PA and 113,370 NP clinicians in 2013. Both were predominantly female: NPs were older (49 years) on average than PAs (38 years). A significant number of them practiced in physicians' offices or in acute care hospitals. Median wages were at parity. Growth predictions from 2012 to 2022 were 31%-35%.

Conclusions: PAs and NPs constitute 20% of the composite clinician labor force (MD, DO, PA, NP). Labor market analysis suggests they are in demand. A majority of NPs and a third of PAs work in primary care fields. Their collective projected growth suggests a solution to emerging workforce shortages and an ability to help meet healthcare demands.

Implications for practice: Adaptability to changing roles, especially in primary care and underserved areas, makes them facile responders to market demands in a continuously evolving healthcare environment.

Keywords: Nurse practitioners; healthcare collaboration; healthcare delivery; physician assistants.

MeSH terms

  • Demography*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nurse Practitioners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Physician Assistants / statistics & numerical data*
  • United States