Nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) represent a group of non-physician, advanced-practice providers (APPs) within our healthcare system. Non-physician providers are part of an inter-disciplinary team, working alongside physicians and a variety of allied healthcare providers. The purpose of this paper is to take a closer look at these two professions (NP and PA), with a focus on Illinois providers and the legislative strategies that guide their roles and abilities to practice. Illinois is a region where APP practices are inequitably regulated. Their Nurse Practice Act outlines a broad scope of practice for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs). However, the Illinois PA Practice Act barely addresses the PA’s scope of practice, and also delineates certain restrictions, which limit practice in ways not paralleled for the NP. The goal of this paper was to construct an objective comparison between these two APP groups, in order to dispel the misconceptions that have led to these disparate Practice Acts. Specifically, the Master of Science in Nursing - Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) training was compared to the Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPA or MPAS) degree. Using these criteria, fifteen MSN-FNP programs were compared to nine MSPA programs among Illinois universities. Results revealed that NP and PA programs have similar educational objectives, all with demanding medical curricula, guided by strict accreditation standards. The data further revealed that Illinois PA educational training requires completion of more clinical practicum hours than does NP training: 704 (mean) hours for FNP students; compared to 2,108 (mean) hours for PA students. Furthermore, PA program accreditation requires that students complete practicum hours within seven medical fields, as well as elder care in long-term residential facilities, plus procedural skills training and proof of procedural skills competencies. Most NP programs are online and encourage concurrent nursing employment, thus supporting a part-time course load. NP programs are therefore designed to allow a flexible timeline for completion, some permitting five to six years. In comparison, all PA programs are full-time, in-person curricula, and discourage concurrent employment due to extensive course hours, and stringent requirements for advancement. The bottom line here is, NP and PA programs both have sound delivery methods and rigorous requirements, but longer chronological length should not be misinterpreted as greater in substance.


This paper evaluated the highly advanced training programs of NPs and PAs in Illinois and found no data to support the differences in the Illinois Practice Acts governing these two groups. Despite the rigorous, highly advanced, and closely monitored training protocols of PA education, legislative bodies in Illinois do not fully recognize the PA provider’s significant potential. It is therefore, fair and reasonable to request these limitations be re-evaluated, in order to allow Illinois PAs to practice to the full potential of their professional training. In Illinois, NPs have achieved full provider status. Equal designation should be delegated to Illinois PAs.