What’s a Nurse Practitioner or a Physician Assistant?


Having a primary care provider is important. But does that provider need to be a doctor? And what if your doctor doesn’t have immediate availability when you need it? We’re here to explain the differences between a doctor, an advanced nurse practitioner (APRN) and physician assistant (PA).

Have you ever called Renown Health to schedule an appointment with your doctor and the customer service rep offered you an earlier appointment with an advanced nurse practitioner or physician assistant? Did you wonder why? Perhaps you even declined because you were concerned about the continuity in your care, or wondered about the qualifications of the other practitioners who aren’t doctors. We’re here to set the record straight and answer your important questions about primary care providers.


Why would I want to see anyone other than my primary care doctor?

In order to keep up with demand for primary care services and provide the highest quality care possible, Renown created care teams. This means that our doctors, advanced nurse practitioners and physician assistants all work hand-in-hand to manage your health with the benefit of their combined expertise. This team approach provides you with more flexible scheduling options to see anyone on the care team, all with the same continuity of care.

How qualified are nurse practitioners and physician assistants to treat patients?

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are highly educated in medicine with a minimum of a master of science degree and at least six years post-high school education. 

Some nurse practitioners even have doctorate degrees. Similar to doctors, both positions have a minimum number of required clinic hours and participate in continued education.

Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are just as qualified as doctors (MDs and DOs) to conduct physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, write prescriptions and even deliver babies. Instances where you would need a doctor include specialized treatment of complicated or high risk conditions or surgery, and your APRN or PA will refer you to a doctor in those instances. You don’t need to worry about whom to see when — the care team will guide you based on your medical needs. 

If I see an APRN or PA, will my doctor know about my visit?

Absolutely. The care team system ensures that everyone on the care team, regardless of who you’re seeing, is aware of the details of your visit. Everything is clearly documented in your medical record so there are no gaps in care between visits.

Can an APRN or PA be my primary care provider?

Definitely. APRNs and PAs make excellent primary care providers and can be established as such with your insurance company.

If you would like to make an appointment with one of our care team members, call Renown Medical Group at 775-982-5000.

Learn more about the differences between PAs and APRNS and more with this handy infographic.


  1. This is an absolutely excellent article highlighting the scope of practice of APRN's and PA's. Since 2013, APRN's have had full autonomous practice, within their scope of practice in Nevada. We are proud of the contributions APRN's and PA's make to the health care team! Kudos to Renown for full-utilization of these excellent providers and decreasing barriers to care for Nevada's health care recipients.