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What Are the Major Differences Between a CNP and a PA?

By: Faalik Zahra


Patients are often confused about the differences between a certified nurse practitioner and a physician assistant. This confusion comes from the seemingly similar roles that these healthcare professionals possess. It is essential to recognize that despite these similarities, these two roles are independent and have some major differences. Understanding these differences allow patients to better appreciate how each professional is specifically able to provide the treatment they need.


Who are these professionals, and what do they do?

According to the American Academy of Physician Associates, physician assistants “are medical professionals who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient’s principal healthcare provider.”


According to Andrew Chastain, a physician assistant at Ascension Saint Vincent Women’s Hospital in Indianapolis and who is also a full-time faculty member at the Butler University Physician Assistant Program, “We collaborate with our physician colleagues and other members of the healthcare team to help create a team that cares for our patients’ needs, whatever they may be.”


Certified nurse practitioners provide similar treatments to their patients. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, “CNPs are responsible and accountable for health promotion, disease prevention, health education, and counseling as well as the diagnosis and management of acute and chronic diseases.”


So, what are these differences?


Physician Supervision

One of these key differences is the requirement of a physician’s supervision. Physician assistants are required to work under the supervision of a physician, whereas certified nurse practitioners can practice independently in 26 states in the United States.


Certified nurse practitioners are nurses who have earned both their R.N. certification and typically a masters degree or even a doctorate in nursing, and have had many years of practical experience working in many different healthcare settings. Many of them have a nursing specialty like surgical nursing, oncological nursing, or maternity and neonatal nursing.


However, according to Christine Colella, a practicing nurse practitioner at Lincoln Heights in Cincinnati, OH, who also works at the University of Cincinnati’s nursing program, “In some states, a PA and a certified nurse practitioner probably have a more similar role because they both must be supervised by a physician, But in those 26 other states, nurse practitioners are able to practice independently, so that’s one the biggest differences.”


Treatment Model

Another significant difference is the treatment model these healthcare professionals utilize while interacting with patients. The CNP uses a nursing model and the physican assistant uses a medical model.


According to Tufts Medical College, the nursing model focuses “on the patient’s overall health and wellness and providing basic treatment as necessary.”


The medical model is used to train physician assistants, and is the same model that is used to train medical students. The medical model implements a practice that focuses on the disease. According to Tufts, this model “focuses on the biological facets of medical evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.”


Again, the biggest difference is that the PA must be supervised by an MD or DO, who oversees the PA’s diagnoses and prescriptions, where the CNP does not need any supervision and like a physician, has the legal right to write a prescription, make a diagnosis, and write a treatment plan on their own.


Specialty Level

Another key difference is the specialty level between the two healthcare professionals. While certified nurse practitioners are increasingly specialized, physician assistants are prepared to handle all types of illnesses and treatments. PA Chastain explains, “I trained more generally and then specialized following my certification. Whereas most nurse practitioners train only in the specific area of medicine in which they plan to practice.”


According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants, physician assistants are “educated in general medicine, which offers a comprehensive view of all aspects of medicine. This contrasts with certified nurse practitioners that must choose a population focus.”


Where You Will Meet a PA or CNP

Today, the physician assistant is found working in medical practices, in hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. The CNP is also found working in medical practices and hospitals, but because of their ability to practice independently, can also often be working as the major healthcare provider in college health centers, summer camps, urgent care clinics, pharmacy wellness clinics, and the health departments of major corporations.


The healthcare delivery model today is greatly dependent on both the physician assistant and the certified nurse practitioner to not only assist physicians with their caseloads, but in many healthcare settings, as the sole practitioner. The bottom line is that wherever you encounter one of these two professionals, your health and wellbeing will be in good hands.

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Faalik Zahra studies neuroscience and journalism at the University of Cincinnati and plans on becoming a physician. She has always had a strong inclination towards writing and sharing stories which have led her to pursue a journalism degree as well as founding an online media portal, Bearcat Voice. As a Senior Contributor, Faalik combines her passion for writing and her interest in medicine to explain medical issues to patients in a way they can clearly understand.

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What You Need to Know About the CDC

Its History and How It Works

by Hugo Amador


Overview of the History of the CDC

The Communicable Disease Center (CDC) was established on July 1, 1946. Having been founded on a mission to prevent the spread of malaria, the health organization has helped stand up and mitigate a variety of public health challenges around the nation since its inception. As the founder made its way to the south, which at the time was the heart of the malaria outbreak, the CDC founder Dr. Joseph Mountain began advocating towards extending the organization's outreach with other communicable diseases. Since then, the CDC has hence been called the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.


Although epidemiologists during the 1940s were not as profound around the United States as they are today, public health became the crux of the CDC’s initiatives. Many significant accomplishments such as the war against H.I.V, ebola, and the eradication of smallpox, succeeded the organization’s humble origins as a small organization. Especially since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the CDC has been in the spotlight as one of the major and best-known operating bodies within the Department of Health and Human Services. With such a prominent presence and role that the CDC plays during public health crises, it is important to know and understand how the premier public health organization works, and how its mandates influence the health of the American Public. Here is what you need to know.


How the CDC Works - An Overview on its Structure

Considering how vast the organization has grown since its inception, with more than a dozen centers nationally, many labs, thousands of employees, and an infinite scripture of initiatives, the organization upholds the necessary structure and organization it needs to grasp public health issues. The CDC has a workforce of about 20,000 employees across at least sixty countries. These employees all follow the directorship of the organization which is typically a political appointment by the president of the United States. The director of the CDC that is appointed is always a healthcare professional - Rochelle Walensky, for example, is a medical doctor and virologist that was appointed head of the health organization through the Biden administration transition of the presidency.


Within the last seven decades, the organization has expanded its cause in preventing and alleviating many forms of communicable and non-communicable diseases alike. Since then, the CDC has been divided into institutes, offices, and centers–there are twelve major units and more than two dozen in all– each with its focus on certain public health challenges around the nation. The Center for Injury Prevention and Control helps tackle drug overdose and suicide prevention, for example.


In times of dire public health emergencies, there is communication within the necessary centers located at the local and regional levels that respond to the federal department. Certain public-health emergencies that are pin-pointed at regional levels are communicated to health departments, which are then reported to the C.D.C. Once there, the organization can instigate specific, local guidelines in addition to federal response efforts. All these efforts depend on the communication from local regions, receptive understanding from the regions in question, and how much funding the C.D.C has to support these responses.


How its Decisions and Mandates Positively Affect the American Public

With the rise of novel diseases, the CDC required researchers in centers that could offer relevant conclusions and applicable policies for the public based on epidemiological and public health modeling. In 1984, Congress authorized the Prevention Research Centers (PRC) within the CDC. These centers established a network of 26 research centers that identify public health emergencies and further develop, test, and evaluate public health interventions that can be applied universally – particularly in underserved communities. By documenting behavior and health outcomes in populations, the organization can manage guidance on sociologic and scientific implications.


Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the CDC undertook testing, isolation, and vaccination initiatives, using population data collected in SARS-Cov-2 hotspots to issue guidance and mandates. Albeit not faced without skepticism, the CDC uses pertinent patient data to employ its public health policies, primarily with Covid-19. Guidelines, restrictions, and regulations that the CDC imposes from the statistics they receive matter; behind each statistic is not a number, but rather the health of a person, and the health of people around them. With trends, statistical modeling, and scientific research/data, the organization predicts the necessary restrictions needed to hinder a worsening outbreak.


For years the organization has taken stage mainly during public health emergencies. For many health professionals, the CDC is the gold standard for national health agencies. The organization has consistently worked in tandem with the World Health Organization, in hope of collaborating on international health emergencies. Thus, the CDC has garnered a high reputation in many parts of the world. “Quietly and effectively, the CDC projected American competence and leadership,” said Sudip Parikh, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.


As the Covid-19 pandemic slowly wanes in the backdrop of American life, many celebrate the freedoms that testing and vaccination efforts have revitalized – efforts invigorated through CDC support and guidance. During a global pandemic or not, the CDC consistently manages the health of the American people, in hope of alleviating the impacts diseases impose on our well-being. Whether it be obesity, depression, diabetes, the Flu, or Covid-19, the public health organization established through the vision of Dr. Mountain is there to guide us on the relevant science and policies

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Hugo Amador is an undergraduate student at Cornell University currently studying cellular & molecular biology, journalism, and Latin American studies. He is the recipient of prestigious and competitive academic fellowships, such as the Cornell Commitment Fellowship, and is the founder of Hugo’s Movement, a not-for-profit that advocates for the access to equitable healthcare, education, and liberty of victims of war and gang violence, primarily immigrant children and adolescents.

 February 2022   Page 4

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