Return on investment of advanced practice medical degrees: NPs vs. PAs

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Salaries were abstracted from the 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics database. The net present value (NPV) of PA and NP salaries was calculated with a 5% discount rate. Principal and interest for student loans was calculated at a 6% interest fixed-rate loan over 30 years. NPVs were then compared with projected ROI at retirement age. Relative career values were also given to each career choice, based on a retirement age of 65 years, which translates to about 41 years of employment for both PAs and NPs.


PAs' and NPs' educational loans both equalled $129,484 on total repayment. The median annual salary of a PA was $90,930 and $89,960 for an NP. PA data yielded a 5% NPV of $781,323 compared with $764,348 for NPs. Of note, the 5% NPV of a 4-year nursing degree is $728,436.


PAs have a slightly higher ROI compared with NPs. These findings may change due to adjustments in nursing training models. Many PA programs allow matriculation immediately after obtaining a bachelor's degree. NP schools often require nursing experience before entering their program. Some schools are considering an accelerated NP program, allowing immediate matriculation after obtaining a bachelor's degree. Because many NP programs have become doctoral degrees, the increased duration of training, higher tuition, and fewer years worked before retirement lower the overall NP ROI. A similar reduction in ROI was considered marginal in PAs who attend residency programs—though these programs are not required for PAs to practice. Comparison of an RN with a 4-year degree to an NP shows little increase in ROI. If interest rates rise, it will become fiscally preferable to remain in a nursing position. Other intangible qualities exist and need further research (for example, weighing the financial aspects with lifestyle or professional satisfaction).

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