RN to PA: Becoming a Registered Nurse Before a Physician Assistant

RN to PA: Becoming a Registered Nurse Before a Physician Assistant

The RN to PA path entails becoming a Registered Nurse to gain experience before attending a Physician Assistant master’s degree program. PA programs generally require applicants to have a few years of healthcare experience.

So, many aspiring PAs assume they must be nurses to be eligible to enroll in physician assistant programs. This is not the case. Furthermore, applicants have several options for meeting the experience requirements for PA programs. But, nursing typically fulfills the requirement for previous healthcare experience applicants need for PA school.

Becoming a PA is a big decision that usually results in a rewarding and satisfying career. Get the facts on what it takes to become a PA and what to expect for a career outlook.

What’s the Difference Between a Physician Assistant and a Registered Nurse?

A physician assistant (PA) is a health care provider licensed to practice medicine under the supervision of a doctor. They are educated in the medical model, complete comprehensive physical exams, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, and develop treatment plans. PAs may also perform additional responsibilities, including minor procedures, such as suturing or assisting in major surgeries.

An RN is a licensed healthcare professional who provides direct patient care. They attend nursing school, are educated in the nursing model, and are responsible for patient assessment and care. They administer medications and treatments and educate patients and families. RNs may also provide advice and guidance to other healthcare providers. Advanced practice nursing is a higher level of RN with a master’s degree or doctoral degree. For example, prescribing medications is reserved for a Nurse Practitioner with more education and training than an RN.

Nurse Licenses

  • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
  • Registered Nurse (RN)
  • Advanced Practice RN – Nurse Practitioner (NP)
  • Clinical Nurse
EducationNurse JobPA
one to two yearsLicensed Practical Nurse (LPN)N/A
two to four yearsRegistered Nurse (RN) N/A
graduate-level studyAdvanced Practice RNPhysician Assistant
advanced degreeClinical NursePhysician Assistant
RN vs PA by Education

Can Nurses Become Physician Assistants?

Yes, nurses can become physician assistants, provided they have the appropriate educational background. In order to become a physician assistant, nurses must complete a physician assistant program. A PA school typically requires a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university and completion of an accredited physician assistant program.

RN vs PA: Education Requirements

Nursing and Physician Assistant (PA) schools may offer some of the same classes. Foundational courses include anatomy & physiology, pharmacology, pathophysiology, and medical ethics & law. Some schools may also offer courses in health assessment, health promotion, and population health. Additionally, programs may require students to take classes in chemistry, microbiology, and health informatics.

RN: To become a nurse, you must earn an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited nursing school. Additionally, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam to obtain your license and start a nursing career. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree in Nursing also qualify to earn an RN license.

PA: To become a Physician Assistant, you must complete a bachelor’s degree and complete a graduate degre from an accredited program. Both degrees require a similar curriculum focusing on the fundamentals of anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, and nutrition. Students in a PA school also learn about clinical skills, such as taking vital signs, diagnosing medical conditions, and performing minor surgeries. After completing the program, you must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE) to obtain your license.

The education required to become a Physician Assistant (PA) after becoming an RN is a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPAS). This two-year program includes in-depth medical sciences, pharmacology, clinical medicine, and medical ethics coursework.

RN vs PA: Scope of Practice

Nurses practice under the scope of nursing practice, and Physician Assistants practice under the scope of medical practice.

RNs provide health care services such as patient exams and hands on patient care. Job duties include assessing, diagnosing, and treating patients. They also provide education and counseling to patients and families. They collaborate with other healthcare professionals to provide quality care to patients.

PAs are trained to diagnose and treat illnesses, prescribe medication, and counsel patients. They also provide preventive care services such as health screenings, immunizations, and physical exams. PAs typically work in medical offices with physician supervision to provide comprehensive care to patients.

RN vs PA: Job Duties

RNs care for patients in many settings, including hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes. They focus on the assessment and management of patient health. They often administer medications and treatments and provide education to patients.

RN Job Duties:

  • Provide patient care including assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring.
  • Administer medications and treatments as prescribed by a physician.
  • Perform procedures such as wound care, blood draws, and catheterizations.
  • Educate patients about their health and medications.
  • Monitor, record, and report changes in patient’s condition.
  • Collaborate with other healthcare professionals to ensure patients’ health and safety.

PA Job Duties:

  • Diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries.
  • Order and interpret diagnostic tests, such as lab work and x-rays.
  • Prescribe medications and treatments.
  • Educate patients and their families about health maintenance and disease prevention.
  • Perform routine physical exams and health screenings.
  • Provide patient counseling and support.
  • Refer patients to specialists when necessary.

RN vs PA: License Requirements

An RN requires a state-issued license to practice nursing. The state board of nursing issues this license after the nurse has met specific requirements, including passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

The Physician Assistant (PA) requires a license issued by the state board of medicine. This license is granted after the PA has completed a PA program, passed the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE), and completed all required clinical and/or educational requirements.

RN vs PA: Salary

The salary outlook for RNs and PAs differ significantly. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, RNs typically earn much less than physician assistants.

RNs typically earn an average salary of $77,600 per year, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The lowest 10 percent earn less than $59,450, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $120,250.

According to the BLS, PAs typically earn an average salary of $112,530 per year. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $77,940, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $164,620.

RN vs PA: Job Outlook

The job outlook for RNs is positive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the employment of registered nurses will grow by 6% from 2021 to 2031, which is about average for all occupations. This growth is mainly due to an aging population, an increase in chronic conditions, and technological advances in healthcare.

The demand for RNs is expected to be highest in home health care, followed by hospitals, physician offices, and outpatient care centers. Additionally, the BLS predicts over 195,400 new RN jobs will be created from 2021 to 2031.

Physician Assistants work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, clinics, skilled nursing facilities, and outpatient facilities. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that PAs could see job growth of 28% during the next decade. This excellent growth should result in the creation of about 38,400 new PA jobs from 2021 to 2031.

With the high need for qualified physician assistants and the excellent career potential offered to PAs, many find it an ideal career choice. Whether an individual is starting from scratch or is already a nurse or some other medical professional, choosing to become a PA may be the start of a great career.

RN vs PA: License Requirements

RNs must meet the licensing requirements of the state where they practice. These requirements usually include passing the NCLEX-RN examination, completing an accredited nursing program, and providing evidence of current RN licensure.

PAs must meet the state’s licensing requirements in which they practice. These requirements usually include passing the PANCE exam, completing an accredited physician assistant program, and providing evidence of current PA licensure.

What Classes do RNs Take?

For an Associate Degree, RNs typically take classes in anatomy and physiology, microbiology, nutrition, psychology, pharmacology, and other courses related to nursing care. For a Bachelor’s Degree, RNs typically take classes in health care policy, research methods, informatics, leadership, and advanced nursing practice.

What are the Prerequisites for a PA Program?

The PA program includes classroom studies, lab courses, and internships. The courses may include pharmacology, human anatomy, physical diagnosis, pathology, clinical medicine, medical ethics, and physiology. During the supervised internship, the student will work in various areas of medicine, such as internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, and the emergency room.

The prerequisites for a PA program vary depending on the PA school and program but typically include biology, chemistry, or health sciences. Completion of prerequisite courses, such as medical terminology, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and pharmacology. Clinical experience in a healthcare setting, such as a hospital or healthcare facility.

Certifications for Physician Assistants

To become a physician assistant, an individual must pass a training program accredited or approved by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant. This is important for certification and licensure, both of which are required for employment in all states. There are currently more than 200 approved programs in the US, assuming the candidate already has a bachelor’s degree. The training program should take about two years to complete.

Physician assistants must be licensed in all the states, which requires passing the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam. The test consists of 300 multiple-choice questions and must be completed in five hours. Once the PA passes the exam, he or she has earned the Physician Assistant-Certified or PA-C credential and is eligible for licensure in that state.

In addition to the PA certification, physician assistants may also obtain certification in specialty areas, including vascular access, ultrasound, ambulatory surgery, nutrition, emergency medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, and orthopedic surgery. Each certification requires passing the designated certification exam.

What Experience is Required?

Completing an accredited PA training program and obtaining certification is not the only requirement to become a PA. They must also have at least three years of healthcare experience. Many candidates mistakenly believe that they must be a nurse before becoming a PA.

Working as a nurse gives the candidate valuable experience and will meet the healthcare experience, but it’s not the only path. Interested candidates can also gain experience working as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), CNA, paramedic, or a healthcare position that meets the program’s requirements.