A HELPFUL ARTICLE
Can Nurses Become Physician Assistants?
“Should I become a nurse if I want to be a Physician Assistant (PA) in the future?”
This is a question I get asked on the regular by pre-PAs looking to complete an undergraduate degree and gain clinical experience prior to PA school.
The Answer Has to Be Right For You
To best answer this question, it is important to look at the path towards becoming a registered nurse (RN) and nurse practitioner (NP) versus that of a PA. To become an NP you must first have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and become a registered nurse (RN). From there, you pursue a graduate degree in nursing either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). While most of the prerequisites are similar for NP and PA school, there are a few key differences in the training and practice of NPs versus PAs that you can read more about here.
The one talked about most often is the nursing model for NPs which takes a more holistic approach to the patient and wellness, where PA education is based on the medical model similar to physicians. Why is this important? Because the path you choose has to be the right fit for YOU, your learning style, personality and career aspirations.
Get a Real-Life Perspective
To get a real-life perspective on what it takes to go from RN to PA, I pounded the social media pavement where I met Kaynen Brown. He is a 25-year-old from Washington State who is an ER nurse turned PA student.
A Q&A with Kaynen Brown
Question: When did you become a nurse?
Kaynen: I became an RN January of 2018.
Question: How long were you a nurse before you decided to go to PA school?
Kaynen: I actually already knew I wanted to attend PA school prior to even attending nursing school. By the time I sent out my applications for PA school I had about 1.5 years of ER nursing experience.
Question: Why did you choose PA over NP?
Kaynen: This is a great question and one that I have been asked plenty of times throughout my PA school interviews. My aunt is an Emergency medicine PA practicing in Washington State. She was an ER nurse for two years before applying to PA school, so she has played a major role in the decisions I have made in terms of a career option in medicine. For me, I felt the PA educational pathway fit better with me than that of the NP educational pathway. I also really enjoyed the lateral mobility that nurses had, and I wanted to be able to continue with that kind of freedom as a PA.
My endeavor to becoming a PA after two years of nursing experience combined nursing and medicine so that I could become a well-rounded healthcare provider. One who can treat a patient holistically as nurses are known for while at the same time being able to treat patients with the medical mindset as PA’s are known for.
Question: Did you have to take more or any pre-reqs for PA school or did you cover them all in nursing school?
Kaynen: So many of my classes actually were accepted by the PA schools that I applied to, but not all of them. As many of you know, all PA schools are so different in terms of their prerequisite courses. With this in mind, I made sure to apply to schools that fit most of the prerequisite courses that I had already completed in order to apply to nursing school. Classes that I had to take were one year of general chemistry (nursing school required a different type of chemistry) and one semester of general biology. I did not apply to any schools that required organic chemistry, biochemistry, or genetics.
Question: Do you feel nursing prepared you for the PA profession?
Kaynen: Yes, I feel nursing more than prepared me for the PA profession. In my opinion, it is one of, if not the best level of experience that you could have prior to PA school. I’m trained on emergency assessment and prioritization in terms of levels of acuity. I have experience with managing and implementing emergency care as part of a team along with other healthcare providers. Nursing has already put me on the front lines of treating patients and I feel it’s one of the reasons that fortunately made my application to PA school stand out.
Question: How many times did you apply before your acceptance? How was the application process for you? How many schools did you apply to, interviews, etc.
Kaynen: I was lucky enough to be accepted on my first attempt. My application process was very stressful, but enjoyable at the same time. I documented most of it on my YouTube channel (Kaynen Brown), in order to show people what the process in applying to PA school is like. All in all, I applied to 10 schools and received seven interviews. Of those seven interview offers, I attended five of them.
Question: ANY advice you could give an RN thinking about going to PA school? Pros/cons of NP versus PA?
Kaynen: My advice for RN’s thinking of applying to PA school would be to first and foremost ALWAYS MAKE DECISIONS FOR YOURSELF! I can’t tell you how many people looked at me as if I was crazy for taking such an aberrant path. Do not follow the crowd, if the crowd is going a way that will not make YOU happy.
Research plays such a large role in your decisions, so shadow as much as you can. Ask around and read about the professions you are looking into. For me, the pros to applying to PA school were the lateral mobility, a graduate education that I felt was better for me than NP schools educational system. Learning based off a medical model versus nursing theory and having the profession being built off a team approach to treating patients.
The cons were that I would have to quit my job as an ER nurse in order to attend school, whereas most NP schools are online and thus, nurses tend to continue to work throughout their graduate education. PA schools in most cases are also a lot more expensive than NP school.
Bottom line, if you’re thinking of becoming a nurse before PA school, or are a nurse looking to advance your career, you have to do what feels right to you.
Do your research into both professions and educational models. Apply to schools that fit YOUR profile and will give you the highest yield outcome. Whichever path you choose, commit to being your best self for you and your future patients.