Tackling the RN to PA Program: From Registered Nurse to Physician Assistant

A registered nursing career is good but can be used as a bridge to grow vertically and laterally. That’s the beauty of being an RN. You never need to stop learning and growing, which is why I looked into RN to PA program.

PA as career advancement option for RNs

Registered nurses actually have several paths to go in advancement of their career.

They can become nurse practitioners (NPs), which is the usual upward movement of RNs, or they can also become a physician assistant with a little more education.

Both the NPs and PAs are accomplished clinical professionals. They perform procedures and roles that were once sole responsibilities of doctors.

Both are licensed to perform diagnostic procedures and prescribe medication for patients.

Becoming a nursing practitioner would seem the logical milestone or goal for a registered nurse.

It is a higher level of application of nursing with much latitude of independence.

The PA profession on the other hand, is the physician’s complement who has trained in the medical model. It must not be discounted so easily as a nurse’s advancement in career.

Physician assistants work within the authority and supervision of a doctor.

If they wish to add another specialty area to their string of specialties, all they need to do is find another doctor with that specialty area and work under that doctor.

The PA may even prescribe medications (depending upon state regulations), and order diagnostic tests in the treatment of their patients.

An RN to PA program, while not very popular, is an alternative to performing certain aspects of a doctors role.

These programs are generally two-year graduate studies. A nurse who is willing to change her orientation from nursing care to medical treatment may start to seriously consider this path.

Making the decision

The decision to become a physician assistant depends on your personality, career objectives, and priorities.

If you believe that becoming a PA is more like what you think your future will be, then be ready to take these steps.

1. Find an RN to PA program in your locality.

An excellent resource is the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistants, which lists 181 accredited programs in the US.

Physician assistant programs have been around for half a century, starting at Duke University, Durham, NC in 1965.

The aim was to educate individuals to discharge some, but not all, of the roles of a doctor.

Entrance into an RN to PA program usually requires a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree – with courses in chemistry, anatomy, human physiology, biology, microbiology, and psychology – rather than a Bachelor of Arts (BA).

Much like doctors, their assistants are trained in the medical model, and are, practically, recognized as an extension of a doctor, and definitely not as a mere surrogate or backup.

The medical model focuses on three major concepts; treatment, cure, and management of disease. It studies and analyzes the biological symptoms rather than the behavioural sources and causes of illness.

2. Make sure that you understand the specific degree program and have the requirements for admission.

Registered nurse to physician assistant programs are graduate programs which generally lead to a Master’s Degree in PA Studies (MPAS), or a Master’s Degree in Health Science (MHS), or Master’s Degree in Medical Science (MMSc).

To be admitted, an applicant must have completed a bachelor’s degree, and passed the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) or Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

3. Complete your studies

It takes barely over two years of rigorous training for a registered nurse to physician assistant program.

It entails one year of classroom instruction, followed by 15 months of medical training.

The classroom instruction will encompass an array of basic medical information, diagnostic and analytical skills, and awareness of the legal and ethical responsibilities imposed upon a physician assistant.

The latter provides the required clinical experience and knowledge of the major fields of the medical profession, along with general surgery, pediatrics, and emergency medicine.

4. Pass the certifying exam.

Before you can practice your new profession, you need to hurdle the final obstacle – the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE).

Once certified, you must keep your certification active by completing 100 hours of continuing education or coursework every two years. You must also pass a recertification exam every six years.

5. Obtain your state license.

Visit your state board of medicine and inquire on licensing requirements.

Different states will have different policies, but basically, you will be required your national certification.

You may also inquire on the policies of your state regarding the latitude of independence with which you can practice your profession.

Career opportunities

A PA has greater responsibilities and higher pay than the RN. The U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) has predicted 38% employment growth for physician assistants between 2012 and 2022, with nurses trailing at 26% and a national average of 14% for all professions.

This is due, in large part, to the increasing need for physician assistants and other primary health care practitioners in lieu of physicians to perform the latter’s routine medical concerns. This is typically true in the countryside, where medical care has been found most wanting.

According to the BLS, in May 2012, the median annual wage for a physician assistant was $90,930 with the top 10% earning $124,770 annually; while a registered nurse paled in comparison taking a median average salary of over $67,930 with the top 10% getting $94,720 a year.

I hope this has helped you with RN to PA programs also known as a registered nurse to physician assistant program.

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