Updated: Oct 2, 2022
This is the question I am asked most. Why did I become a physician assistant instead of a nurse practitioner? I have made a YouTube video discussing this here, but I have never written about it, so here you go!
I never heard of a PA growing up, so it was not something on my radar to pursue growing up. I heard from everyone I would be a doctor when I grew up, but I was not interested in going to school for such a long time after high school. I did not know anyone in my family or close to my family, working in a healthcare position outside of a certified nursing assistant or caretaker.
During my senior year of high school, I saw a black nurse for the first time and thought I could be a nurse. I attended nursing school and graduated with my associate’s degree in nursing. I thought that would be it for me. I was making good money at 20 years old as a nurse, and I thought I would not need a bachelor’s degree unless I planned on going into management. Eventually, I grew tired of performing tasks as a nurse and feeling like I did not know why they were being done. For example, when working in the emergency department, I knew which antibiotics we used for the pneumonia protocol, but I did not know why. I wanted to know more and began looking into medical school or nurse anesthesia schools to meet my needs.
While working in the ER, I learned about physician assistants. I began asking female physicians and PAs about their quality of life. I wanted to know if they regretted their professional decision and what they would recommend for someone like me. Every PA loved their job and felt they had a decent work/life balance. The physicians loved their work, but a common theme was the time away from home and family. Some of the physicians voiced wishing they were PAs instead. With the quality of life and work-life balance being high on my list of requirements, I was leaning more towards becoming a PA. I then began pursuing my bachelor’s in nursing because I knew no matter which step I took, I would have to get that degree.
During my associate’s program for nursing, there were not a lot of fluff classes. Everything you learned was to be able to work as a nurse. There were some nursing theory classes, but not as many as when I went back to get my bachelor’s. Nursing theory classes were the worst for me, and I could not imagine taking them on a graduate level. After graduating with my bachelor’s, nurse anesthesia was the only nursing possibility on my list. I was actively preparing for nurse anesthesia school by working in the ICU and shadowing a nurse anesthetist. I was bored out of my mind when I shadowed a CRNA and could see myself falling asleep from the lack of activity.
I forgot to mention I was pregnant with twins and placed on bed rest while making these decisions. I took my GRE while being treated for mastitis (I do not recommend). I then applied to Marquette University’s PA program. I did not have all the recommended pre-requisites but applied anyway. I figured if I did not get accepted, I would take organic chemistry and physics, then reapply. Yes, I have never taken those classes and have been a certified PA for ten years!
I do not believe I would have had to work as hard to get accepted into nurse practitioner school as I did getting into PA school. This is not to say that NP school is not challenging, it is just not the challenge I needed. I was attracted to the medical model and the opportunity to be trained as a generalist. I wanted to feel confident in the care I provided, and I enjoyed procedures. I was sure I would work in surgery one day, so becoming a physician assistant was a better fit. I felt that if I attended nurse practitioner school, I would have limitations in my ability to perform procedures. Depending on where I focused as a nurse practitioner, I may not have been able to work in certain specialties. Again, I did not want to take another nursing theory class EVER!
I am happy with my decision. I recognized my path may not work for everyone wanting to become a PA, but it worked for me. I have been fortunate to have worked in various settings, gaining invaluable skills such as neurosurgery, emergency medicine, urology, urgent care, and occupational medicine. When deciding which path is right for you, consider your end goal, what resources are available to you, and what your support system looks like. There is no perfect path to PA, and many routes will lead to the same!
Jackie the PA