Registered Nurse or Physician Assistant: Choosing the Right Career For You

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If you’re looking to be on the front lines of medical care, consider a career as either a registered nurse (RN) or a physician assistant (PA).  These two careers will allow you direct contact with patients on a daily basis. Before you determine which career to pursue, you’ll want to weigh different factors related to responsibility, training, and salary.  Because both careers are anticipated to be in high demand on the near future, either one is an excellent choice for a budding medical professional!

Duties and Responsibilities

As an RN, your primary duties will include taking a patient’s medical history, completing a preliminary medical examination using medical equipment, recommending and interpreting diagnostic tests, and administering medications (though not prescribing them).  You’ll have extended contact with patients, providing medical advice and education to those in your care.  You’ll work with a team of medical professionals to care for you patients.  Expect to have a flexible work schedule that works around your hours. As an RN, you’ll have the opportunity to work in a variety of environments. Though a hospital is a logical work location, you can also work in schools, prisons, clinics, nursing homes, and private practice offices.

Gap Medics student Lottie volunteering at the orphanage in Iringa.As a physician assistant, you’ll be performing the same tasks as an RN with additional responsibilities.  A physician assistant works directly under the supervision of a doctor, and in many cases, performs nearly the same tasks as a doctor does. S/he can assist with surgery and, in some cases, prescribe medication.  Your work location is primarily private practice. You can expect a work schedule that is dictated by the physician under which you work.  Long hours are likely for those PAs who work for surgeons.

Both RNs and PAs work with a variety of populations, including pediatrics, geriatrics, and in multiple areas of medicine – primary care, obstetrics, neonatal care, mental health, palliative care, and hospice care.

Training and Salary

Each of these careers has a unique training schedule.  To become an RN, a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing is the minimum requirement.  It is more common for RNs to obtain a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing. You must then pass the National Council Licensure Exam to be fully certified as a Registered Nurse. For all your hard work, you can expect to earn an average salary of $65,000 as a Registered Nurse.

Nursing students learning from their mentor in Iringa Regional Hospital in Tanzania. To become a Physician Assistant, you’ll first need to obtain a science-related Bachelor Degree and then enroll in an accredited, specialized physician assistant program.  After your training, you’ll need to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam.  Your education doesn’t end there, however; you’ll continue updating your skills and knowledge through continuing medical education and professional development.  You must earn 100 hours of continued education every two years after your initial certification and subsequently renew your license every six years.  For you dedication to your profession and education, you can expect to earn an average salary of $82,000 as a Physician Assistant.

Unique Advantages

As you decide whether to pursue a career as a registered nurse or as a physician assistant, you’ll need to consider the amount of training and continued medical education you are willing to undertake; you will also need to think about your personal philosophy towards medicine, whether you prefer a care-taker role of the nurse or a medicine-based role as a physician assistant.  As you take your first steps on your medical career journey, allow these factors to guide your decision-making. — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury.

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