Get an Easy Guide on How to Transition from a Nursing Career to Becoming a Physician’s Assistant.

Get an Easy Guide on How to Transition from a Nursing Career to Becoming a Physician‘s Assistant. Both nurses and physician assistants can provide medical care for their patients. However, physician assistants can perform their …

Get an Easy Guide on How to Transition from a Nursing Career to Becoming a Physician's Assistant.

Get an Easy Guide on How to Transition from a Nursing Career to Becoming a Physician‘s Assistant. Both nurses and physician assistants can provide medical care for their patients. However, physician assistants can perform their tasks with greater independence and focus more on diagnosis and treatment than nurses. Discovering a path for changing careers from nursing to being a physician assistant can help you achieve a PA career. In this article, we describe the roles of nurses and physician assistants, compare the two jobs and describe steps nurses can take to become PAs.


What is a nurse?

A nurse is a medical professional who treats patients with medical conditions and illnesses. They can record patients’ symptoms and medical histories to keep accurate files for a medical clinic. Nurses can also counsel patients and their families on available treatments for their conditions. There are a few types of nurses whose titles can vary based on licensure and experience:

  • Registered nurse: A registered nurse is a nurse who has completed nursing school and passed a licensing exam. You can earn an RN license after completing an associate degree or bachelor’s degree program.

  • Licensed practical nurse: LPNs perform more basic tasks compared to registered nurses and earn a diploma or certificate that can take less time to complete than nursing school. Licensed practical nurses also must pass an exam to get a license to practice as a nurse.

  • Nurse practitioner: A nurse practitioner is a medical professional who earns at least a master’s degree and passes an exam to become an NP.

  • Clinical nurse: A clinical nurse is a registered nurse who has completed a graduate education by earning a master or doctorate degree in nursing.

What is a physician assistant?

A physician assistant is a medical professional who diagnoses medical conditions and illnesses and creates treatment plans to manage patients’ health issues. They can prescribe medication to help treat health conditions and their symptoms. Physician assistants can specialize in an area of health care or provide generalized care for their patients. Here are specialties for PAs:

  • Surgery: Physician assistants can specialize in performing care for patients before and after surgeries at the direction of surgeons.

  • Family medicine: PAs who specialize in family medicine can provide general care for patients throughout their lives.

  • Emergency care: Physician assistants can work in an emergency department to independently care for patients with life-threatening conditions.

  • Dermatology: PAs with a dermatology specialty can diagnose and treat skin conditions and perform diagnostic tests.

  • Pain management: Physician assistants can specialize in helping patients manage their pain by prescribing medications and monitoring patients’ symptoms and side-effects.

  • Pathology: A PA with a pathology specialty can assist pathologists with autopsies and postsurgical tissue samples that can help with diagnosis of diseases and medical research.

  • Radiology: A physician assistant who specializes in radiology can order and perform diagnostic tests using medical imaging devices and observe medical images to perform diagnoses.

Nurse vs. PA: Similarities and differences

Here are the top similarities and differences between nurses and physician assistants:


The duties for nurses and physician assistants can vary, with PAs having more responsibilities than nurses. Here are the responsibilities for a nurse:

  • Listen to patients’ symptoms and conditions and input this information into medical records

  • Take patient vitals and health statistics including temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, height and weight

  • Conduct physical exams for patients

  • Confer with doctors and other medical professionals on patients’ symptoms and treatments

  • Counsel patients on symptom management and medications

A physician assistant can perform all the above duties with these additional responsibilities:

  • Perform patient exams

  • Order diagnostic tests and interpret their results

  • Diagnose patients’ conditions

  • Prescribe medications to treat patients

  • Develop and manage treatment plans for patients


In general, physician assistants can have a much higher salary than registered nurses. According to Indeed Salaries, the average base salary for a registered nurse is $36.80 per hour, while the salary for a physician assistant is $105,316 per year.

Job outlook

The job outlook differs for nurses and physician assistants, though all the career fields are experiencing faster growth than average. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the field for physician assistants will grow by 31% between 2019 and 2029. It predicts the field for registered nurses will grow by 9% for LPNs and LVNs. For registered nurses, the BLS predicts 7% growth. The outlook for nurse practitioners in this decade is 45% growth.


Nurses can perform medical duties with an associate degree, which only requires two years to complete. Physician assistants earn at least a master’s degree, which can require about seven years of education. Given the longer period it takes to become a physician assistant, the educational costs can also be higher for physician assistants than for nurses.


Both the nursing and physician assistant fields offer opportunities to specialize. Nurses can specialize in areas like pediatric care, anesthesia, cardiac care and emergency care. Changing specialties can be more complicated for nurse practitioners than for physician assistants, who can work in any field after graduating from a PA program.

Work environment

A similarity between the careers of nurses and physician assistants is their work environments. Both nurses and PAs can work in medical offices, hospitals and urgent care clinics.


One differences between nurses and physician assistants is the level of supervision required in these roles. Nurses, even highly trained nurse practitioners, work under a doctor’s supervision. Physician assistants can complete their medical tasks independently. However, PAs can’t run their own medical practice. Instead, they can work in a doctor’s office under a physician’s supervision.

Licensing and certification

All types of nurses and physician assistants undergo exams to earn licenses or certifications to practice in a medical setting. However, their exams and licensing requirements can differ based on their education and state. For example, nurse practitioners can be eligible for a licensing exam after they’ve earned about 500 hours of medical experience, while physician assistants can earn at least 2,000 hours of medical experience for licensing.


Both nurses and physician assistants can advance their careers by pursuing specialties, certifications and Ph.D.s in their fields. Career advancement can help medical professionals in these jobs achieve promotions and higher salaries over the course of their careers.

How to pursue a nurse to PA career path

If you’re a nurse who wants to become a physician assistant, here are steps you can take to achieve career growth:

1. Review the requirements

The first step to becoming a physician assistant from a nursing career is to review the requirements for a physician assistant program. Here are the eligibility requirements for physician assistant schools:

  • Experience: Most physician assistant programs require applicants to gain at least 2,000 hours of patient care and health care experience.

  • Education: Most PA schools require applicants to have at least a bachelor’s degree. If you haven’t earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing, you should pursue this qualification before applying to PA school.

  • GRE: To apply to physician assistant schools, you can take the Graduate R E test to show your knowledge in graduate-level subjects.

2. Apply to physician assistant programs

The application process for physician assistant programs can involve providing a variety of documents that prove your education and experience in a medical environment. You can also report your GRE scores for consideration with your application. Many schools also require letters of recommendation from other health care professionals. Lastly, you can apply to the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants and write an essay to complete the application process.

3. Earn a master’s degree

Once you’re accepted into a physician assistant master’s degree program, you can begin learning extra skills for this career. This process can take about three years to complete. There are two phases to this degree:

  • Classroom: Lecture courses in a PA program can teach you concepts like anatomy and pharmacology.

  • Clinical: In this phase of your master’s degree education to become a physician assistant, you can learn medical and surgical skills in a medical environment.

4. Take an exam

Once you earn a master’s degree in physician assistant studies, you can take a certifying exam that shows your medical knowledge. Once you pass this exam, you can work as a physician assistant. The exam is 300 questions and lasts five hours.

5. Create a resume

After completing your education and certification, you can create a resume that emphasizes your medical skills. Here are resume tips for physician assistants:

  • Match your resume to the job post. You can help your resume pass an ATS scan and show employers you meet the qualifications for a job by including keywords from the job posting in your resume.

  • Include clinical rotations. If you’re a recent graduate from PA school, you can include clinical rotations as part of your work experience.

  • Don’t forget your medical licenses. You can display your medical licenses prominently to show employers you can work as a PA in your state.

6. Apply to jobs

Lastly, you can use your resume to apply to physician assistant jobs. To learn about open positions for PAs, you can network with other students from your PA program. Your school may also post job opportunities for graduates on its own job board.