LPN to Physician Assistant

If you’ve decided on a career in nursing, then you should learn about the differences between working as a nurse practitioner (NP) and a physician assistant (PA). While both jobs involve the supervision of licensed specialists and healthcare procedures for adult, family practice and pediatrics, there are various specialties available within these two professions. Moreover, while nurses follow a more patient-centered approach, focusing on health education and disease prevention, PAs target the pathologic and biologic elements of health and are involved in establishing diagnosis and treatment. If you’re not sure which of these two career opportunities is more suitable for you and your qualifications, then keep on reading for a quick guide on how to transition from an LPN to a physician assistant.

What’s the Difference Between a NP and a PA?

The major distinction between being a standard nurse and working as a PA is that the latter offers you professional licensure in medical care and, consequently, allows you to practice medicine. This means that you won’t be limited to basic nursing, but rather learn to diagnose and treat acute and chronic conditions, counsel patients, prescribe medication and interpret x-rays. Depending on the rules and regulations of the state you live in, you will either work independently or cooperate with a licensed physician. Aside from significantly increasing your nursing marketability, you will also engage in the conventional services that a medical doctor can perform. You may even be allowed to assist in surgery under certain circumstances.

What are the Main Duties of a Physician Assistant?

Physician assistants generally work in teams and collaborate with physicians, surgeons and other healthcare workers. Providing both primary care and family medicine, they are different from medical assistants because they practice medicine, in addition to performing routine clinical tasks. As a physician assistant, you will have to examine patients, diagnose a patient’s injury or illness, obtain and review patients’ medical histories, prescribe medicine, assess, adjust and record a patient’s treatment and progress. You will also be required to order and interpret blood tests, x-rays and other diagnostic tests, as well as inform and counsel patients and their families regarding healthcare and medical treatment. Additionally, you have to be familiarized with certain medical procedures such as immunizing patients and setting broken bones in order to give treatment.

Being informed and educated on the latest treatment options is also a must to ensure patients receive the best medical care possible. In certain hospitals, you will also be required to administer or participate in outreach programs designed to provide information on managing certain disorders and ailments, as well as promoting healthy habits. Depending on the area that you work in (especially if it’s rural or involves an underserved community), you might become the primary care provider at your clinic. This is because in these locations physicians are only present up to 2 days per week. PAs also sometimes have to check on homebound patients, make house calls or visit nursing homes to treat patients. Whether you’re assigned to family medicine, pediatrics, surgery or internal medicine, it’s important to note that the specific duties of PAs are determined by state law and the supervising physicians.

How Do I Become a PA?

If you feel that working as a physician assistant is more rewarding and suited for your career goals and schedule, then it’s important to know that becoming a PA is not the same with transitioning from LPN to Registered Nurse (RN). This is because the PA will focus more on medical practice and interacting with patients rather than nursing skills and basic clinical work. Students will need a minimum of a Master’s Degree from an accredited medical school in order to obtain licensure. In addition, they will have to complete around 1,000 didactic hours (as they will be trained as generalists) and over 2,000 clinical hours to gather firsthand experience with routine procedures. PAs also need to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE), an authorized test that’s accredited by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). Re-certification is also required – you will need 100 hours of continuing medical education (CME) and have to take an exam once every six years.

Physician Assistant Education

As you will be working in state, local and private hospitals, as well as outpatient care centers, you will need high-quality education in order to familiarize yourself with both healthcare procedures and routine PA medical practice. Generally speaking, training takes anywhere from 2 to 3 years, after you’ve carried out college courses and received your LPN certification. Here are some of the courses that you’ll focus on during your study – Physical diagnoses, Anatomy and microbiology, Pharmacology and pharmaceuticals, Pathology and bodily reactions to illness, trauma or injury, Hematology, Obstetrics and gynecology. The theory classes and workload are more advanced and comprehensive than what you learn during traditional NP training. This means that you need to be prepared to take on more work and research than you did for your initial nursing license.

During your second year, you will begin clinical hours and learn about routine procedures, primary care, effective decision-making in unexpected situations and psychiatry. You will also receive additional training in pediatrics and study behavioral sciences to efficiently manage and interact with patients. To prepare you for assisting in surgeries, you will also learn about surgical techniques and basic assistant protocol. In order to land a high-end job, you will require at least a BA, but most likely a Master’s Degree as well. However, if you manage to get these qualifications, you’ll have a much easier time finding a job, gain work schedule flexibility, as well as earn more income. You’ll also have much more authority and leverage when it comes to diagnosis, treatment and medical practice altogether.