Can You Go From an RN to a PA?

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Updated: February 28, 2024, Reading time: 8 minutes

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Transitioning from Registered Nurse (RN) to Physician Assistant (PA) is a transformative quest. It’s a narrative of growth, expanding skill sets, and embracing new challenges. However, this career switch has its perks, and these physician assistant programs typically require some years of experience. 

If you are interested in answering the question “Can you go from RN to PA?”, continue to read as we will tell you about our experience and what we discovered about this topic.

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Can You Go From an RN to a PA?

Yes, you can go from an RN to a PA. However, a nursing career provides no shortcuts to becoming a physician assistant. Registered nurses must satisfy all requirements to apply for a PA program, pass the exam, and obtain a state license like any other individual willing to become a physician assistant.

Doctors and assistants busy attending a patient in an operating room

However, even if the clinical hours logged as a registered nurse do not count as experience for the PA program process, they might still substantially benefit the RN switching to PA. The main advantage of RNs over people just starting out in the healthcare field is that they are already accustomed to the environment and work schedule. 

Additionally, former registered nurses can often build a better rapport with their patients due to their prior experience. This further facilitates the transition process, making it as seamless as possible.

Similarities and Differences Between RN and PA

Many parallels and divergences exist in the spatial configuration of registered nurses and physician assistants. Most people mistakenly believe these two professionals perform almost the same role by operating in the same healthcare environment.

As we will shortly discover, although registered nurses and physician assistants share many similarities, some differences make the transition from registered nurse to physician assistant a bit more complicated.


Woman studying the human's anatomy in a tablet


How to Switch From RN to PA

Even if registered nurses and physician assistants have many characteristics in common, the switch from RN to PA might be lengthy, depending on how many requirements each registered nurse already satisfies.

Here is a detailed list of all the steps an RN must take before becoming a physician assistant.

Meet All the Minimum Requirements to Become a PA

A vital first step towards becoming a physician assistant (PA) is to fulfill all basic qualifications.

These requirements are various and mainly include a compulsory bachelor’s degree, several science prerequisites, a specified number of hours working in direct patient care, a passing score on the national certifying exam known as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and some other requirements.

However, at the first step to becoming a PA, you should mainly focus on satisfying the minimum requirements to enroll in a PA master’s degree; the other requirements, such as obtaining a state license, will be satisfied over time and with more experience.

Enroll in a Physician Assistant Program

Then, suppose all the basic requirements to enroll in a PA program are satisfied. In that case, you should begin by researching accredited programs recognized by the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA).

Students talking in between classes

Additionally, the program must align with your career goals and preferences, considering factors such as curriculum, clinical rotations, and faculty expertise.

After making a well-informed decision, carefully work through the application process, emphasizing your credentials, experiences, and commitment to becoming one of the many competent and caring healthcare professionals.

Earn a PA Degree

After choosing a PA program with an intensive and exciting curriculum that blends theoretical knowledge with hands-on clinical experience, it is time to complete it, earning a PA degree.

As you navigate through the program, embrace the challenges and opportunities, knowing that each milestone brings you closer to becoming a proficient and compassionate PA, poised to make a meaningful impact in healthcare.

Pass the PA National Certifying Exam (PANCE)

However, earning a PA degree is not the ultimate step to becoming a PA, as it will be necessary to pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE). This demanding examination ensures a comprehensive assessment of preparedness for practical application by probing competency in addition to clinical knowledge. 

In addition to the intense test, successful candidates will have proven that they possess a thorough comprehension of medical principles. They also require practical skills to successfully navigate the complexities of healthcare, establishing their status as competent and qualified physician assistants ready to make a significant contribution to the field.

Obtain a State License

Upon conquering the PANCE, the next and final step is obtaining a state license, without which you cannot perform your PA activity. This involves meeting specific criteria set by the state licensing board and solidifying your official entry into the healthcare arena as a licensed and capable physician assistant. 

It’s a culmination of hard work and dedication, beginning a fulfilling professional journey. So, even if it is a long journey, you should cherish each step of the way.

Doctor checking up on a patient after surgery

What is the Difference in Salary Between RNs and PAs?

Despite their respective contributions to healthcare, physician assistants (PAs) and registered nurses (RNs) make notably different salaries.

PAs generally earn a higher salary due to their advanced education and broader scope of practice. PAs, often functioning with greater autonomy, command a median annual salary exceeding that of RNs. However, because they affect compensation differences within these crucial professions, it’s essential to consider things like experience, location, and the healthcare industry.

Does a RN-to-PA Bridge Program Exist?

RN-to-PA bridge programs exist, providing a streamlined pathway for registered nurses (RNs) to become physician assistants (PAs). These programs appreciate the valuable clinical experience of RNs, offering a curriculum that builds upon their nursing foundation. 

It’s a transitional opportunity that facilitates a smooth transition from nursing to the advanced role of a PA, recognizing and leveraging the skills acquired in the nursing profession. For an ultimate transition, the candidate must take the PANCE, which extends over five hours with over 295 multiple-choice questions covering various medical fields.

Is a Physician Assistant Higher Than a Registered Nurse?

Even if the roles of physician assistants (PAs) and registered nurses (RNs) are distinct, they are equally vital in healthcare. While both contribute uniquely, PAs typically undergo advanced medical training, often resulting in a higher level of responsibility and a broader scope of practice than RNs. 

It’s about specialization and not superiority or ranking, each of which is crucial in providing comprehensive patient care. The distinction lies in the depth of education and the responsibilities inherent to each role.

Can You Go From an RN to a PA - fact


In the interwoven arms of healthcare, the roles of physician assistants and registered nurses are complementary, not competitive. Each holds its own unique value, contributing to the holistic delivery of patient care. It’s not about hierarchy; it’s about collaboration, ensuring a harmonious blend of expertise for the well-being of those entrusted to their compassionate hands.

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