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Should I be a PA or a MLS?


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Hello, I am currently a 60 credit undergraduate biology undergraduate at The University of South Florida. I am having a spell of indecisiveness with my career plan.

I have always loved scientific studies, and am constantly intrigued with how the science of today contributes to how we treat people in healthcare. I have been contemplating on how I will apply this to my career. I always envisioned myself in working in a laboratory setting, likely clinical and in a hospital or healtcare-related facility as I always found research to be a bit risky and not quite for me. I haven't interned or had any experience in this setting, however. I am currently declared for a Bachelor's in Cell and Molecular Biology. As much as I love science, I've heard that being a MLS/CLS typically doesn't pay the best, and requires specific internship or volunteer experience to find a job after getting a bachelor's degree, as well as some certifications, yet I'm a bit shady on what that means.

My parents are both RNs, and enjoy what they do, which is patient care. I work at the hospital my mother works at as a food services rep, which is running up meals to patients, and have been doing this for a year. I like seeing patients delighted to see their meals; more often than not it puts a smile on my face to help them out with tasks. I have been giving the career of PA thought, and would be fine going to that length. I'm just very uncertain if I will be making the right choice, as it's not necessarily my biggest interest as it's largely unknown to me, nor do I want to go in for the wrong reasons. If any PAs out there could give me some insight on what day to day is like, I would be very appreciative.

I would love to work in labs and stroking that love for science I have, but I don't think it will be rewarding enough. And I don't think there is room to be indecisive as it's a one or the other type scenario. Unless I am wrong, and I can graduate from MLS/CLS to PA after a few years? I'm just a bit uncertain is all. I know that I would excel in whatever I choose, it's just the lack of understanding of the paths I need to take to get to either/or that makes me anxious. If anyone has advice, or knows where I can clear the fog, I would be very appreciative.

Edited by JoshLJaeger
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A: you need to do some shadowing ASAP.  You don't seem to have a strong understanding of what the day in the life of an MLS or PA would look like.  We can tell you til we are blue in the face what our experiences are, but you're better off shadowing.  Better yet, get some health care experience and get a job.  You can work as a lab assistant and see closely what an MLS does.  You can work as a patient care tech or ed tech and see what a PA does.

B: MLS actually pays pretty well considering it's just a 4 year degree.  I was certainly not living pay check to pay check.  You do need to do an official program (some schools have a CLS degree which includes the 1 year 'internship' or you can apply for a separate internship after you graduate.  But you must complete that internship in order to sit for the ASCP board exam.  And you must be certified by ASCP in order to be hired in any clinical setting.)  You need to do some research here....it's not hard to find the requirements and it's not all that confusing.

C : You can in theory work as an MLS and then later choose to go to PA school - but MLS obviously isn't patient care and you'll still need to meet all the PA school requirements.  Plenty of people go to PA school after other careers...MLS or otherwise.  It can be done.  Regardless of when you go to PA school you need to be a competitive applicant in terms of grades, PCE, etc etc.  

MLS vs RN vs PA are all very different.  You need to figure out what you want to do all day every day.

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From my limited experience/knowledge;

MLS:  do not provide direct patient care, medical intervention, or patient teaching. MLS are strictly behind the scenes aiding in the diagnostics of medicine.

PAs: provide direct patient care, medical intervention, and patient teaching. They strictly interact with patients and other members of the healthcare team. They use the information provided by the MLS to diagnose and manage patients.

RNs: not medical providers, but they provide direct patient care, implement orders, continuously assess patient and relay such information to the providers, do not prescribe medications, but independently follow protocols when necessary. 

An MLS can become a PA after certain years of experience because some programs accept MLS as direct patient care experience in order to matriculate. But an MLS does not automatically go from MLS to PA without fulfilling the requirements. To become a PA you must graduate from an accredited PA program, pass the PANCE, and obtain state licensure to practice medicine. 

To go off of what MT2PA said, shadow around. I was on track to become a PA at one point but unfortunately plans changed and I ended up going to nursing school. As for now, I enjoy doing what nurses do, and can put off becoming a provider for 1-3 years until I decide to go back to FNP/ENP school. I am very hands-on and from doing my preceptorship in the ER during my final semester, I was very hands on so I don't think I will mind being a nurse before assuming a provider role. 

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5 hours ago, JoshLJaeger said:

I would love to work in labs and stroking that love for science I have, but I don't think it will be rewarding enough.

I worked in a lab for 3.5 years after college doing R and D at a pharmaceutical company; Pathogenics/IVTS/Genotoxicology/Culture.  It wasn't at a hospital or centered around patient specimens.  In my opinion, lab work is lab work, and it monotonous.  I would assume more so in a hospital where you get labs and just have a protocol to follow with very little variability, but I may be wrong on this.  Memorizing a protocol/SOP/batch record is all the same though.  At least outside of the hospital setting you get to MAYBE participate in something novel (might get this with research at hospital), but a B.S. gives you no decision making capability in any setting in the lab.  I left the lab setting for this reason and several others...but you might like that sort of thing, who knows until you try or like MT2PA said, do some shadowing.  That said, I'll never consider going back, just thinking about it makes me regret how much time I wasted.  

Edited by Ket131
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I appreciate all the advice. Since I already work at a hospital system, and have a better chance at getting a job in another dept than most who apply here, I was considering working in the phlebotomy lab here. That way I interact medically with patients and get to see how a lab runs. Would that count as PCE? Also, what are some good ways to approach shadowing? That's volunteer programs I assume?

 

Also, is a PA the kind of job that you have to have had aspirations of doing most of your life? Or is it something someone could learn to love?

Edited by JoshLJaeger
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You can learn to love it, like any other thing you pursue in life =). 

I never had aspirations of becoming a RN, but here I am - given I pass the boards. 

However, do realize that it won't be all butterflies and rainbows. Read up on current news about being a PA. Do the same for any profession you decide to pursue so you're not surprised. 

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1 hour ago, Diggy said:

You can learn to love it, like any other thing you pursue in life =). 

I never had aspirations of becoming a RN, but here I am - given I pass the boards. 

However, do realize that it won't be all butterflies and rainbows. Read up on current news about being a PA. Do the same for any profession you decide to pursue so you're not surprised. 

Not 20 minutes ago I spoke to one of the pediatric nurses on my mother's floor(training for NP). She told me that becoming a Registered nurse can branch out into a wide array of paths.  She said if I was to become a registered nurse and work for a few years, pay my loans, I could pursue an MSN. With an MSN I could become a research nurse. 

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Yes, there are many avenues for RNs, whether direct patient care/clinically related, administration, or research. Even in those categories, you have endless opportunities. But just from our brief conversation, you're painting a picture of not knowing exactly what you want in a lifelong career. Are you interested in clinical work, lab, or research?

There are many positions in medicine (or healthcare), try narrowing down your focus and go from there. 

With an MSc in PA studies, your main focus is being a medical provider. You can venture into administrative positions but you'll have a hard time if you don't already have experience or have an MBA, PhD, or DHSc. A BSN is usually sufficient for these positions with years of experience. An MSN opens even more doors with too many clinical designations to list. 

Edited by Diggy
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11 minutes ago, Diggy said:

Are you interested in clinical work, lab, or research?

I have always been interested in working in laboratory environments, or working for a company conducting research. But I always have had the fear that it wont be reliable enough to support me, so I feel I may need to pursue healthcare as my parents are a great example that it works. But you are right, I'm very undecided and I worry about wasting time.

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8 hours ago, JoshLJaeger said:

I have always been interested in working in laboratory environments, or working for a company conducting research. But I always have had the fear that it wont be reliable enough to support me, so I feel I may need to pursue healthcare as my parents are a great example that it works. But you are right, I'm very undecided and I worry about wasting time.

Depending on your area an MLS should easily start around 50k/year.  I have a friend 10 years in making 80k+/year.  You punch a clock, do your work, and leave it at the hospital every day.  People easily support families on this and you go into a helluva lot less debt getting the degree.  I was always able to obtain multiple offers any time I wanted to move or change positions.  

Lab research on the other hand, I can't comment on salary.

 

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1 hour of doing something and seeing how it makes you feel is probably more enlightening than 1 month of thinking about the possibilities.

Since you work for a hospital, it should be relatively easy to arrange to shadow people in the lab, on the floor, etc. I would do that over taking a certification course in anything at this stage.

We’re all different and reading words about career paths to make decisions is generally less effective than being there for a few hours.

Good luck.


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