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PA or Masters in Surgical Assisting - major dilemma

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Hello everyone!
Long story story short, I desperately want to get into the OR (and yes, I know what I'm getting myself into...just not sure about the best way to get there).
I am debating whether to go for a Masters in Surgical Assisting, or try to become a surgical PA. If I was going to pursue PA, I don't have any PCE yet and would need to start accumulating that right away while I work on pre-reqs.
Surgical Assisting Pros:
  • Fewer pre-reqs than PA school 
  • No PCE necessary (but I will have some)
  • I can apply in 6-8 months (vs. 1+ years for PA school while I get the extra pre-reqs/PCE)
  • This program says that 100% of graduates have job offers before graduating, because the program is well known in the area
But I'm worried that I might be boxing myself in with surgical assisting; if I can't get a job as CSFA, then it's not like I can switch specialities like a PA could. I guess I could always go back to PA school if I don't love surgical assisting, but that's a lot of debt to end up where I could've just started.
My main concern is that I won't be as competitive for PA school because I don't have any PCE yet (I'm going to start working as behavior technician for children with autism, which I'm sure would count at some PA schools). Perhaps I should apply to surgical assisting and PA school at the same time and just see what happens? Or maybe get a quick medical certification like phlebotomy, and start working PCE that might be more competitive than RBT hours?
Any opinions would be greatly appreciated. This is a totally new world for me. 
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Before you commit to a healthcare career, you should get patient care experience, regardless of the route you decide to take.

As my Mom used to say, "Many a man (she'd probably be less-gender-specific these days) climbed a career ladder until they finally realized that it was leaning against the wrong wall."


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My best advice would be to keep the longevity of your career in mind at all times. You are absolutely correct about the potential to be boxing yourself in with surgical assisting. While I know plenty of people who love their jobs and have great careers as surgical assistants, you will have limited (if any) options down the road if you burn out, or want a change. 

Pursuing PA now may be a heavier investment in the short term (debt, obtaining quality HCE, etc), but if you consider 15-20 years down the road, it will give you more options, including surgical specialties. 

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  • 3 weeks later...

I worked as a Surgical Tech for my PCE and am currently in PA school. I'd strongly suggest PA over first assist for a few reasons. 

Not all states recognize CSFA (and my understanding is that even if the job is recognized, there are very few positions available). I worked as a Surgical Tech in Washington, where they're not recognized. Residents, PAs, and RNFAs are the only people I ever saw assisting in surgery. A surprising number of surgeons employed their own RNFA. We discussed CSFA when I was in the surgical tech program, and it's difficult to see the reasoning to get the degree. It's a master's degree, equal in length to most PA programs, and your scope of practice is limited to the OR. Many physicians need the extra help that a PA can provide in clinic and caring for pre and post-op patients, not necessarily in surgery.

I was also certain I wanted to work in surgery when I first started thinking about PA school (I had a much different first career before I did surg tech). But now I am VERY grateful to not have limited myself. There are things I love about the OR, and I may consider working in a surgical specialty when I graduate (or at some point during my career as a PA), but I've also found several other non-surgical specialties that I really like as well. I would NOT have believed that possible several years ago, but you grow a LOT as you are exposed to so many different aspects of medicine, and truly one of the best perks of becoming a PA is that lateral mobility. 

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