I made the decision between being a PA and a nurse. As you can see based on the board I'm on, I chose nursing. I had several reasons.
1. I could finish nursing school
sooner than PA school, so I'd be without an income shorter. I was newly engaged, and while we could financially handle me being out of work for 1.5 years (I went through a post-bacc program for nursing), we couldn't afford the 3 years out that PA school required.
2. Nursing offers a wider variety of practice areas. If I wanted critical care, I could do it. If I wanted to go into psych, or public health, or education, I could do that, too. There's more room to find your niche. PA grads are a bit more limited in practice areas.
3. In some states, nurse practitioners can practice without a physician. Not true of PA's (at least, this is to my knowledge-- if I'm wrong, please let me know!).
4. Salaries are pretty comparable for critical care nurse practitioners and critical care PA's.
5. I wanted to hone my bedside nursing/ assessment skills prior to advancing. Eventually, I'll probably do nurse practitioner in some capacity. I would like to have a hand in the diagnostics. I suppose the journey would have been shorter to that point had I just jumped into a PA program. However, my experiences/ skills earned as a nurse will help me as a practitioner.
6. When I'm older and want to retire, I'll be able to cut my hours back and work in a less physically stressful area (case management, clinical education, etc.). If I were a PA, I think I'd be more or less stuck in the PA track until retirement.
7. As a PA, you're often salaried, on-call, and working 12+ hour days, 4-6 days a week. As a nurse, I work 12 hour, shifts three days a week on an hourly pay rate. Anything greater than 12 hours, or three days a week, is overtime. I can choose overtime if I need it/ want to make a big purchase, but can also have 8 days off in a row every two weeks if I so choose. Of course, nurse practitioners are salaried and have the same schedules as PA's. So, if you want NP, that's something to think of. If you have a family, nursing is more forgiving in terms of scheduling than NP or PA, so if you want to devote time to family and then go for PA/ NP after kids are older, nursing miught be better suited.
So, those were the big factors that made me decide to go for nursing. Granted, by now I'd be earning PA pay if I had done the PA program, but if I pick up overtime I'm making PA pay (and I get the freedom of choosing my work days).
I don't think there's a right or wrong choice, as both careers are rewarding. But I do think that if you're desiring PA diagnostics, and you go into nursing, plan on eventually going back for your nurse practitioner. You may not be satisfied with bedside nursing forever, although bedside nursing is a wonderful skill to have and will add to your diagnostic skills.