Thank you so much for your responses and thoughts! Both are very helpful and rather thought-provoking too - which is exactly what I hoped for
I've spent considerable time researching all this because, well, being 15 years out of college, with a lot of professional/management experience, and a healthy work/life balance - nothing to take lightly in 2012 - I don't want to make a big change without really preparing myself. If I'd done as much research back in college as I'm doing now, I'd have chosen an entirely different career path.
Nursing schools are indeed competitive, particularly from a gpa standpoint. However I've come across 2 local community colleges that only look at GPA for the pre-nursing curriculum (think A&P 1/2, microbiology)...and fortunately I've not taken those courses. Thus I feel very good that being much more mature and focused, I can do well in those courses and get accepted into their ADN programs.
Working while going to school - at least part-time - seems doable in an associates and later, rn-bsn/msn online-type program. So from a debt standpoint, this is attractive, plus at least there's some token chance an employer might help with tuition for improving my would be nursing credentials. Perhaps this is unrealistic?
Meanwhile, I don't know any PA students that have managed to work, even part-time, during their programs. Then too, I'm particularly skeptical that someone employing me as an EMT or CNA (in order to get direct HCE) would help me pay for PA school. Not to mention, my only shot to be a PA would be through a private school (re: expensive ~$70k+). That's all assuming I could get accepted which from my talks with admissions counselors, seems like a slim possibility.
The one thing the PA route offers, I think, is that there is no expectation by and large of previous PA experience for new grad jobs. Many of the PA's I know have gotten their first jobs at facilities where they did their clinicals. In nursing it appears for many new grads they can't find work without experience. From what I am seeing the same holds true for NP's without nursing experience. Worse, you'd likely have more debt and time invested to get to be an NP, only to find yourself unable to work.
The NHSC has programs for loan repayment but here too I wonder about anyone giving you a job without any meaningful nursing experience.
My dream would be to practice independently and have a community/low-income health center and provide basic, primary care services. I've volunteered at such places before and have enjoyed it immensely.
So that leaves me with...
a) go to a CC for an ADN program.
Some chance of getting tuition assistance?
Takes 2 years, same as PA school, but only nets an associates
Very uncertain job prospects
b) keep taking PA prereqs (many of which coincide nicely with Nursing prereqs) and hope to get accepted somewhere
2 years and done
Meets long-term goals for practice and work scope
Better opportunities for new grads
Chances of getting in are low
Very expensive ~$70k+
c) go into some other allied health field: physical therpay, occupational therapy, speech-lanaguage, clinical/medical social work