Q&A With an (Almost) PA

Hey guys!! Long time, no talk! I am back from my overseas adventures and am excited to start our PA chats back up!

After getting multiple DMs with your questions about PA school, I’ve decided to dedicate this post to the most common questions I have been receiving!! I remember being exactly in your shoes and having SOOOO many questions related to going into the PA profession/school, so hopefully my answers set your mind at ease 🙂

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What did you do for clinical experience?

I worked as a CNA for my clinical hours, both in a nursing home and in-home care. I received my certification during winter break of my sophomore year of undergrad. After getting my certification, I worked full time over all my summer breaks, and PRN during the school years. I believe I ended up with about 2000 hours of clinical hours when applying.


Did you volunteer?

I feel like this is the most underappreciated portion of the application process and may have been one of my biggest assets when applying. I spent a lot of my free time in undergrad volunteering at the local food pantry, for events through college clubs, on mission trips during school breaks, and at my church. I think that when you have volunteering hours, it demonstrates how dedicated you are to helping those in need. It also shows your ability to balance your time between extracurricular activities and school, which will continue to be important in PA school. Plus, whenever you’re having just a God-awful day I’ve found that volunteering is the ultimate way to turn it around. Nothing makes you feel better than seeing the effect your help has on others!

Plus, whenever you’re having just a God-awful day I’ve found that volunteering is the ultimate way to turn it around. Nothing makes you feel better than seeing the effect your help has on others!


Did you shadow?

YES…and it was awesome! Not every school requires it, but my advice is DO IT. You wouldn’t apply for a job when you have no idea what the job requirements are! That is exactly what shadowing is. PA school is a huge time commitment, so why invest your precious time into it if you’re not entirely sure if it is for you? Shadowing gives you the ability to see first hand what a PA does, you are able to get their view on the career, and it helps you figure out if the career is right for you! There are absolutely no cons to shadowing a PA (plus who doesn’t want to hang out with a PA for a day?)!


What about GPA?

This requirement varies from school to school, but most PA schools would recommend at least a 3.4-3.5 overall to be competitive for school (even though some say 3.0 is the min requirement). If you are below this, do not fret! There is a combination of factors that go into a successful PA application, and GPA is not all encompassing of the applicant. If you are feeling a little bit on the lower end of the GPA spectrum, I recommend re-taking courses that your lower grades are in. This will boost your GPA, and you will feel more confident going into PA school as well! My undergraduate GPA was a 3.8 overall, but I knew I needed to keep my grades up due to the fact I wouldn’t be as experienced on the clinical hour end of things. Every single one of my classmates entered with different strengths, so please do not be discouraged if one part of your application is not as strong as other parts!


How much medical terminology did you have prior to school?

Prior to PA school, the most I did with medical terminology was enrolling in an online medical terminology course through a tech college that was 4 weeks during the summer. Although some schools do not require it, I recommend doing a quick course to brush up on your terminology, as you will use it right away in your anatomy course and all through didactic year!


What is the best thing to do before starting PA school?

Nothing. Do not study, do not start cruising through your books, nothing. Your PA school will prepare you plenty once you start. If anything I would go on a vacation or do something that you enjoy. PA school is a pretty serious time commitment so if you can get in a few thing you love to do before starting, you will thank yourself once school starts!


Did I feel prepared going into PA school?

Yes and no. I think I felt ready to begin the curriculum and further my education, but I guess no one really knows what to expect going into such a rigorous program. It is a lot of hard work, and your program will definitely get you to where you need to be…but it is like “drinking out of a fire hose”. At first it seems a little overwhelming, but you soon settle into the routine of school and all is fine again 🙂

In addition, I don’t think there is much you can do to prepare yourself prior to starting school in order to best handle the rigors of the program. Yes, if you’ve worked as an EMT or in a certain specialty you may have a leg-up in your emergency medicine course or for like 2 weeks in a certain module, but pretty much everyone is on the same level of the playing field once school really starts rolling. So don’t fret! I felt wildly underprepared going into PA school (I shot right from undergrad into PA school without getting much outside clinical experience) and I have been doing just fine in my program 🙂


 Do you have a life outside of PA school?

YES! The wonderful surprising thing I have found out is that there is most definitely time for life outside of school. I have an amazingly wonderful boyfriend who I see almost every day, I go to almost all of my brothers’ sporting events, I go and grab coffee with friends, and I have actually gone on 3 trips to California, Washington D.C., and Italy since starting the program. If you buckle down and get your work done and plan your time wisely, you can most definitely still do things you love!


How do you figure out a specialty?

I’m still figuring this out myself. After going through all but 5 weeks of didactic year, so far I’ve really enjoyed dermatology, cardiology, and oncology. Granted, my interests may change dramatically once I am out in my clinical rotations and get “real life” experience in these specialties. When ultimately deciding on a specialty, I think you need to stay true to yourself and your interests, evaluate what kind of life you want to lead (as some specialties demand a lot more hours than others, while others demand weird hours), and go into your career with flexibility and an open mind. Worst case scenario: you hate your choice…but since you decided to be a PA that’s no big deal since you have lateral mobility (one of the many perks of being a PA)!


What is the worst thing about PA school?

I think my least favorite thing so far has been feeling like the school work is never going to end. On those weeks when you have 4-6 exams within a two-week window you really question your sanity of why you wanted to do this haha (but seriously…). Yes, no one really enjoys taking exams or being stressed out, but there are always those moments sprinkled into didactic year that remind you that one day you will actually be out practicing medicine and interacting with patients! I guess it’s like that saying..”no pain, no gain”. Even though I say that is the “worst” part, it honestly is really not bad in the whole scheme of things. Yes, a lot of exam taking is involved…but you just take it one day at a time and you get through! Plus, you feel so accomplished getting to check one more exam off the list every time 🙂


What is the best thing about PA school?

Honestly, I don’t think I could name only one!! Seriously, the whole experience has been nothing but positive for me! I absolutely adore my classmates…and they are some of the best friends I have ever made in my life. They have my back 100%, are hysterically funny, and pick me up when I’m having a bad day or get me up to speed on a topic if I don’t totally get it. We are each other’s cheerleaders, advocates, and support team. Yes, your family and significant others will be a wonderful source of support and love, but it really is your classmates that fully appreciate your struggles (mostly because they are experiencing it as well). They are by far, one of the best parts of the program.

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Another thing I’ve loved about PA school is the curriculum (which somewhat contradicts my “least fav thing, I know). In undergrad, there were so many classes I took that felt kind of pointless in the grand scheme of things (sorry, but I am NOT applying that art course to real-life, no matter how much I loved that class). The beautiful thing about PA school is that you use every single one of those courses. Yes, you will end up choosing in a certain specialty, but chances are many different aspects of your curriculum will be infused into your career. So even though you are working super hard during didactic year, it makes me feel better knowing I’m working hard in classes that will be super useful to me one day!

Lastly, PA school constantly reminds me of the one reason I went into medicine: to help others. People are coming to you at their most vulnerable, and having a career that will make an impact on their lives is really humbling. Not many careers can say that they have the ability to change the course of a person’s life, but when you go into medicine that is exactly what you are doing! To have the potential to make a positive impact on patients’ lives each and every day is the biggest motivation and inspiration for me to be the best PA I can be!

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If there are any other questions that I did not hit above, please comment them below and I will most definitely answer them 🙂

…And if I haven’t hammered home the point enough, the PA journey really rocks and is well worth it in the end!

J

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2 Comments

  1. Brennan
    April 27, 2017 / 6:34 pm

    If you have an average GPA (still high enough to qualify for PA school), and will end up with around a thousand patient care hours, 200+ hours of volunteering and shadowing, would you still apply for PA school? I don’t want to apply if my chances are low due to my GPA and I could spend the next year getting better hours or retaking classes. On the other hand, I really don’t want to postpone applying in case I would have to apply multiple years to get accepted.! Do you have any advice?

    • April 28, 2017 / 3:30 pm

      Hey Brennan, it sounds like your stats are pretty solid! I’m not sure what your exact GPA is, as that would determine eligibility for certain programs.
      I can see why you’re torn between taking a gap year or not. In one sense, yes it is nice to move on to your next step of education…but at the same time I recommend a gap year to anyone that is debating taking one. I think that nothing bad can come from gaining more experience and confidence through health care experience, earning some money, building up your GPA, and taking a year to just live life before diving into a rigorous and time consuming program! Plus, PA school is only 2-3 years (depending on the program) so even if you do not get in on your first try, it is not like you will be putting your life on hold for forever if you get in on your second try.
      That is my personal opinion on the matter, but I think you just need to evaluate your confidence in your application and make a decision based off of that! Hope that helps, and best of luck with everything 🙂