Undergraduate education: I received my B.A. in Journalism with a minor in creative writing from UNC-Chapel Hill eight years ago. Since then, I’ve worked at various media outlets. Unfortunately, there isn’t much job stability in journalism, and I was on the hunt for a new career that I could be passionate about that had better job prospects. I decided in 2015 that I wanted to go to PA school, and started working on prereqs. I also applied to a Surgical Technology program – it was something I was interested in and the program was only 9 months, so it was a quick(ish) way for me to start working toward clinical experience.
Overall GPA: 3.45
Science GPA: 3.69
Post-Bacc GPA (100 semester credit hours): 3.89
Total HCE hours: 100+ hours volunteering in PACU and the OR at Level I Trauma Center
Total PCE hours: 500 hours as a Surgical Tech (at time of submission)
Shadowing hours: PA: 20 in Primary Care, 20 in Plastics/Burns Inpatient Surgery; MD: 16 in Emergency Medicine
Other volunteer hours: Summer camps, Children’s Museum
LORs: With my LORs and personal statement, I wanted to make sure to really drive home why I was a uniquely qualified applicant even though I come from such a different background. Over the past few years, I have kept in close touch with both a former boss and a former manager (from two different jobs), so by the time I asked them for LORs, they really understood what I was doing and my reasons behind it. They wrote to my strengths that translated from working in journalism in to working in healthcare, which I think was vital for my application. My other two LORs were from a Surgical Tech preceptor, and from an MD who I shadowed, and who has known me for most of my life.
How many times did you apply?: Once
Age: 30 (I was 28 when I started taking prereqs)
How many programs did you apply to? 12
How many programs did you interview with and what were the outcomes? I only went to two interviews, and they were in the same week. I really didn’t click well with the first one – neither the location nor the program, but it was great practice. The interview later in the week was for one of my top schools, and I felt very confident going in to it. I loved everything: the city, the students, the staff, the program. They told me at the end of the day that I was in! It was an incredible day. At this point, I’ve received three other interview invites, which I’ve declined.
Any red flags on your application? Not having enough PCE/HCE. Because I was a little older going in to this, and I knew it would take two years to get my prereqs done and start working as a Surgical Tech, I really focused on getting in on the first cycle. Every program I applied to emphasized a holistic look at applicants. I expect to have 1000+ PCE hours by the time I start PA school, but I knew it would be seen as a weak point on my application not having a lot of hours when I submitted.
Also, my undergrad overall GPA was a 3.1 and I had several low grades (one D and a few Cs). They were in courses like Law and Economics – so I really didn’t stress about programs caring about those grades (and none of them mentioned them). Because I took SO many credit hours post-Bacc, that GPA came up significantly, and I don’t think my GPAs were any kind of red flag.
Anything you found surprising about interviews? The parts that I thought I would be most nervous about – the actual interviews – turned out to be the most comfortable. What really made me nervous was waiting around! At my second interview, I waited for more than an hour to get called into the group interview and several hours again for my individual interview. I was a mess - I think we all were. I tried to get to know the other interviewees while we waited and just chatted about anything/everything just to take our minds off of being so nervous waiting.
Were there any helpful resources (books, websites, apps) you used to get through prerequisite courses, the application or interview process? At my interviews, the staff really just wanted to get to know you. When preparing for interviews, definitely be ready to talk about why you want to be a PA, and why you like their program. But apart from that, just be able to comfortably talk about yourself and your own strengths and interests. I’d say the very best practice you can have is to have those conversations with your family and friends over and over – literally practice this for months. Get used to talking easily about why you want to be a PA, and practice talking about yourself in a non-egotistical way. If it feels comfortable to talk about those things casually with your friends, you’ll come across as confident (but not cocky) during your interview.
Any other advice for other pre-PA students?With my background in writing, I want to take a moment to talk about personal statements. I realize this goes against a lot of the advice that’s out there (and of course, this is just my opinion and I don't claim to be an expert). It seems that the trend has been to start off personal statements with a dramatic story or hook. Things like: “It was a cold and rainy night and the lights from the ambulance were all I could see…”. I really do not think that is necessary. You need to show why you are going to be a great PA student and practicing PA. If you’ve got a good story, and that story plays a huge part of why you want to be a PA, go for it. But eliminate the drama and the adjectives. Cut to the chase. The admissions committees don't care if you can write a good story, they care if you’re going to be a strong student and have what it takes to become a PA. I’m not saying you should just write out a list of reasons you want to be a PA and call it a day. You should be able to write well about why you’re passionate about becoming a physician assistant. Write it in your own voice and avoid clichés.
The personal statement plays a huge part in getting that interview invite, and the schools just want to get a better understanding of who you are aside from your grades and experiences. It’s your personality that should jump off the paper, not your ability to write a good story. My opener on my personal statement was: "I have always had an interest in medicine, but I didn't know until just a few years ago that it was a path I would pursue myself." Then I spent the rest of it talking about my path and how I realized becoming a PA was right for me. Straight to the point of addressing what makes me a unique applicant.
Where can we find you? I have an Instagram account that I hope to expand with pre-PA tips over the next year, and then document my time in PA school when I start next fall. You can follow along at @kate.pa_s