Jourdyn from The PA Life graciously offered to share her advice with you all about how to choose what PA programs to apply to and attend. This is such important information because you don't want to waste your money or time on programs that may not actually be a good fit for you. I love Jourdyn's enthusiasm and she has some amazingly informative posts on her site, so make sure you check it out. And if you don't already follow her on Instagram, you can find Jourdyn at @thepa_life
To start this post off I would like to say “congrats”! You may ask why I’m congratulating you? Well, it is because you have decided to embark down an amazing journey to becoming a Physician Assistant! Are you excited about your choice? You should be!! Not only is it a growing career field, but it is also a career that comes with a great deal of satisfaction…and to that, you deserve some recognition for your amazing choice! Now that you have picked this field, you may question what the next step is in order to achieve your goal of becoming a PA. You will dive into the world of CASPA, interviews, and upon a simple Google search find a vast array of information on how to successfully matriculate into a PA program. After working your way up to a large amount of healthcare hours, spending many hours perfecting your personal essay, and reading what feels like a small library of books and articles on how to crush your interviews…you might find yourself wondering: how do I actually pick a school to go to? How do I know if this is going to be a good fit for me? What if I pick the wrong one?
This, my friends, is where I come in. I was in your shoes once, and I had the same exact questions. I stressed about what school would be the most conducive to a gratifying PA experience, as I knew my choice in program would pave the way for my career as a Physician Assistant. So, stress no more! I am here to give you my top 5 tips on how to pick a PA program that is right for you!
- Always check to see if they are accredited. PA schools go through a process where they need to be nationally reviewed to ensure their curriculum and faculty follow certain standards. This is super important because if your school happens to not get accredited, you won’t be able to attend that program until they do. A really good site to look at is http://www.arc-pa.org/accreditation/accredited-programs/, which has an extensive list of programs that are accredited, and when the next time they will be reviewed! This is a simple factor to check, but is really an important one to do!
- Another important factor on choosing what school will be right for you is to look at PANCE pass rates. You will be working incredibly hard through your curriculum, no matter what program you go into, so it only makes sense to check on a potential school to make sure their curriculum will prepare you well for the PANCE. The closer they are to 100% the better!
- Location, location, location! Some PA programs are located on undergraduate campuses, some on their own campus, some in the heart of enormous cities, and others are located in small rural areas in the mountains. By the time people apply to PA school, you generally have a feel for which setting you feel most comfortable in. In PA school, really anything that is going to make the school year easier and more enjoyable for you is going to benefit you in the long run. If you get annoyed by traffic, you may find after a long day of listening to lectures and studying, even a 15 minute delay makes for an even more stressful day. So before you spend money on a program, make sure the location is factored into your choice. Although, it seems minor or that you could “fight through” an un-ideal location for a year or so…it really will make your life easier in the long run.
- Research the school to see what their emphasis is. Some programs love volunteering, others have a stronger focus on research, and still others have a passion for public health and infuse it into their curriculum. In addition, some programs offer global educational trips, others have non-profit clinics you can work at, and the list goes on and on of many other curriculum-enriching experiences you can partake in. It is little characteristics like this that will help you connect to a program and make for a more worthwhile experience!
- Be passionate about your choice! Don’t apply to programs that aren’t going to be the right fit for you. Yes, it is amazing to get into a PA school, but when you are spending thousands of dollars on your education and 2-3 years of your life, you want to make sure that it is THE PA program for you. When you are at an interview, yes you are being interviewed, but also realize that the program is interviewing for a spot in your life too. Ask questions to the interviewing panel to ensure they are the right fit for you. Do you want an anatomy lab where you can dissect the whole cadaver? Ask that question! Do you want a program that has workout facilities because running is what you do to de-stress? Then ask that too! Are you curious what measures they have in place to ensure student success such a tutors, remediation examinations, or 24/7 access to a library or study area? Totally worth asking about! Allow yourself to be selective and don’t settle for anything less than a program that sparks an excitement in you as you embark on your journey to becoming a PA student.
Yes, picking a PA program can be a hard, as getting into a PA school is a daunting enough task. But when you ask the right questions and do your research, you are one step closer to making a better choice on the PA program that is right for you.
Out of all the tips I can give you, the most important one is to trust your gut and your heart. When you find the right program, you will know it.
For a little more info on Jourdyn - I am currently a PA student at UW-Madison and will begin my clinical year in 1 short month! My favorite thing about being a PA student is the ability to learn and grow from all the valuable resources around me. I have so many knowledgeable, genuine, and compassionate people that have already guided me in my career as a PA student, and I will hopefully be able to surround myself with similar individuals once practicing. In addition, being a PA means that I can make a positive impact on a patient's life every single day. Not many careers can say that, and that leaves me awestruck and humbled every day.
Some things I have done up to this point include becoming a head student leader for a medical mission trip to Belize, being nominated as a student speaker for my undergraduate commencement ceremony, and am a member of one of the only rural based PA cohorts in the US. In my free time I enjoy traveling, spending time with my family, friends, and wonderful boyfriend, running, taking pictures, and drinking coffee in local coffee shops!