Pre-PA

So Why Do You Want to Be a PA?

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This is a question that you can be expected to answer multiple time, even daily when you make the decision to become a PA.  Here is one PA's answer to the common question of "Why PA?"


I stumbled upon the profession by chance. I was a junior in high school when a friend of mine casually brought up the title Physician Assistant. I had no concept of what it meant to be a PA but I was intrigued. Luckily for me the internet was swarming with information so I quickly learned the vital role PAs play in medicine.

Once you graduate from a PA Program and receive your license you can start working in the specialty of your dreams - it seemed unreal. In addition, as a PA you have the autonomy to actively manage patients beside a doctor. Your job description can widely vary depending on the area of medicine which you are employed. Although all PAs require a "supervising physician" in order to practice, this does not mean that a doctor is present during all of your patient interactions. Many PAs actually have their ownschedule of patients they independently care for. Picture this: You see a patient, obtain a history, perform a physical exam and find that they have developed an infection. As a PA you are then able to initiate a treatment plan. If your plan includes ordering lab tests and writing a prescription for antibiotics, you can make those decisions without having to consult with a doctor. However, if something seems unusual or you are not quite sure how to proceed forward, you have the comfort of asking your supervising physician for guidance. I feel that is actually one of the most comforting aspects of the profession, I am never alone. I always have someone I can bounce ideas off of and to rely on if I hit a crossroad.

Another appealing facet of the profession is you can work as little as 3 days a week in some specialties and consider yourself full time! In other words, working as a PA it is possible to establish a great work life balance. In addition, if your ever need to supplement your income there are ample opportunities to pick up extra shifts. I am constantly receiving job opportunities from recruiters for per diem and locum tenens positions. Working part time or even taking a hiatus from your career is not uncommon. In 2015 the NCCPA found 1,481 PAs were not in clinical practice due to family responsibilities. For example, I am taking time off from my clinical duties to be at home with my newborn daughter. I love having the comfort in knowing that when I am ready to re-enter practice again, I will be able to find a job suitable for me.

Duke University established the first PA program in 1965. For a profession that birthed its first three PAs in 1967, PAs have come a long way. At the end of 2014 there were 101,977 board certified PAs in the country. I consider myself lucky to be a part of the movement, and so should you!

Charishma Nayyar Mankikar, PA-C, is a plastic surgery physician assistant and the founder of PAsRISE.com


How To Prepare for PA School in Undergrad

I'm excited to share a guest post with you from a soon-to-be PA student, Aashna!  Make sure to check out her site for more great advice and to follow her journey through PA school.  

1. Pre-reqs

You don't have to be a biology or chemistry major to apply to PA school. I know a lot of applicants that majored in exercise science, HHP, and even in history before applying to Med/PA school. If you are a non-science major, make sure you take all the pre-reqs required for the programs you're looking at. This takes a bit of planning and something your advisor would be able to help you out with.

2. GPA & GRE

Every year PA schools are becoming more and more competitive and the minimum GPA and GRE scores required keep rising. It's important to keep in mind that the minimum required GPA & GRE scores and the average GPA & GRE scores of the accepted students are two different things. You want your GPA & GRE scores to be either in the same vicinity or higher than the average scores of accepted students. That doesn't mean that you won't get in if you have a GPA that's lower than the accepted average, but it definitely makes you a stronger applicant.

3. Shadowing

Most programs REQUIRE you to have a certain amount of minimum PA shadowing experience prior to applying to PA school. I would suggest shadowing at least two PAs in different specialties so you can a look at what all is out there and if becoming a PA is something you're still interested in. It's a good idea to start shadowing a few years in advance during your summer breaks to accumulate your shadowing hours.

4. Volunteering

Again, depending on the program, volunteering in a hospital or a clinic can count as part of your healthcare experience. It's a good idea to call and ask the program you're looking at what exactly they require. Not all of your volunteering needs to be in a clinical setting. While non-clinical volunteering won't count towards your healthcare experience, it's a nice way for you to show what else you're interested in and are passionate about. 

5. Hands-on healthcare experience

Depending on what program you're applying to, they'll either have a set number of recommended or required hands-on (paid or unpaid) healthcare experience. While one program may accept shadowing and volunteering as part of your healthcare experience, others might not. At some programs, if you have 200-300+ hours of healthcare experience, you are considered a competitive applicant. But there are also programs out there that require a minimum of 1000-1500+ hours of hands-on healthcare experience. Don't let this intimidate you. These programs are usually for people who are considering becoming a PA as their second career. There are plenty of programs that you can apply to that don't require as much experience.

6. Research

At one of my interviews, I was asked if I had any research experience. Although it is not required for you to have done research in order to apply to PA school, it can bump up your chances of getting an interview invitation. And it's even better if you've been published in a scientific journal. If you think you don't have the time to do research during the school year, try to find out if you can conduct research at your university during the summer. Another option is to look up summer internships that might available for undergrads in your area.

7. Letters of recommendation

A lot of people don't think about developing a strong professional relationship with their advisors, professors, or healthcare providers they shadow/work with until it's time to apply to PA school. Try to keep in mind that the people you work with or learn from can write a stronger and more personal LOR than someone who doesn't really know your strengths or your abilities.

 

These are just some of the things I suggest you consider while you're preparing to apply to PA school. It's important to keep in mind that every student is going to have a different background and experience, and that is okay. The admissions committee doesn't expect all of us to be the same. It's also okay to have a gap year or two in between, as I did, and still be considered a strong applicant. As long as you're passionate about becoming a PA and are willing to work hard, you can achieve anything you set your mind to! 


 Hi! I’m Aashna, a Physician Assistant student, documenting my journey of becoming a PA. When I was thinking of applying to PA school, there were not a lot of resources available to me where I could read personal experiences of other PA students or practicing PAs. I decided to start blogging as a way to provide support, encouragement, and advice for anyone that is looking into the PA profession. On my blog, I share advice and tips for pre-PAs and will soon start posting about my experiences as a PA-S. Sometimes, you’ll also get to read my random musings about life and how I try to stay organized. To read more articles, head on over to my blog at apthepa.blogspot.com


My Journey to PA School

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So a lot of hopeful PAs I meet ask how I got to where I am today.  I was accepted the first year I applied and am now in Dermatology, which is a very desirable field.  Well I'll let you know what worked for me!

I first learned what a Physician Assistant was when I was in high school.  My dad went to his primary care and saw a PA for the first time.  Knowing that I was possibly interested in the medical field, he mentioned to me that it may be something I should look into.  I was a junior at the time, and not too concerned with my future, but when senior year started it was time to make some decisions.

I ended up at the University of Georgia, and declared Biology as my major.  I made this decision really just because it left my options pretty open.  I knew I wouldn't be able to do much with that alone, so I would be forced to make some kind of decision.  The idea of a PA was still in the back of my mind, but I wasn't completely sold yet.  I think during my first year of college, I researched and considered all types of things, including research, medical school, teaching high school, nursing school, PT school, dental school, and who knows what else.  But ultimately, I decided PA was the way I wanted to go.

So I started shadowing, got my CNA license and struggled through O-Chem, while wondering if all of this was going to be worth it.  PA school has become so dang competitive!! I'm a very detail-oriented person and spent a ton of time researching what it takes to catch the eye of these PA programs, so I felt pretty prepared when it came time to apply, but still terrified.

I applied as soon as possible (July 1st!) and I applied to all of the programs in Georgia, even though I clearly didn't have all of the requirements for some of the programs.  (I'll explain more about how I chose the programs I did in a future post.)  Fall of 2011 came, and I ended up getting interviews at the 2 programs I was actually qualified for, MCG and South University.  I prepared by doing a mock interview with a PA I had shadowed, and it was SO helpful!  Interviews came and went, and I actually ended up getting the call that I was accepted into MCG about 15 minutes after my interview ended at South!  That was an amazing feeling!

I graduated from UGA in December of 2011 to give myself a few months to prepare and relax before starting PA school (which I would definitely recommend) and started the program at MCG/GRU in May of 2012!  The rest is history, and by the grace of God, I am now helping patients at a job I love going to everyday (well, most days)!