Guest Post: Why I Decided to Go Back to School


Hey Everyone!  I'm so excited to bring you a guest post from someone I spend more time with than my husband, and who keeps me sane - the medical assistant I love the most, Taylor.  I'm really lucky to work with someone who is also one of my best friends, and we have SO much fun.  She also is one of the most positive people I've ever met, and she puts up with my (occasional) stress and negativity so well.  I'm so proud (and sad) that she's decided to pursue becoming a PA, and I think you'll gain a ton of knowledge by following her journey here!  

This one time we dressed the same for the Christmas party completely on accident!

This one time we dressed the same for the Christmas party completely on accident!

    Hey there! My name is Taylor and I work with Savanna. I have been working in the medical field for almost six years now, and as a Medical Assistant for four years. If you were to ask me in high school what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was always the next Katie Couric. Friends actually signed my senior yearbook with “Can’t wait to see you on The Today Show!”  I come from a family with zero medical backgrounds, and honestly I was never interested in medicine. Flash forward to my senior year of college in 2010, and realized I really don’t see myself having a career in PR. I was one semester away from graduating and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. 

    I moved to a new city and started to look for PR jobs with non-profits. After several months on the job search, and a quick stent at my favorite quick-service restaurant (let’s just say ‘my pleasure’ is forever engrained in my head), I came home to my roommate telling me I had a job interview with a local dermatologist. This is just one example of one of the most valuable lessons that I have learned post-college - networking is everything. This roommate worked at a hair salon where my new boss had her hair done, and mentioned that she was looking for a new hire since her receptionist just got into PA school. Always be on the lookout for opportunities to network! 

    I asked my roommate what the job entailed, and she had no idea. All I knew is it sounded somewhat interesting, and I knew I wanted a change of scenery. I went into the interview, and the first question they asked was “Are you okay with blood?” I responded with a cautious “Sure?”  The office manager proceeded to tell me the different responsibilities of the job, and the tasks I would be doing. I started off mostly as a front desk receptionist, and worked with the physician one morning a week so her medical assistant had time to do paperwork and catch up on other tasks. After a few months on the job, I could see that being in back with patients, interacting with them, and learning about dermatology, was the most enjoyable part of my job. 

    A few years later, we hired a Physician Assistant and I became her full time medical assistant. This was as far as I could move up the ‘totem pole’ at my job, and for several months was satisfied with where I was. For someone who had no experience in the medical field, I found it very intriguing and could see why people would want this career. When I first started this job, I knew being an MA was not something I could see myself doing my entire life. For several years I thought about possibly going back to school, but to be honest, it scared me, and I thought it would be too much. One of my greatest weaknesses is my love of comfort. I was comfortable with where I was. I knew what was expected of me and knew my job and could do it well. 

    This year, I finally decided it was time. I never wanted to look back in five years, and regret the fact that I wasn’t willing to take a leap into the unknown. I am single, don’t have children, and thankfully did not have student loans, so what was I waiting for? I was quite nervous when I first decided to go back to school. I have been out of college for six years, the only science classes I took were 10 years ago, and I am working full time. How was I going to juggle all this?! One step at a time, that’s how. So in September, I began. I am two classes down of the eight I need to apply for PA school, and guess what? I’m still alive! It has taken a lot of time management (Hello Kate Spade Planner for the win), saying no to dinners with friends and weekends away, and knowing that “This too shall pass.” 

    For all of you college students out there wanting to go to PA school straight after graduation, I am kind of jealous. I have thought recently how nice it would have been to graduate with a degree and know exactly what you wanted to do for a career. But do I have any regrets about waiting? No.  I have learned some valuable lessons in my twenties. I have learned what it means to live on my own, that the real world is not as easy at it seems, that time management is very important, and that it really is never too late to chase a dream. All it takes is one little step, and that first step is usually the hardest, but is always worth it. I do not know where this road the Lord has me on is headed, but I am going to trust that “there are far better things ahead than anything we leave behind.”

If you're struggling with deciding if this is something you can do, i hope Taylor's story and insights have provided some encouragement to keep pursuing your dreams!  Leave any comments or questions for Taylor below!  And if there's anything else you would like to hear her perspective on, leave a comment! 

Getting into PA School with a Low GPA


So the question comes up a lot about whether it is possible to get accepted into PA school with lower grades or an overall low GPA.  If you work hard enough and apply widely and realistically, there is almost always a way to reach your goals, but that can be difficult when you're staring at some C's and D's and a number that is lower than you had hoped.  It is discouraging to know you are going to be quickly judged and maybe not even considered because of some mistakes in school or a really difficult schedule.  I hope to encourage you and provide some hope and tips for how you can still make your dreams happen.  And thanks to Bhmbl from Reddit for some of the ideas in this post.  Make sure to check out the Pre-Physician Assistant page for an active forum with other Pre-PA students.  

When it comes time to apply, you have to look at your overall application and determine how competitive of a candidate you are.  The main factors to take into account are GPA (overall and science), grades in prerequisite courses, GRE (if necessary), healthcare experience (HCE), other work or volunteer experience, and shadowing.  Most schools will have a cut-off for the majority of these categories.  I'll go ahead and say that if you do not make the minimum requirements, your application will likely never make it to the PA department.  They use those numbers to weed out applications, and so that they can get the candidates that are most qualified.  So if you have a 3.02, applying to a program with a 3.25 minimum will likely be a waste of your time and money.  

GPA is the best predictive factor of how well a student will do in PA school.

One of the best ways to make up for a lower GPA is to make the rest of your application shine.  Thankfully, PA school places a huge emphasis on patient care or healthcare experience (PCE/HCE), so that gives you the opportunity to show that your experience makes up for where your grades fall short.  In comparison, medical school focuses on GPA and the MCAT, and they often don't even require HCE, so if you don't make the grades, the chances are much lower for finding a medical school that is realistic.  You want PCE that is going to be valuable and show that you have had good patient contact, so look into taking a class to become a certified nursing assistant (CNA), medical assistant (MA), or EMT.  Although it may take you longer to get to the point that you feel comfortable applying, try to be patient, and know this process is a marathon.  

I also recommend doing some extra shadowing and trying to get really strong letters of recommendation.  You want people who are familiar with you and who will write something that is both personal and positive.  

Pre-PA Assessment
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  • A pre-assessment of your current GPA and experience by a practicing PA

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Your personal statement is going to be one of the most important factors in landing an interview.  This is what will make the program really interested you, and your goal is to show them who you are in a way that makes the admissions committee want to meet you in person.  While there are differing views on what to talk about in your personal statement, you can choose to discuss your lower grades or GPA if you feel like not addressing this may prevent you from getting an interview invitation.   It's not a bad idea if you feel like you can address it in a way that does not look like you are making excuses, and shows how you have improved and overcome the situation.  Your GPA or a bad grade should never be the sole focus of your essay.  For more tips on how to address this, check out the free personal statement workshop offered by myPAresource.  

If you are applying with a lower GPA, be prepared to reapply.  PA school is getting more competitive every year, and it is common to not get acceptance the first year of application. You can use that year to prepare more for PA school, and to improve your application.  If you feel like your GPA was the only thing that prevented admittance, then take some additional courses to both raise your GPA and show that you are capable of rigorous coursework even though you may have had some stumbling blocks in the past.  You can repeat courses you had lower grades in or take some more advanced science courses.  It is very important that you do really well in these classes because you do not want to further jeopardize your GPA or your application.  If you do repeat some prerequisites and do better, it's important to note that CASPA averages all grades in their calculations.  Here is a post all about calculating your CASPA GPAs.  You may want to consider schools that recalculate your GPA based on the higher scores or look closer at the last 40 or 60 hours of coursework.  Here is a list of some schools that have post-bac classes you may want to look into. 

While in a gap year, you want to be improving your application in other ways as well, such as volunteering and HCE, but not at the expense of your coursework.  It's important to find a good balance because you want to be able to show how your application has improved during the next application cycle.  

When choosing which schools to apply to, you'll need to check their minimum requirements before applying.  It's not worth your time or money to get an instant rejection based on your GPA.  Most programs list this on their website and you can find it in our Program Spotlights as well.  

An interesting option that has come up for students with lower GPAs is to go the nurse practitioner (NP) route, as opposed to the PA route.  While I am in no way the expert on all things NP, it's a reasonable option because depending on the state, most NPs and PAs operate quite similarly.  I think a lot of that has to do with who you are as a person.  This path would mean going to nursing school to get an RN, and most are 2 year programs once you have the correct prerequisites.  Some NP programs require experience working as a nurse before applying, and there are some accelerated programs as well.  There are many more nursing programs than PA programs, and they are typically easier to get into to at the BSN level.  

If you are struggling to decide if you should apply to PA school, where you should apply, or what courses you may want to take or re-take, make sure to get some advice.  Whether that's a PA, a student advisor, fellow students on Reddit, or through a Pre-PA assessment here, it's always better to have a neutral party evaluate where you're at and offer their opinion. 

Comment below with any advice or questions about GPA! 

Prerequisites for PA School


When it comes to the classes required to get into PA school, most programs are pretty similar across the board.  Occasionally one program will be more picky than another or have more required courses, but the basics tend to be the same.

If you already have a Bachelor's degree and are going back to take classes, it will be easier to pick and choose what you need.  Some schools require that courses be done within a certain time frame (like the last 5 or 10 years), while others will accept coursework no matter when it was done.  This is definitely something to look when deciding where to apply if your undergraduate work was done some time ago.

If you are working on your degree and know you want to go to PA school (or do something medical), you have a choice of what major to choose.  There are many majors that will also require the majority of prerequisites needed for PA school, and although it would be wise and most time efficient to choose one of these, you may have other interests that you would like to pursue as well.  I majored in Biology, but in my graduating class there were all kinds of degrees, including Math and Accounting.  Some other majors to consider would be Chemistry, Health Promotion, Biological Science, or Kinesiology.  Your school may have some other specific majors that would get you what you need as well.  So it's not really what your major is that matters, it's what classes you take.

So the basic classes you will need for PA school are typically as follows:

  • Biology w/ lab - usually 2 semesters
  • General chemistry w/ lab - usually 2 semesters
  • Anatomy and Physiology w/ lab - usually 2 semesters of a combined course or one of each if they are separate
  • Statistics or Biostatistics - Some schools will only accept one of these so be sure to check the program's website and if you still are not clear, call the program and ask specifically

Classes you might need, and should consider taking if possible:

  • Psychology
  • Organic chemistry and/or biochemistry w/ lab - (Organic chemistry II was my only C+ in college, and it was miserable, so unless you have a deep love for chemistry, avoid this if possible.   Mine was part of my Biology major so it was not an option.)
  • Microbiology w/ lab
  • Other science electives

It is a good idea to check the website of any program you are interested in and the prerequisites should be clearly listed, and then crosscheck this with courses you have already taken or what is required for your major.  My biology major only counted Anatomy as a general elective, so I ended up taking over the summer since it was basically just extra.  I was concerned about taking it at a different school than UGA, so I called ask the programs I was interested in if that was ok, and the consensus was that as long as I had the prerequisites, it didn't matter where it was at.

As daunting as the coursework may seem, it is really to your benefit when you start PA school.  It's so fast paced that there isn't time to review everything from undergrad, and they need you ready to go and familiar with science basics.  Most medical schools don't even require anatomy or some of these other courses, but it's because they study anatomy for an entire year, while PA students typically do it in 1 semester!  These are tough classes, so if you are able to spread them out, that may be in your favor if you are able to get better grades.  In some cases schools want at least a C or B, no matter what your overall GPA is.  So start planning as soon as possible to get all of your classes done to be ready to apply!