Applying to physician assistant school is expensive. There’s no denying that. It takes many sacrifices of time and money to fulfill the requirements and steps necessary to become a PA. Jamie (@jamienicole_pa on Instagram) previously wrote a guest post on the unexpected expenses of applying to PA school, but today we’ll get into ways to make the process cheaper.
First of all, there are reasons the process is set up the way it is. The requirement of a bachelor’s degree and the hours of patient care experience, shadowing, and volunteering are what separates becoming a PA from nursing and medical school. You have to put in the time and money up front to get the benefit of a shorter training program. Being married to a medical resident, the amount of money required for medical school and the time and lack of adequate salary for residency is a huge sacrifice as well. For nursing, you would finish sooner, but not make the salary or have the responsibilities of a PA. If the time and requirements were all the same, there wouldn’t be as much differentiation between the various career paths.
For some background on myself, I don’t come from a medical family. My parents were both teachers. They worked extremely hard to give me great experiences growing up and encouraged my education. I’m very thankful for that. I worked hard in high school to earn a state scholarship that paid for the majority of my undergrad education at a public school and my parents helped me with living expenses. When it came time for PA school, there was no way they could afford to pay for it. I took out loans like the majority of my classmates. I come from a financially stable background (at least, that’s what my parents portrayed, but now that I know how much things cost in the real world, I know they made huge sacrifices), but it wasn’t always easy. To complete all of the requirements during undergrad, I sacrificed my time. During undergrad, I went to a CNA program every Saturday for 3 months that was an hour away and did my clinicals during spring break. I actually never went downtown to party, I was too busy studying. I worked full time in the summer while taking classes to graduate early and save my parents the expenses of an extra semester. Looking back, I might would change some of those things, but I achieved my goals and I’m happy with where I ended up.
PAs are known for being resourceful and go-getters. You must have a good amount of self-motivation as a PA because there’s a lot of learning to be done on the job. When it comes to finding time to shadow and volunteer, you’ve got to make it happen. This can be tough as an undergrad having to work multiple jobs or as someone with a family to support. Sometimes the answer may be taking a little bit longer and spreading things out to reach your goals. There tends to be a rat race with pressure to get to the finish line as soon as possible, and while sacrifices will certainly be required, it’s okay if it takes you longer than you would prefer. Make sure you meet all of the requirements of a program before you apply so you don’t waste your time or money. I’ve seen way too many applicants applying with GPAs or grades below the requirements, and the schools will never see your application with that method.
Even if you have small chunks of time, use them wisely. Find something you enjoy doing as volunteer work so it doesn’t just feel like you’re checking a box. Finding shadowing hours is difficult, but eventually someone will say yes if you keep trying. Ask your neighbor’s cousin who works with a nurse if they have any connections and you may be surprised. You’ll never know until you ask. Cold call offices like I did, and even if only one calls you back, it’s a start. Instead of getting bogged down by the many requirements and your lack of time, take it one step at a time and realize that if you’re doing the best you can, that’s all you can do!
Sometimes becoming a PA may mean taking a pay cut to get patient care hours. Many entry level jobs don’t pay that well or even much more than minimum wage. Being frugal for a few years may have benefits in the end. Put the numbers down on paper. Look at everything you spend money on, and see if you can make it happen. Most of us have a good bit of stuff, and I know I’ve personally raided my closet and put things on eBay to reach financial goals at times.
Look for waivers and scholarships. One of my biggest regrets from undergrad was not applying for more scholarships. A simple Google search will bring up many options, and a lot of them are geared toward healthcare students. You never know if you don’t apply, and it doesn’t take that long to fill out a form and write a short essay. Go to your financial aid office and see what’s available from your school. The GRE and CASPA both offer income based waivers to help cover the costs associated with applying. CASPA’s fee waiver covers the first application fee of $179, and is given on a first come, first serve basis so you need to have everything organized before it’s time to apply. The GRE costs $205 and the waiver covers 50% of one testing. On test day, you can send your score to 4 programs for free. Make sure you have a CASPA account set up to take advantage of this. Plan ahead and know the expenses that are to come so you can start saving even if it’s just a little bit along the way.
When it comes time to interview, start thinking about it ahead of time. Pay for everything possible with a credit card that will earn you points for travel, and try to pay it off in time. My bills, tithe, and everything go on my card and those points add up. The Southwest card by Chase is a popular option that helps with flights. Look for cheaper hotels or find someone else to share a room or Airbnb with. Start looking for your suit early so you can get in on a deal. Check out the thrift stores nearby, or ask a friend to borrow theirs. Mine came from the Banana Republic Factory Store clearance rack.
Put in an effort to look for resources because they are out there. If you go back and read through the blog posts on The PA Platform, listen to The Pre-PA Club podcast, watch the videos on YouTube, join the Facebook group, and read previous Instagram posts, I can guarantee you’ll find most of the answers you’re looking for and get great advice. And it will all be free. If you don’t find the answer you’re looking for, go to Google, And if you STILL don’t find the answer, email me and I’ll get you one. You’d be amazed at the number of messages and emails The PA Platform receives daily. While we can’t evaluate everyone’s individual application completely, we can point you in the right direction. We continue to put out content in an effort to make this entire process easier for everyone. And I’ll be honest, it takes a ton of time.
Instead of just complaining about the issues, let’s try to figure out ways to do something about it. That’s the point of The PA Platform being a resource offering information to make the application process easier.