Informational Interview with Stephanie Howard OB/GYN PA

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Stephanie (S): My name is Stephanie Howard and I am a physician assistant. I live in Knoxville, Tennessee and I’ve been practicing obstetrics and gynecology since I graduated in 2010.

Savanna | The PA Platform (TPP): Has that been your only job?

S: Yes, I actually did a rotation with this physician, my supervising physician now, and I always knew I wanted to do women’s health. In undergrad I followed around an OB/GYN and so I kind of knew that’s what I wanted to do. I did my elective in women’s health also and I went back and did my elective with her and she offered me a job. So I’ve been with her, I guess, really since 2009 because I did 12 weeks of rotations with her.

TPP: Okay, cool. So I actually did something similar where I actually got hired before I did my electives. I was hired and then got to do 8 weeks of basically training before I jumped in my job so we kind of did the same thing there. 

S: Well I think that that’s awesome and I felt like I’ve recently picked up a lot of clinical year students. I try to tell all of them, “treat every rotation like a job” because you don’t know if people are going to have openings where you’re at, you don’t know who they know, and if you do a really good job like you could be offered a job. I think I was offered like five, I was offered 5 jobs during clinicals. Of course now you know in Knoxville where I’m at, its kind of a saturated area for PAs, but at the time when I did it wasn’t and so I always try to tell everybody like if there’s something that you like or want to do women’s health, like see if you can set up your own rotation or your own elective somewhere you may want to be and like prove to them and show them why they should hire you and how they could benefit from having a PA. 

TPP: That’s really good advice and something I wish someone had told me. (Let’s backtrack in a minute. I went into rotations with the mindset that I should tell everywhere I was working that that’s what I wanted to do. For example, let’s say I’m on family medicine, they would say “well what do you see yourself doing? What do you want to do?”, I would respond by saying “ oh, family medicine”. Even though, in reality, I knew I liked derm.  I knew I liked procedures, and when it came to rotations I actually really liked everything except for psych. It wasn’t until I actually about halfway through the year I started telling people when they asked. It was actually my surgery preceptor I first told, “You know I really think I’m interested in either surgery or maybe dermatology.” 

Once I started being honest about it and told him and my emergency medicine preceptor, that’s when people actually started seeking me out and saying like “I heard about this job, send your resume” and getting calls so it’s interesting that you give out that advice of “go into it thinking of it like a job interview because you don’t know who those people know”. It was my surgery preceptor that got me my job because he had that connection and he was able to make a phone call and say “you need to interview her and I think it would be a good fit” and so I was very appreciative of that.

S: They are more likely to take advice from a colleague who they respect and has been with somebody than like something that comes across on Indeed or an ad in the newspaper.

TPP: Exactly, I agree and that’s what I tell people with shadowing. Use all of your connections and when it comes to clinical I had a couple of preceptors who would tell me like “you seem like you want to be here and you are really participating” which I found to be a very strange comment. I felt as though all students should be like that, but apparently not.

S: I experience that also. If you ask the majority of people about their women’s health rotation there are so many mixed feelings -- you either want to do women’s health or have absolutely nothing to do with women’s health. It’s one of those things that I tell everybody, even if you don’t enjoy the rotation be interested and participate. We are trained as generalists, this is our only time in pre-PA to make the most out of our education and be the best most well-rounded PA that we can be. We really need to be all hands in and try. A lot of people have been on my rotation and they say “ooo I don’t really want to do this” and I think to myself, “well you’re here so you’re going to do pap smears until you’re comfortable with it”. A lot of people don’t and your preceptor can pick up if you don’t want to be there or not and it all goes back to how likely am I to refer somebody for a job or write a recommendation. It’s important to try and be present because they’re taking the time out of their day to teach you and obviously they enjoy their job or they wouldn’t have students and they wouldn’t be doing their job. 

TPP: That’s so true. I’ve seen the same thing shadowing. If somebody’s letting you shadow you need to act like you want to be there and pay attention. On clinicals that may very well be your only exposure to that area. You need to soak up as much as possible -- especially if you know you want to do something else because like I’ve found in derm, there are certain things that affect women in areas that would crossover with OB/GYN. I definitely see things and treat things that you guys see and treat. I get referrals from OBGYN offices so it’s important to have as much knowledge as you can even of other areas if possible.

S: Patients never understand, you know obviously there are different specialists but, they think that you know what their derm knows or what their internal medicine doctor knows so they’re going to talk to you about it so at least being familiar, and saying “well I don’t do that every day, but I do remember this from my rotation and this sounds familiar” because they’re going to ask you about stuff.

TPP: Let’s backtrack a little bit -- why did you decide to become a PA?

S: I think that I was kind of fortunate because my aunt and uncle are both PAs. I grew up knowing what a PA was. I was in high school and I was exposed to what PAs were and at that time it wasn’t as popular.  I’m not super old I graduated high school in 2003. When I went into undergrad I knew that I wanted to do something in the medical field and being a PA was always an option for me. I did that whole biology in undergrad and basically had to do the premed route because I would say “I want to be a PA” and people would say what’s a PA? Now they have pre-PA tracks that you can go through in school, but at that time, I graduated undergrad in 2007, nobody I knew, knew what a PA was. I got to shadow PAs, went around and I realized that that was something that I wanted to do as a female. I wanted to do something in medicine but I also wanted to be able to have a family and to be able to have a life. The balance of what the PA profession gives you, to have a life and a family and to be able to be a practitioner, it was just something that worked out really well for me. 

TPP: What did that look like? I graduated high school in 2008 and college in 2012 and I feel like there wasn’t much information out there and the same thing, I would go to my advisor and “you want to do what? What’s a PA?” so I can imagine you ran into that even more. What was your application process like? Did you get in your first time? How many schools did you apply to?

S: I don’t know when CASPA started or not but I had to apply through that. I applied to 4 schools. I’m from Alabama and I applied to two of them in Alabama and I applied to one in Arkansas, and then the one in Knoxville. I was a student in undergrad and knew what I wanted to do that right when I got out of school. My biggest challenge was really my patient care hours and trying to find something that I could get in without having tons of patient care hours was challenging.  I applied to those and got interviews at three places, was waitlisted at one, and then accepted into South here in Knoxville. The program was nice because it started in the fall and a lot of the other programs were starting in winter and so those things that just really lined up for me. 

TPP: Once you got to PA school was it what you were expecting? What was the most difficult part for you?

S: I remember our first day they told us the amount of information you’re going to get is like drinking water through a fire hose. I’m sure everybody tells you that analogy and so I knew that there would be a lot of studying going on and a lot of information. Honestly the hardest part really has to do with kind of like the fear of missing out. Not that you’re missing out on things, but people don’t understand how much time you spend studying and how your priorities have to change when you’re in school. I remember having friends and  I missed their weddings. It’s not so much in clinical but in didactic you were studying all the time. I remember I had some friends who came to Knoxville for the weekend because we had a wedding and I had like a peds test, an OSCE and like a pharm test on Monday and on Saturday they were inviting me to the pool and to have cocktails together and I had to tell them I had to go to the library. They just didn’t understand. I had to explain that I was basiclaly studying my life away and to go have fun without me.. 

TPP: I felt the same way. You have to make those decisions. I was living at home and my parents, I always felt so bad until I learned how to study. They would ask me to go to dinner and I would have to say “I can’t, I need that 30 minutes or that hour to study” which was a little bit dramatic, but you have to eat. 

S: You have to learn how to study and learn what’s important and what’s not important. Of course you’re not going to know everything but you have to get those basic concepts. At South, we had quarters so probably the first 2 quarters to try to like get in the groove and figure out studying.  It can be done, I got married the second quarter of PA school so it can definitely be done. More so time management and knowing that you’re not going to get to go out every night and there are some things that you’re going to have to miss, but it’s a small, small amount of time.

TPP: Plus, it goes by so quickly.  I felt as though it flew by -- small sacrifices. Once you got to the end of PA school you knew you wanted to do OB/GYN and you got lined up and did your electives. Did you interview for any other job or was that your only “this is the job I want”? 

S: Once she offered me that job, I knew that was what I wanted to do. During my rotations I had been offered other jobs and they were one of those things that they were getting in touch with me and it was more so if this falls through I’ll get in touch with you, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do and I really clicked with my supervising physician. She has taught me everything that I know about women’s health and has really trained me to do things the way that she wants them done. We have a great relationship and she values PAs in their role in medicine. She’s a very big supporter -- that’s so important as the PA to know that, who you’re working for really understands what you can do you and uses you to your full potential. 

TPP: What does a day at your job look like?

S: It differs from day to day. I do a lot of annual exams, birth control consulting, irregular periods, etc... I see everybody from adolescents to teenagers, pregnant women and menopausal women. I work up a lot of things such as dysfunctional uterine bleeding and pelvic pain. I deal with ovarian cysts, fibroids -- all of those things. We even do weight-loss counseling in our office, so there’s a lot of stuff. I am procedure-oriented, I love to do procedures so I do biopsies, such as endometrial biopsies. I manage abnormal pap smears, and do follow-ups with colposcopies. I do lots of ultrasound procedures like sonohistograms and hysterosalpingograms to look at the lining of the uterus and to make sure the tubes are open. We do a lot of bladder installations in our office for interstitial cystitis, and put birth control in and take birth control out. There’s a lot you can do in women’s health besides just pap smears all day long.

TPP: One question that I get a lot about specifically PAs working in OB/GYN is what can you do as far as pregnancy and delivering babies? Which I don’t know, I feel as though some of this varies by state maybe. What are your thoughts or role in that way? 

S: Yes -- I work with pregnant patients all day from conception -- trying to conceive and helping people conceive with Clomid and different medications -- to managing them throughout their pregnancy. Our hospital, or the hospital that I work at, currently doesn’t have any PAs, midwives or nurse practitioners that deliver. So I think really that it’s hospital-oriented and what the hospital wants you to do. I have delivered babies before with my supervising physician. You know it all kind of came down to what did I want to do? What lifestyle? And delivering babies is awesome, but babies do not wait on anybody and so if you get into the delivering thing you’re going to be on call on the weekends, you’re going to have to be getting up at 3 in the morning and go deliver a baby and that can be a rough lifestyle. For me, I don’t personally want to do that. I love managing my pregnant patients, I love managing gestational diabetes and hypertension and helping them throughout their pregnancies. When it’s time for babies to be delivered generally, my supervising physician, leaves the clinic and when she leaves the clinic it’s mine to run. I see her patients and I make sure that they are being taken care of so she can go do that. When she comes back she doesn’t have 15 patients still waiting on her before she can leave. I think it’s really a personal preference. I know that there are two residency programs now for post graduate OB/GYN and they do a lot of vaginal deliveries. I think more than anything it depends on hospitals systems because if the hospital is not going to let you deliver, it doesn’t matter where you’ve trained or what you can do. 

TPP: I remember in school we had a dermatology PA come in to do a talk and she had done one of those OB/GYN residencies I think in California. She said when she was out there she delivered about 300 babies and when she moved back to Georgia she could not get approved by the medical board to deliver babies. They just said no and even with the support of her supervising physician and proof that she had done all of these deliveries, in Georgia it’s just not considered part of a PA’s scope of practice. We do have a lot of midwives who deliver so I think that’s something for somebody who wants to deliver babies you have to look at that if you’re thinking about becoming a PA look at your state and figure out if that something you can do or not. 

S: Exactly because there’s definitely not a reason that we can’t deliver babies. We are trained adequately and obviously if you do post-residency it shouldn’t be an issue. A lot of states, unfortunately, have that rule and a lot of it could be that that’s a midwife thing in midwifery. A lot of times you have different organizations that maybe you don’t want PAs to get in there because that takes away job security as well.

TPP: Yeah I think that’s definitely part of it of why that kind of separation is there. How many patients do you typically seen in a day?

S: I see about 25 patients a day. Sometimes I can see more depending on if my supervising physician has to go do a delivery or what’s going on in the office. I have  slots in there too to work in but generally it’s about 25. 

TPP: Okay, and do you work full time?

S: I do. Full-time for us is four days a week. I have Tuesdays off which is nice so I can I spend time with my kids at home or kind of have a me-day. I always tell everybody working in medicine I love it and I would not trade it for anything, but especially woman’s health. We see a lot of psych stuff so there’s a lot of anxiety, there’s a lot of depression. I think because it’s such an intimate job, people are more likely to talk to me about things and tell me things that they should tell their primary care. Emotionally, it can be really exhausting some of the things that I hear so it’s nice to just have a me day to kind of decompress.

TPP: It is important to not take too much work home with you. Let’s talk a little bit about your Instagram account and now podcast. We first connected on Instagram in the little PA community that is there. What made you start now what was Teenage Female Health and is now the thegyn_pa? 

S: I see so many teenagers in my clinic and you know it’s just so crazy because half of the stuff that I hear from them is they’re not very well educated when it comes to the female body and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that we grew up and we are told “girls have vaginas boys have penises those are very private things we don’t talk about them”. Then in fifth grade someone takes us in a room and they’re like you’re going to have a period. We watch a video and you’re like “what in the world is happening?” and so then parents are like  “well, she learned about it in school and we rely on the school system”, but living in the Bible Belt especially living where we are is an abstinence only education system, there’s a lot of misinformation out there and there’s a lot of information that these girls aren’t getting. I wanted to create a program where they could get information that’s correct because you can look up anything on the internet and you can make it say exactly what you want it to say. I wanted to like be a source of information that was correct for these young women and I actually have an online sex-ed and comprehensive health program for girls from seventh to twelfth grade. It’s online so I started my Instagram because I quickly found out that Facebook isn’t cool anymore.

TPP: Facebook is confusing.

S: Everybody has Instagram so I quickly noticed that my audience becoming a lot of PAs, so pre-PAs, adolescent girls, young women in their 20-somethings and then also nurse practitioners and different healthcare providers. I felt as though naming it teenage female health isn’t very inclusive so I think a lot of people felt like “this page isn’t for me because I’m not a teenager” so that’s why I changed it to thegyn_pa. 

TPP: Okay cool. You started your podcast which I love the name by the way, you want to tell us about that?

S: Yeah, so the podcast is called Britt and Steph At Your Cervix! Britt was one of my students and we went and got pedicures a few months ago before she moved to Texas to start her job in OB/GYN and she mentioned that we need to do a podcast. I thought. “I have no idea how we would even do that!”  We talked about it and she is a huge podcaster she was like “there’s just not like anything out there for women’s health to listen to. I think there maybe something but it’s kind of like dry”. Our personalities are very like laid-back and we both value education and think knowledge is power so we wanted to get material and present it to future healthcare providers and current practitioners in a way that just kind of seemed like having a glass of wine with your friend and make it easy to understand.

TPP: Well I listen to the first episode and I can say that you guys nailed it. I listen to it while I was taking my baby for a walk and it was a great refresher and as you said, it’s really easy to listen to. The concepts are really simple to understand, nothing crazy or conceptual. It was great. I’m excited to see where you guys take it. I’m sure there are plenty of topics to cover. I’m sure you will get lots of  questions. 

S: Oh yes, so we already have 42 topics planned.

TPP: That’s almost a whole year! I think we covered everything. Any other advice or tips that you’d like to throw out there? 

S: I think that you know definitely one thing is that if you were interested in women’s health don’t be scared. For some reason people have this misconception that women’s health you know isn’t for PAs. My question is why? We are trained as generalists, we have just as much training in women’s health as we do in general surgery and pediatrics. Most people are like “PAs are just not in women’s health” and that’s true. There’s less than 1% of us, but it doesn’t have to be that way and we shouldn’t have to be discouraged. I would just have to say that if women’s health is something that you want to do, it’s definitely an attainable goal. It’s a great career -- go at it and find your rotation and let people know that that’s what you want to do. Don’t be scared to do women’s health. Just like we mentioned earlier, if you want to do vaginal deliveries then look at the states and know where you can do that or hospitals that will allow you to do that. 

TPP: Just before you jump in, get all the details. Stephanie will help you answer any of the questions that she can about her job and it’s kind of nice to have the social media to get kind of more awareness about our role in different areas. I think you’re doing a great, great job.


What You Need To Know About The Interservice Physician Assistant Program (IPAP) - Guest Post from Chris Walerysiak

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What is the IPAP program?
The Interservice Physician Assistant Program is a program for members of the department of defense, all branches, to become a PA. It is accredited through the University of Nebraska's Medical Center and consists of a 16 month didactic period (phase 1) at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX. Upon graduation of Phase 1 students receive a bachelors degree. Phase 2 consists of a 12 month clinical rotation. The locations of clinical is dependent upon your service, but will most likely be at military treatment facilities. The Navy does their rotations in San Diego. Upon completion of phase 2, students graduate with a MPAS and are eligible to take the PANCE.

Who is eligible to apply?
The Navy and Marine Corps only accept active duty applicants. I believe the Army and Air Force allow reserves and national guard to apply. It is an Army run program, therefore the seats for Army and Air Force are greater in numbers. I think roughly the Navy and MC have 15-17 seats once a year and the Army and Air Force have ~30 seats three times a year.

What is the application process?
The first step is to apply on a LiasonCAS which is a system very similar to CASPA, where UNMC determines your eligibility to apply. The second half of the application is branch specific consisting of roughly the same things. They include a personal statement, letters of recommendation, a commanding officer's endorsement, review of military record, transcripts, possibly shadowing hours (Army/Air Force), and a few interviews with appraisal sheets.

What are the basic requirements?
Here are the basic requirements:

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Chris also granted us permission to share his academic review from UNMC that has a clean look to it. The italics are not required.

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What are the benefits of the IPAP program?
The benefits for IPAP are amazing. It has consistently been a top performing school (top 15 more or less) for the past 5 or so years. They have had if 100% very near it first time PANCE pass rate. If accepted into the program, not only is it free but you also get paid your current pay rate in the military during school along with all other benefits that come with being in the military (housing allowance, healthcare, ect). Once you graduate you become a commissioned officer which is another pay raise and your time in school also counts towards retirement from the military. Also, applicants to not need to posses a bachelors degree, nor take the GRE to apply. You just simply need the specific required prerequisites.

Are there any disadvantages?
The program, at least for the Navy, is very, very competitive. Even more competitive than civilian programs. I would highly discourage someone from joining the military just to get into this program. There are certain rank requirements to apply that may take a few years to get there as well as other things that would make you competitive like leadership/deployments/awards that will take years to accumulate. In the Navy there is only one time a year that you can apply so not getting accepted puts you on hold for a whole other year.

How long is the program?
16 month didactic phase in San Antonio (Phase 1) and a 12 month clinical rotation phase in various locations dependent on your branch of service, usually MTFs (Phase 2).

What made you stand out to gain acceptance?
The biggest things that board members look at are grades, SAT scores, personal statement (why you want to be a PA), and interview appraisals. So make sure those are all top notch to stand out. I stood out by having sustained superior performance on my annual evaluations for work as well as dedicating down time and off time to do some shadowing/OJT with family practice and the ED. I also work in the OR so that helps. Leadership helped me, being in charge of X amount of people or running different programs, like being a BLS program coordinator and instructor. My previous duty stations to include being deployed with the Marines. (Side note, PAs in the military are one of the most deployed medical assets to include deployments with the Army, Marines and on ships. Board members also want well rounded individuals so extra curricular activities helped. I coach/play soccer and rugby and volunteer a lot with the boy scouts.)

What advice would you give someone who is interested in the IPAP program?
Again, do not join the military to try to get into the program. It would be much easier to get into a civilian program. If you already in the military then step out and start shadowing PAs in family practice, try and get into an OR, or shadow some people in specialty clinics. The best resource a person can have trying to get into this program is to get in contact with someone that has gone through the program. There are facebook pages out there that have a ton of information on them about specific branch requirements, down to the tiniest details, and full with people that are willing and wanting to help. If anyone wants more information about the program or where to find more resources or specific questions I authorize you to give out my email to people and they can contact me.

Bonus note-this link will take you to the IPAP website operated by the Army where you can find things like the school's mission statement, goals, curriculum, past PANCE rates, and other helpful links.

4 Ways to Manage Your Anxiety in PA School - Guest Post from Elise Morgan

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Going to PA school is a challenging and time-consuming endeavor. There are deadlines to meet, exams to pass, and papers to write, not to mention any other important responsibilities in your life. All of the pressure can build up, and, before you know it, your stress and anxiety levels are through the roof. However, there are ways to prevent or reduce anxiety so that it doesn’t negatively affect your academic and professional goals. Here are four strategies to help with your anxiety while attending PA school.


Keep the Juices Flowing

A big portion of your time studying will be spent in a seated position. Sitting for long periods of time can cause stiffness, pain, and inflammation in your joints, lowering your flexibility and range of motion. In addition, focusing intensely on one topic for extended periods of time can make your mind sluggish. 

Regular exercise will keep your brain and body systems oxygenated and working to their maximum potential, as well as trigger endorphins that have both an invigorating and calming effect on the brain. In addition, being proactive about your health by exercising is a good example to portray and share with your future patients.


Prioritize Sleep

It’s when we sleep that our bodies perform essential restorative processes that prepare us to face another potentially productive day with plenty of energy.  Quality sleep and mental health are also intertwined, in that each affects the other. In addition, one study showed that sleep loss can cause a surge in cortisol, a stress hormone that is necessary for survival in the face of real danger, but elevated levels can increase your stress and anxiety levels.

You can prioritize sleep in many ways, like developing a 20 to 30-minute wind-down routine each evening that can include a warm bath, stretching, or meditation. It also helps to create a sleep sanctuary out of your bedroom space. Choose soothing colors for your bedding and walls and forego having a television in your bedroom. Technology screens are more draining than they are relaxing.


Take Plenty of Breaks

In addition to your scheduled workout sessions, it’s important to take several breaks during your study sessions to fit in a quick walk or climb some stairs to kickstart your next study round. You can also find a quiet spot to meditate for 10 or 15 minutes to bring yourself back into the moment and clear your mind of overwhelming thoughts or negative self-talk. 


Organize and Reduce Clutter

Nothing makes studying more daunting than a cluttered workspace. It not only makes it hard to find items you need, but research has shown that a physically cluttered space contributes to mental clutter than makes it hard to organize your thoughts effectively for studying. If you’re hitting brick walls in your studying efforts due to clutter, make it a priority to reorganize your workspace regularly.

There is no way to avoid the challenges that going to PA school presents. Like anything else worth achieving, it will take a lot of diligence and commitment to your mental health to complete the PA program successfully. However, these are some effective ways to set yourself up for less stress and productivity in PA school.



My Everyday Essentials as a Dermatology PA, Mom, and Blogger

This post has been sponsored by Zebra Pen. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Working as a dermatology physician assistant for the past five years, I know what works and how to make my day more efficient. As a busy PA, blogger, wife and mom, people constantly ask, “How do you do it all?” It’s time for me to share what my days look like and what makes my life easier.

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I’m a pen and paper kind of girl, but I’m very picky about my pens. Luckily, I recently found a favorite with the Sarasa® Grand Gel Retractable Pen from Zebra Pen. It’s got a good weight to it with a metal barrel, dries quickly, and even looks stylish. As an added bonus, no one in the office can steal my pen since they know it’s my trademark. I need a to-do list to keep my life organized. I’ve experimented with apps, but if I physically write something down, I’m much more likely to remember it. If you’re a pen junkie like me and on the lookout for a new go-to pen, check out more information here to see how you can Choose Different!

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My planner goes everywhere with me so I can stay on top of deadlines and tasks. Each week, I take some time to review everything I need to get done for the week, as well as the things I would like to start working on. Goal planning is important, and breaking down bigger goals into small steps makes them seem more achievable.

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For making a new podcast episode or video, I have to plan out a topic, title, talking points, images, and links. It seems like a lot until I take it one step at a time. I also like to look at my list daily and write down anything I need to do or put on my shopping list as soon as I think of it.

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Once I get to work, there are a few tasks I do everyday. The first thing is my pathology reports. Since I do a lot of biopsies in dermatology, once the results are faxed over, I decide on a treatment and mark it on the report. I also have to check the schedule from the previous day and send letters to patients who missed their appointments.

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Once I start clinic, it’s really busy and I see on average 30 patients each day. They range from acne and eczema to skin checks and biopsies. If you are ever involved in doing biopsies, make sure to get consent from the patient, and mark a skin map so we can find the lesion again in the future.

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I think it’s funny when I have patients sign consent and they ask to keep my Sarasa® Grand Gel Retractable Pen. Having nice pens like this one from Zebra Pen is actually something my patients notice, and I view it as an accessory. They like the way it writes, but also that it dries fast without smudging. 

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After I’m done seeing patients in clinic, I finally head home to see my baby girl, but I always keep my planner and pens in hand. You have to find systems and tools that work for you and stick to them!

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Should the Title “Physician Assistant” Be Changed? Research Points to Maybe.

While at the 2019 AAPA conference in Denver, CO this week, I sat in a session titled “Title Change Investigation Update.” The hour-long presentation came from WPP, the research firm behind the exploration of whether the name of the PA profession should be changed. AAPA has released an article with an update as well, but I want to help you understand the information that was shared during the session and how it was received. This presentation was not made available after the session (so far), but my seven pages of notes will suffice. If you want the summarized version and don’t care about the logistics, scroll to the end.

For a little background, the title change investigation comes from a resolution that was passed in the 2018 House of Delegates that resulted in a vote of starting a further investigation on whether the physician assistant title should be changed, whether it was feasible, and what were potential alternatives. Over the past year, this has been a topic of much discussion of PAs, but in the spring a 45-minute survey was sent out to begin this investigation. This survey received some backlash for length and lack of seemingly relevant questions, which was (somewhat) addressed in the presentation.

Upon arrival, we were urged to shift to the center of rows to make room for more attendees as it was expected to be packed, but as the presentation started I found myself one of only 3 PAs sitting in my row. I’m not sure if the unexpectedly lower attendance was due to the session timing at the end of the day or a reflection of PAs having other priorities, such as learning about information they can apply to their daily jobs with patients.

The presentation started with Pandora, the project lead from WPP. She was joined by Rich Durante, the research and analytics lead, and Jasmine Tansy, the title lead.I have to admit, at this point I almost felt as if I was sitting in an Apple keynote between the very well-rehearsed talk and fancy PowerPoint. The goal of the talk was shared - review and give clarification of project to date, share and inform on the research, and share conclusions and next steps moving forward. This would be followed by addressing questions from the PA community.

They also addressed what would not be covered - full quantitative findings report (meaning we only saw two solid data points from the study), presentation of brand strategy and title options (there were no mentions of contending alternative titles), and financial outcomes. There is a legal team that is also on board, but was not in attendance, responsible for researching the legal and financial ramifications of a potential title change. They will review laws and regulation to avoid confusion in the marketplace and advise on legal and legislative steps with a goal of bringing outcomes to fruition and avoid changes in billing, scope, and responsibility. 

As the presentation began, it was noted that the PA profession would be referred to only as “physician assistant” throughout the talk, with no use of acronyms. Pandora made a point to address that the use of this title “may be difficult to hear” for some of the audience members. Personally, I found this bizarre as I attended physician assistant school and I am fine with being referred to as such. I will be using the PA acronym for the remainder of this article.

WPP made a point to recognize that PAs play a role, and will continue to play a role, in delivering high quality health care. Their stated goal with this project is to “position PAs to compete in an ever-changing healthcare marketplace, and increase relevance with state groups and patients now, and in the future.” There was no discussion of how WPP was chosen for this task, but the resources allotted to the project (thus far) were a million dollars to put the vast cost of this type of project into perspective. WPP stated the challenges they found for determining an appropriate title include the variety of PAs in scope and specialty, competition for space in patient’s minds from other providers, and a lack of a good understanding of what PA stands for. Pandora presented two key questions to address:

  • Is there a need to evolve the PA brand based on objective well-informed data and analysis driven view?

  • If so, how do we redefine how the PA profession is positioned in healthcare today and in the future?

The set up of the research process was discussed as a 5 phase process including discover and design, research and analytics, insights and strategy, title development, and validation. At this point, phase 1 and 2 have been completed, and we are in phase 3 with an estimated timeline of May to December 2019. 

Phase 1 - Discover and Design

The purpose of this phase was to set the foundation for learning by reviewing research for relevant industry trends, publications, and regulations to see how PAs operate today. To begin this process, WPP met with a council of 12 volunteers that all represent PAs, including members from influencing organizations like NCCPA and ARC-PA. It was decided at this point that there was not enough “data” available to indicate that a name change should be investigated further, leading to phase 2 and the survey portion.

Phase 2 - Research and Analytics

This “world class research” has a stated purpose to “inform understanding of how PAs are perceived as part of healthcare and understand what drives perceptions,” as well as how PAs are linked to broader perceptions of healthcare value. This survey will serve as the “backbone of strategy and title recommendation.” In addressing why this particular survey design in the quantitative portion, specifically length and format, Rich stated there had to be “trade-offs” for comprehensiveness and length of survey. Based on WPP’s experience, they have a good sense of number and types of questions that can be asked before causing people to drop out or compromise data quality. Rich informed the audience that the survey questions were pre-tested with PAs to get feedback from individuals, which influenced adjustments to “flow and length.”

This process began with qualitative research of discussions with 55 individuals, including PAs, PA students, NPs, physicians, patients, employers, “think tanks,” professional societies, medical boards, government agencies, and legislators across 20 states. One of the main findings across all constituents in the qualitative portion is that overall, PAs are well regarded. According to patients, PAs are trusted with good communication skills, but sometimes they don’t know what the PA roles and responsibilities are. With other healthcare providers, PAs are “capable allies” who help manage patient care, are trusted, and sought for counsel. Employers appreciate the financial access and patient care benefits of PAs. All of this indicates a “clear value in today’s healthcare system with access and improved economics.” Some of the stated benefits of PAs include:

  • Increased access with extending quality care to more patients by allowing quicker appointment scheduling, as well as less appointments with more time than physician colleagues leading to greater patient communication

  • From an economic standpoint, PAs are hired at “significant discount” to help healthcare facilities see more patients, offering more revenue at a lower cost expenditure

  • Value will grow in the future, due to an aging population leading to more demand for healthcare

Based on these benefits, WPP would like to highlight the opportunity for PAs to add value to the healthcare system by further extending access to care, particularly in rural areas in an economical way. 

Despite these benefits, it was found that there is a significant difference in the “perceived role” of PAs. Patients feel that PAs have more capabilities than NPs, stemming from the word “physician” in the title, which provides a “halo,” while NPs are viewed as “nurses with a lower order” from a patient perceived hierarchy. In contrast, other healthcare providers see PAs and NPs as the same in responsibilities and capabilities, with differences in how they are trained, while employers feel that PAs are more focused on procedures and surgical support, but NPs are more focused on preventative care and patient education.

From these results, it appears that perceptions are driven by the amount of direct contact PAs have with their constituencies. If a health care provider or employer has worked with PAs, they knew exactly what they did, but without that contact, they did not have a strong understanding of the capabilities. Patient understanding varies based on factors, such as exposure and age. Overall, PAs have a high degree of satisfaction and enjoy the role and its benefits, including direct patient contact, less debt, earlier start than medical school, flexibility, fewer “non-patient care” headaches, and are overall collaborative, not competitive, with physicians. 

The tension surrounding the profession stems from a lack of autonomy being an issue with many PAs, and while they feel physicians are mentors, many PAs feel micro-managed and that they spend too much time in non-patient care duties. The research then looked at the AAPA’s definition of PAs to determine how this description is perceived. 

“PAs are medical providers who diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans, prescribe medications, and often serve as a patient’s principal healthcare provider. With thousands of hours of medical training, PAs are versatile and collaborative. PAs practice in every state and in every medical setting and specialty, improving healthcare access and quality.”

Respondents familiar with PAs found this to be very accurate, and in general felt positively motivated to work with PAs after sharing this description. PAs find this definition aspirational, while other healthcare providers view it as accurate and reflective of reality, and employers view the versatility and collaboration as true benefits. Individuals with less familiarity were surprised by the description “in a positive way” because they were unaware PAs could prescribe or serve as a principal health care provider.

From a patient perspective, there were two barriers that seem to lessen patient interest in “seeking out a PA.” The first is the title, which is not seen as a good fit with PA role and responsibilities, and most find it demeaning to the capabilities to see the word “assistant” in the title. Patients, other healthcare professionals, and employers all agreed and felt that it was confusing and sent the wrong signals. From an emotional perspective, PAs don’t want to be looked at as “assistants,” but respected as peers.

The second barrier is a general lack of education and awareness about what a PA does as it is a relatively young profession and many non-healthcare providers have limited exposure and understanding of a PA’s capabilities. According to WPP’s presentation, a patient in the qualitative portion stated that the name “does a disservice to the knowledge of a PA, while providing a boost to the physician’s ego.” Personally, I can’t think of a patient in my practice who would be familiar enough to share these eloquent sentiments. 

For employers, the barriers have a different focus. Institutions find that PAs have a “lack of experience when new” compared to “NPs with several years of clinical experience as a nurse,” and feel that PAs require more time and supervision when new. Employers do recognize there are some driving factors that are beneficial in hiring PAs including extending access, great bedside manner, helping to improve efficiency, as well as being economically viable.

To summarize the qualitative portion of the survey, the results indicate that PAs are valued in the healthcare system and offer true benefits to health care providers, patients, and employers. We all knew this right? The study finds these benefits to include extended access, particularly to rural areas, increased system efficiency, lower cost to employers, and a growing contribution to the increase in an aging population with fewer physicians and a growing cost of healthcare.

So what issues limit this PA potential? A lack of a universal understanding of the PA role, a title that creates confusing with limited awareness and connotes less responsibility than PAs believe leading to tension within the profession, and employers perceiving that PAs need significant training out of school and laws requiring extra administrative time for supervision of PAs.

Moving on the the survey. For the quantitative portion, the survey was sent out to a list provided by the AAPA, and completed by 6,845 PAs and 1,357 PA students. This is a response rate of 6%, which sounds low, but AAPA states is in line with most research studies and provides a “good sample size and is robust for analysis.” The purpose of this part was stated as developing a deeper understanding of PA roles in clinical practice and determining the impact of PAs and other providers in delivery of healthcare. Basically, the goal was to figure out what are the perceptions of PAs and what drives value.

In order to do this, WPP explored the following themes:

  • How important is education awareness in increasing understanding of PAs roles and capacities

  • Demographic facts influencing knowledge of the PA role

  • Misalignment of fit between the PA title and role 

  • Tension between PA autonomy and connection to physicians

  • How employer perceptions impact hiring

  • Gauge differences in perceptions of what PAs are capable of and legally able to do

Only two data points were shared during the presentation. The first one was regarding the AAPA definition stated previously. Most PAs found that the definition fits with the roles and responsibilities, but the title “physician assistant” does not. This is the main point addressed in the AAPA’s article. Basically, we’re okay with the definition of what we do. If you ask if the name “physician assistant” describes that definition, it’s not a match.

Main conclusion - “Based on research and analysis findings, it is strongly suggested that an exploration of an alternative title should be pursued, and quantitative findings from physician assistants alone warrant this exploration.”

What’s Next?

Phase 3 - Insights and Strategy - This portion will begin in the August-September timeframe to leverage research to develop a strategic foundation to position and PA brand and inform title development.

Phase 4 - Title Development - WPP will try to leverage insights and strategy to explore new title opportunities. For title strategy, it’s essential to define intent to figure out what title should communicate and then figure out what’s available by looking into validating information and seeking legal counsel. (More on this at the end.)

Phase 5 - Variation and Implications - WPP will use field quantitative survey results to validate a new title option, and assess legal and financial ramifications.

The timeline for delivery is early 2020 with a brand position and title recommendation to be presented for HOD consideration with full quantitative findings beyond the data points that were presented at this year’s conference, as well as an evaluation of related business and legislative cost estimates. And with that, it was time for questions.

PA Concerns

So why didn’t the survey ask about what titles we recommend? While the survey was active, one of the main complaints among PAs was the 45 minutes it took to complete, as well as the lack of questions directly addressing a new title. At this point, WPP clarified that not only are they looking at the title issues, but the PA profession as a brand, and how these perceptions align with the ideal role of a PA to determine what it will take to move the profession in that direction. After those determinations, they will try to pick a potential title. If you were wondering during the survey why you had to rank various professions, the goal was to understand how PAs, physicians, and NPs are perceived along the same dimensions. Not to assert that one provider is more valuable than another, but to determine what makes PAs unique. This 360 degree perspective is meant to highlight PA strengths and the aspects of the role considered most important in providing care, pinpoint what differentiates PAs, and attempt to transcend the title for a “holistic brand strategy.” 

A researcher from Duke was first at the microphone, and questioned why the available peer-reviewed literature regarding the title change wasn’t used to come to the same conclusions without using significant resources, and WPP responded that their literature review didn’t provide the spectrum of what they needed to investigate since it did not link the perceptions of value to healthcare. She offered to point them in the right direction to resources.

Evelyn, a Pacific University PA student, asked about the brand positioning strategy and if that was something WPP would be assisting with, which they responded they would be happy to do, but had not been asked to stay on at this point to develop any advertising strategy beyond the foundation of strategy. This will be up to the HOD, which is why it’s important to make sure your delegates have your best interests in mind.

Someone asked if they included PAs outside of the United States, and they did not.

Betty, a PA from Arizona, questioned why they were waiting to look at legal ramifications until after making these decisions. As something that is in thousands of policies and regulations at many different levels, what is going to happen? WPP deferred to the Foley law firm that was not present, and Donna from AAPA stepped in to state that the first step was coming to the conclusion that there needed to be an investigation to look into titles first, and now the necessary steps are being outlined if a name change were to move forward. The name must be identified before looking at trademarks, and the path is starting so those discussions will unfold at what would happen at a state and federal level.

Another PA asked if the WPP firm had experienced a similar title change in another profession that was launched successfully. The response - “We have done extensive work in the healthcare field and title change is uncommon and not frequent because the decision has already been made so an outside group isn’t needed. We have hundreds of credentials across the globe with naming credentials and experts in titles and how people perceive language to gain clarity and get preference.” Short answer - No. 

The last PA to speak stated she wasn’t worried about the sample size or response rate, but the length of the study. In her opinion, a 45-minute study in the PA world will get a response bias because the only people who will answer are the ones who are biased. (This gained an applause from the audience.) She admits that people know it is a “lousy title,” but questions if the cost is worth it to change it at this point. She also stated that she feels the survey lost some credibility with the types of questions because PAs didn’t understand why they were being asked about things that didn’t seem related. WPP stated that not all data was shared and that the purpose of the survey wasn’t just to see if a title change was needed, and Rich felt that individuals who take the longer study will be more motivated, but won’t just be PAs in favor of the change.

The summary given by WPP is obviously going to be politically correct and not give too much direction, but the main takeaway is that according to PAs, other healthcare professionals, and patients, the “physician assistant” title doesn’t particularly fit with the definition, while most PAs do agree that the description in appropriate. Whether or not that should lead to an official title change is the next step.

I agreed with Betty’s concerns of why the legal and financial ramifications are not being looked at until resources are being poured into this study. A name change will not bring in more revenue, for AAPA, employers, or PAs, and may be detrimental as the study showed one of the desirable qualities of a PA includes the economic benefit. Will this cause our AAPA dues to increase? How much of the budget will this consume, while we continue to lag behind legislative financial support in comparison to other professions, including NPs? At the end of the day, this is a business decision, not an ego issue, and the questions of how this will have a financial benefit should be considered. Personally, I don’t believe a different title will result in a higher salary for myself, and will likely cost my practice money (that I hope they don’t take from me). While it may change patient perceptions over a long period of time, PAs may be inflicted with the burden of the cost. This should not be an emotional response or decision, similar to giving results to a patient, it should be based on well-thought out research and what makes sense from a legal and economical standpoint.

So if it is determined to be a feasible option, what should the “physician assistant” title be changed to? This research indicates that the term “physician” should remain as part of the name, which would rule out suggestions such as “medical practitioner.” I guess we’ll all wait on the edge of our seats until the next survey to see what our options are, but I would love to hear your suggestions in the comments.

#healthyinmedicine - Staying Healthy as a Physician Assistant

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With the rigorous process of becoming a PA, it can be way too easy to lose sight of our own health when caring for others. This is something I’ve definitely struggled with, but continue to work on. We should be encouraging each other to be #healthyinmedicine instead of just focusing on our patient’s health. Here are some of the practices I’ve found to be helpful. I would love to hear about your habits and tricks for self-care in the comments or on social media. Make your own #healthyinmedicine post, tag @thePAplatform, and I’ll be sure to check it out!

Find ways to stay active. As a full-time physician assistant, wife to a busy medical resident, mom to a 10 month old, and blogger, sometimes I get a little tired or overwhelmed. (Understatement of the year.) I’ve had to get creative to find ways to keep myself moving and still be able to spend time with my family. Back in undergrad at the University of Georgia, I walked everywhere. Buses were available, but the campus was beautiful, so I only took advantage of hopping a ride maybe 10 times total. I took that built in exercise for granted, and realized how great it was once I was sitting in the same classroom for 8 hours a day in PA school. That changed things. I would never have made it to the gym if it wasn’t for two of my classmates. We were close friends, and they didn’t really give me a choice. I wasn’t always the best sport, but they encouraged me to at least put forth some effort in making my health a priority. Now, as a family, we love to go on walks and get outside. My baby certainly keeps me moving and chasing her, so that helps too. My medical assistant is great at walking during lunch, even if it’s only for 10 or 15 minutes. Find your small pockets of time and try to dedicate at least some of that to moving your body. I know some of these fancy Fitbits and Apple watches will even tell you when you’ve been sitting for too long.

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Make the best food decisions you can with the resources available. With fast food (that is delicious) on every street corner, I find myself jumping to the easy option most times. This is something I’ve really been working on this year. I’ve even found that some salads and wraps are just as good, if not better, than the burger or fried chicken I would have previously ordered. Does this mean I always “eat clean?” Definitely not! I love the good stuff too much. I am trying to live in moderation though instead of indulgence. Less sugar, watching portions, and trying to actually understand what’s in my food and what it does for my body. We get so busy with school and work and life, and our food choices tend to be the last thing on our minds. In Emily Freeman’s new book about decision making, The Next Right Thing, she states that we make over 200 decisions a day just in relation to food! Planning out meals, even just for the next day, can make a huge difference.

Schedule dedicated workout time. With some trial and error, I’ve figured out that if I want to get an actual work out in, it’s more likely to happen in the morning. I’m not a night owl. Definitely more of a grandma/early bird. If I put it off and wait until the end of the day, there are too many distractions. I’m too exhausted from seeing tons of patients at work and all I want to do when I get home is love on my baby. Not my body. From making this shift to morning workouts, it helps me start the day on a good note. I feel energized and productive and ready to take on the day. That encouragement keeps me going and helps me continue my streak. You may find that night time or even at lunch works better for you, but make a commitment. Write it in your planner or put it in your phone so you make sure to prioritize dedicated workout time.

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Invest in tools that hold you accountable. Another thing I’ve found that I pretty much have to do is put some skin in the game, aka pay for things. I’ve tried the On Demand and YouTube workouts and read tons of blogs on staying healthy, but because I’m really good at convincing myself out of things, I usually give up. I recently bought a spin bike for my house and invested in nutritional coaching with a fellow PA. Guess what? It’s the first time I’ve actually stuck to something for longer than a week or two! Having the accountability of a coach checking in to see how I’m doing and encourage me, and my husband saying I better get my money’s worth out of that bike have both made me actually take steps in the right direction. I hope you have better self control and more determination than I do, but it’s okay if you need a little motivation. There are a lot of great facebook groups centered around accountability that you could join or find a friend who is trying to live a healthier lifestyle as well and partner on helping each other out. Taking these steps has also removed some of the frustration of trying to figure everything out myself.

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Take time off mentally and physically. I’m a proponent of vacations and “treat yoself.” We carry so much responsibility and mental load in our daily lives, that you have to give yourself a break. I’ll take days off where I don’t touch social media or even a computer. While those things are great for connecting, it can also be discouraging to see an illusion of someone else’s life if you’re not where you want to be. I also tend to always have a vacation planned. While I would love to go on elaborate trips all the time, usually it’s just a weekend at the beach or visiting with family. Taking these opportunities to invest in your mental health is so important for preventing burnout. Working in medicine is tough and very taxing. We have a lot on our plates and it’s okay to take some time off.

If you have tips for how you stay #healthyinmedicine, please share in the comments or on social media! Let’s encourage each other to take time for ourselves this week.

Read how other PAs stay healthy:

Erin - Stethoscope and Sparkle

Tips for the Second Time Applicant – From a Second Time Applicant - Guest Post from Meghan in Medicine

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Meghan is a current 2nd year PA student at UTMB, and she blog at Meghan in Medicine. Since it’s becoming more common for applicants to have to reapply to PA school before gaining acceptance, this is a timely post to reshare because many people may be in a similar situation. Don’t take this advice lightly, but use it to make yourself more competitive for the next time. You can follow Megan on Instagram - @meghaninmedicine


As some of you may know, I applied to PA school straight from undergraduate school and DID NOT get in on my first try. Although I knew it was a big possibility after reading all the forums, blog posts, and hearing about different peoples experiences along the way, I was obviously disappointed. I remember consciously giving myself a couple of days off from the entire process, but then immediately diving back into grind by thinking of ways to elevate my application to the next level. So that brings me to my first tip:

1. Give yourself a break, then turn the motivation back on but up a notch

Being rejected in any format does not feel great. Being rejected in the one thing that you’ve been working hard for years for definitely does not feel great! I’m a big believer of giving yourself the smallest of pity parties. Whether that be treating yourself to something you normally wouldn’t do like getting your nails done, a full body massage, a night in with zero responsibilities, whatever it is just do it for your own sanity.

After you’ve spent some time on yourself, it’s time to kick it back into high gear because life waits for no one. Remind yourself that you are blessed to be where you are, wherever you are. Remind yourself that you are capable!

2. Find a way to even slightly improve EVERY aspect of your application

This has to be my biggest piece of advise to those applying a second time around, and it was the piece of advice given to me from a PA-C working in academia. The best way to improve your chances of getting into PA school after not getting in the first time around is to somehow improve every single aspect of your application. That means improving: personal statement, patient care hours, volunteering, GPA, supplemental applications, shadowing, and GRE. After I received this advice, it all really did click for me. These schools have to see that you’ve given extra effort to stand out during the year that you’ve been waiting for the next cycle, so go for it!

Possible ways to enhance every facet of your application:

  • Editing your personal statement to better encompass who you are and who you want to be as a PA

  • Increasing your amount of patient care hours

  • CHANGING the way you’re obtaining patient care hours (EMT, CNA, Scribe, MA)

  • Volunteer with a program/company that you’re GENUINELY interested in and stick with the same place to show your long-term commitment

  • Retake a few of your lowest scoring classes from undergraduate school. If you received two C’s, retake them and shoot for two B’s.

  • Use Kaplan, Magoosh, or other GRE preparatory books and programs to improve your GRE score

  • Shadow every single chance you get to show your curiosity and commitment to the PA profession and medicine in general

3. Reach out to those that have gone through this

I never would’ve known where to begin without the PA-C in academia giving me advice for what to do. The entire process of applying to any professional school can be extremely overwhelming at times. All of the comparison is especially stressful. Make it a point to reach out to some schools that you applied to and see if they offer any personalized application reviews. If they do not, I would then reach out to PA’s that you’ve previously shadowed or have connections with for them to review your application and offer up their advice for any improvements.


PA School Spotlight: Ohio Dominican University PA Program

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PA Program: Ohio Dominican University (Columbus, OH) 

How long is your program and what quarter/semester are you in?: 27 months- my first rotation of clinical year is almost in the books. 

Class size: 50 seats 

Why did you apply to your program?: The program defines themselves as having a 'holistic approach' to instruction and clinical experience, which I was immediately drawn to. I also think that coming from an undergraduate program with 20k+ students, a small, walkable campus sounded heavenly. 

Why did you end up choosing to attend your program?: It all just resonated with me. The authenticity of our program director and genuine feel of the program as a whole ultimately influenced my decision to attend. 

Is there anything unique about your program?: Our program was the first university in Central Ohio to offer the M.S. PAS degree. I also feel that because we are a smaller, liberal arts college, our approach is more distinct in the sense we are drawing from all disciplines to graduate competent, well-rounded providers. 

What is your favorite study resource?: UpToDate and WikiEM are always there to help you brush up on specifics. I love PANCE Prep Pearls for a more condensed review of topics- my only regret is that I didn't buy it until the end of didactic year. If you're a chart/table person, you NEED it. (Affiliate link)

What is the most difficult or surprising part of PA school?: The most difficult part is probably realizing that every time you think "the most difficult part" is over, a new one seems to begin...the most surprising part is how much knowledge you'll truly have by the end of it all. 

What advice would you give to other PA students?: Keep the things that matter most in your life first. Don't take yourself too seriously or stress too hard over grade points. You're laying a solid foundation that will last you a lifetime- just try to enjoy the ride and remember why you chose this career in the first place. 

Where can we find you?: @theholistic_pa - feel free to DM me with questions about our program or just PA student life in general! 


If you're a current PA student and would like to share about your program in a PA School Spotlight post, send an email to savanna@thePAplatform.com or use this link to contact us at The PA Platform now.

How to Raise Your Verbal Score on the GRE

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Sponsored by GRE Word of the Day

I’ve written generally in the past about why taking the GRE is important for physician assistant school applications, as well as my tips for how to study for taking the GRE, but let’s break it down further and focus on the Verbal reasoning portion of the exam.

According to ETS, the main objective of this section is to interpret passages, understand the underlying meaning of text, and show comprehension of words and their respective relationships. Reading comprehension is tested with reviewing paragraphs and answering questions related to what words mean or how they contribute to the overall message of the text. All of this to say, you better know your vocab. Text completion is about plugging in the appropriate word based on the information available to form a complete thought. Sentence equivalence is similar, but you have to choose 2 answers that could complete the sentence and indicate the same meaning. For the most part, the GRE is a strategy test, but when it comes to words, it’s all about memorization and understanding.

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I’ll be the first to admit that my biggest mistake when studying for the GRE was not focusing on the Verbal section long enough. I tend to be a good standardized test taker, but it is impossible to cram for the Verbal section. I foolishly only gave myself a week to study for the test, and between trying to understand the strategy and practice, I wasn’t very motivated to sit there and try to memorize thousands of vocabulary words. As a science major, I had one English class freshman year, so I was a bit rusty. Please learn from my experience, and if you know you’re taking the GRE at any time in the future, start studying today! (Yesterday would be even better.) If you can bust out definitions of “fusillade” or “miscengenation” you’re one step ahead.

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Another mistake I made was just trying to learn from a list of words and definitions in a GRE study book. Staring at pages of hundreds of words is extremely overwhelming, boring, and makes them all start running together. It basically felt like I was reading the dictionary, and I had trouble retaining the information because I wasn’t applying it. That’s where GRE Word of the Day can help you out!


GRE Word of the Day is a free resource that was created by recent graduates to help other students increase their verbal reasoning scores. Most of us are visual learners, so GRE Word of the Day combines a word and definition with an illustration to help you remember and retain the meaning while seeing it applied. You can even get these GRE vocab words sent straight to your inbox daily, which is a great way to make sure you’re doing a little bit at a time. They are also posted on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter (@teambootcampgre) daily so you can learn while browsing social media. My best tip for increasing your Verbal Reasoning Score is to make this studying a part of your everyday routine to avoid the overwhelm that can come with trying to cram it all in at once. GRE Word of the Day makes that very simple, so take advantage of these free resources!

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PA School Spotlight: Marquette University Physician Assistant Program

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PA Program: Marquette University

How long is your program and what quarter/semester are you in?: At Marquette University, our program is 2.5 years or eight semesters long I just started my first year this past August, and just started my second semester this January.

Class size: At Marquette University, our class size is currently 55 students. Half of our class are “internal” Marquette students, meaning that they attended Marquette for undergrad, or currently attend Marquette. The other half of the class are “external” students meaning that they received a bachelor’s degree from a different university. Currently, Marquette is a “3-3” program meaning that undergrad students can apply early from Marquette to start their first year of PA school their junior or senior year, doing three years of undergrad and three years of PA school. However, lots is changing at Marquette. The previous interview cycle accepted 80 students, with what was rumored to be the last year of the 3-3 program. Currently Marquette is looking to expand the PA program size with our new building on campus as well as move towards only accepting those with previous bachelor’s degrees. For my cycle, over 1,400 people externally applied for the 27 seats.

Why did you apply to your program?: Marquette was a school that I didn’t have on my application list originally. I was encouraged to apply to the school from a PA that I shadowed, as it was her alma mater. She had also attended Creighton for undergrad, and I saw many similarities between herself and me. Investigating the school a bit more, I was further inclined to apply after seeing Marquette’s statistics.

Why did you end up choosing to attend your program?: I chose to attend Marquette because of its high PANCE pass rates, the urban Midwest location and larger class size. Marquette is one of only 30 schools in the US that has had 100% PANCE pass rates first try since the start of the program over 20 years ago. Although the program is slightly longer than the average, I know that I will feel prepared to work as a PA, as some of this third year offers more time for clinical electives.

Is there anything unique about your program?: Marquette is currently a 3-3 program as I explained above, but this is going to be discontinued due to the demand for PA school seats. We are also getting a brand new 18.5-million-dollar PA building that will be completed at the end of the summer!

What is your favorite study resource?: Hands down my favorite study resource is my iPad and Apple pen. (Affiliate links). Although my iPad doesn’t really qualify to be a “study resource”, it has quickly become my life line in PA school. I purchased my iPad junior year of undergrad and have never looked back. It is great for taking notes, making flashcards and is my portable white board. My brain learns best when I can write and draw material and then re-write and re-draw until I feel confident. Apps, such as Notability, make this very easy! Additionally, I enjoy having any textbooks needed on my Kindle or Amazon app.

What is the most difficult or surprising part of PA school?: The most difficult part of PA school was moving to a new city, living alone and making friends. People often think that PA school is entirely about academics and trying not to fail, but a huge part of PA school is about your personal health and happiness. You need good friends and a network of PA students regardless of if you are attending school at home or in a new city. I thought that Facetiming and calling friends from college and home would be enough but found myself lonely those first few weeks. Having now found a great group of friends, attending class and other school events is more fun.

What advice would you give to other PA students?: Don’t talk about how stressed you are amongst your peers. Just don’t do it. There are people that will only ever spill negative energy about how much they have to do and how little time they have to do it in. If you don’t let yourself talk about your workload or stress, you won’t feel as anxious about your week. Additionally, nobody enjoys the PA student that always makes you feel that you’re behind. Understand how you deal with stress and prepare for busy weeks in advance as best you can.

Where can we find you?  I started a blog with my good friend Mikayla from Creighton called the PA Prescription. You can find us on Instagram @thepaprescription as well as a link to our blog: thepaprescription.squarespace.com. We are a unique blog in that we discuss the path to PA in a dual perspective (gap year vs. no gap year).


If you are a current PA student and would like to share more about your program, email us at savanna@thepaplatform.com

Interview with Ngan - ENT Physician Assistant, PA Advocate, and Interview Coach

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Ngan is one of our rockstar coaches, and I’m excited to share some of the insights she provided on her job and role with AAPA. She has an interesting educational background and some insights into how legislation works in advocating for the PA profession.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Ngan, and I am a fairly new PA working in ENT. I was part of the inaugural PA class from Florida International University in Miami, and graduated December 2017. Prior to PA school, I received my Masters in Public Health, and worked with a local health department as an epidemiologist investigating infectious diseases. I have also worked as a medical assistant at an HIV clinic.

Do you feel like having a background in public health helped you with getting into PA school or has helped you as a PA?

I would say that my Masters in Public Health did not necessarily get me any more interviews, but it definitely was a conversation starter while I was in the interviews. As a PA, I really do believe that it has changed my thought process to looking more to socio-economic status or factors that affect patient care. So because of that, I do believe that it does make me a better healthcare provider.

I definitely recommend that if you can, or anyone really, should take a few courses in public health. But as far as obtaining a second masters degree, I would say do it only if you are truly interested in working with the underserved population or contributing to greater health in public health.

You went to Florida International University and you were in the inaugural class – did you apply when it was provisional? Did you have any reservations about going to a provisional program? Or did you see any benefits of being in a provisional program?

Correct! I did apply when it was provisional and I am the first graduating class.

I think I was a little reserved applying without knowing much about it, but having been through the whole process, actually sitting in and being interviewed by the ARC-PA (accrediting committee for PA schools), I was confident. It takes a lot for a PA school to become accredited. And to new PA students out there, I definitely encourage you to look into it. One of the great things, I would say, about being in a brand new program, you have the opportunity to provide feedback and kind of mold the program and really make an impact for future PA students. If that is something you are interested in, to make an impact and leave a legacy, then I do encourage students to also look at provisionally accredited programs.

When it came time to apply to PA school, what did that process look like for you and how did you come to the decision of wanting to be a PA?

I will be honest, I did not do my research well. My journey to PA school was challenging, and I would even say that one of the hardest things to me was the whole application. At that time, I didn’t really know anyone going through this process so I had to do this process on my own. What really got me interested was working as an epidemiologist, and I was just frustrated. At that time, I was working on this specific project interviewing young adults that recently tested positive for hepatitis C. During these interviews, I would call the patients and notify them of their test results – here they are crying thinking this is like a life sentence, it was awful, and I was frustrated that these providers were the first ones to get into contact with these patients to notify them. I felt like I wanted to be the voice for these patients, do more and be there for them. And so that’s what trickled into wanting to be a PA.

When it came time to apply, how many schools did you apply to and what did that look like?

I applied in total to 10 schools, and like I said, I didn’t do my research - this is not something that I recommend to other students, so learn from my mistakes – I just pretty much applied to schools based on locations I thought I would want to live in. Majority of them, I wanted to stay locally, so I did apply to mostly Florida schools. Really, it was just that I compared my GPA to see what the schools requirements were and if I met them, typically that is where I would apply. Moving forward, I think for students that are out there, it‘s really important to do your research and also look into the program’s missions and values, I feel that it’s just as important. You are spending two or more years in these programs, you’re investing yourself into your career as well. I think with that you have to do your research and make sure the school is a good fit for you and not just go because it’s in easy reach.

Because of my lack of preparation and failing to really do the research, I was only offered the one interview at FIU, and fortunately, that was the only one school that I needed.

What advice do you have for somebody going into an interview?

I would say the most important thing, or the easiest thing really, is just to be yourself. Be genuine, don’t make up answers that you think the the interviewers would want to know. Speak from the heart and that will translate so much better. What I do notice with a lot of these applicants’ interviews, don’t discredit yourself. Every little thing you do, I think, brings a lot to the table and your weaknesses or strengths, play that up. Like for me, I will be honest, I didn’t have a strong GPA and that is probably what limited me in most my interviews. Yes, like I said, I have my Masters, but the schools really didn’t care. They looked at my undergrad GPA and they were like, yeah we don’t know. For me, I played up my public health strength a lot and I think that’s what ultimately what got me through the interview. So if there is any particular thing that you have that you think is unique, play that to your advantage and I think that will take you far. Speak from the heart and smile!

What was most difficult during PA school?

Early on, I struggled a lot with mental, like personal blocks. What I mean is early on, you are comparing yourself to others. I think that is something easier said than done, but you really just have to work on it. The only competition is yourself, to be a better version of yourself from the person you were yesterday. That was challenging. Of course, I think the volume overload with information that is provided - you hear often that PA school is like drinking water from a water hydrant. It is just challenging. Just trust yourself and trust the process. Whatever it is at the end of the day, everyone is in the same boat. Be your own cheerleader and motivate yourself to continue to study and not be so hard on yourself.

How did you end up in ENT (ear, nose and throat/otolaryngology)?

During PA school, when we had our ENT block, we had a great professor, Jose Mercado, and he was just really amazing. He was someone that was so passionate about ENT. I think I just fed off of that. He introduced us to the ENT conferences that I attended as a student. So that is ultimately how I got my interview and landed my job where I am at now. I just recalled going, as a student, and one of the doctors jokingly told me if you’re someone who likes to play with toys, ENT field is the way to go. That was another reason that caused me to pursue ENT.

Did you have trouble finding a job, or was that pretty easy?

I applied for jobs about 3 months prior to the end of PA school. I would say it was challenging at the time because a lot of the places wanted to see that you were certified. I think it all depends on when you apply, but still would encourage the students out there that are near the end of school to consider looking early. I ended up with two interviews prior to graduation and both of these opportunities came from networking, whether through a conference or just being involved with the state academy.

How has that adjustment been as a new grad? Did you feel prepared coming out of school? At this point, do you feel like you have a handle on things?

Not at all! I feel like there are good days and bad days. It is rough. The feeling walking across the stage knowing that you are now a PA graduate is amazing, but unfortunately, that does not translate well to you getting a job. It is going to be very similar to starting a new clinical rotation. You’re going to feel lost. It has definitely been a challenge. I think I’ve gone through one hurdle, but there is still so much to learn. Kind of what I said earlier about not comparing yourself to others, I have to remind myself frequently, it is not fair for compare my knowledge to my attendings -  someone who’s had seven years of residency training on top of medical school, plus years of experience. Again, that’s something that I will have to continue reminding myself and just continue to push myself to learn and grow each day. But I am hanging in there!

What does a typical day at your job look like?

My current position is interesting. We are affiliated with an academic center and I work closely with our residents and our attendings. Also, I would say, my ENT practice is different from others in the fact that we are very subspecialized – we have a specialist that works in otology, who is only dealing with the ears, rhinology, such as dealing with the nose, pediatric clinic and also, plastics/reconstruction provider. I feel like we are so spread out, whereas if you talk to most ENT providers, they are like, “Oh I am only an otologist and I only deal with ear issues.” Each day is different. I work Monday to Friday, 8- 5. Depending on my assignment, I may work with our ear doctor in the morning and then switch to a different clinic in the afternoon. As far as autonomy, I am still in the process of learning how to do the nasal endoscopies. At this time, as part of our training, the goal or what is expected, is for me to see every new or extended return patient, get a full history, perform the physical exam, maybe perform ear debridement if necessary, come up and discuss with my attending, come up with a plan, and then together we’ll go back to the patients room and discuss. The goal once the training phase is over, I’m expected to see patients on my own, then discharge them out, and ultimately have my own set of patients.

How did you first get involved with AAPA, and why was that something you wanted to do?

I was pretty involved as a student leader at FIU. I was diversity chair for my class. That also led me to work with our state academy. Really, just trying to get involved more as a leader. I got my start in lobbying years ago in college when I lobbied with Planned Parenthood for women’s reproductive rights. After getting my Masters in Public Health, I kind of needed a goal to use my PA title as a platform to advocate for patients health. Sure enough, I was browsing around on Facebook one day and I saw that the AAPA was looking for students to apply to become a delegate for the student academy. Typically, if selected, you will serve for a whole year – that begins in August/September and those duties will end at the conference.

If you are a delegate, what does that mean? What do you do?

As part of a delegate, you have the authority on behalf of the AAPA, to enact policies and principles for the PA profession. To kind of give you some background, there are 57 chapters representing 50 states, 26 recognized specialty organizations, such as dermatology and otolaryngology, and 8 organizations that share a common goal or interest in healthcare delivery. For us as the student academy, we have the largest voting body and have 16 seats, or in other words, 16 voting privileges. Every year, we meet at the AAPA conference for about 3 days – for the first 2 days we are discussing the different policies that are presented, ways that these policies may affect healthcare delivery, whether there is Medicare coverage, PA privileges, health promoting, and disease prevention. The final day is when we vote on these issues.

What are some current hot topics for physician assistants?

I would say one of the hottest topics right now, still is changing the professional title of physician assistants. I will agree where most people feel that the name change isn’t necessary and that it is silly that the AAPA is spending so much money investigating this issue. But in a way, do feel like the title or word the assistant does hinder our practice and confuses the general population. What this policy says is that it’s not necessary to vote whether or not we’ll go with the name change, but to kind of further investigate it and see what the general consensus is on whether a title change would be appropriate.

We voted to not necessarily change the name at this time, just to see what everyone thinks about changing the name and offer suggestions. Whether Physician Associate would be appropriate, or whatever it is. They are just investigating this at the moment. But I feel, at the end of the day, you just have to educate, not just your patients, but everyone - even if it is someone you meet on the street or on the elevator – just educate on who and what it is. Whether a name change will truly change that, I don’t know. We just have to do more work to get the general public to know who we are.

Another hot debate in the house this year was the standards requiring in person instruction. The original policy pretty much stated AAPA supports standards to requiring that PA training programs provide at least 80% of didactic instruction as in person or live lectures. I think it was a great topic started and may have been targeting Yale’s online program, as they are the only online program currently. At the end of the day, what it really boils down to is whether or not there will be a flood market available with online programs popping everywhere. Maybe the title or the way the policy was written didn’t clearly state that, but that is really what the underlying issue is. Unfortunately, that policy did get rejected in the house and down the line this is something we will need to talk about. Yes, I do believe that with technology advances that online components can be great for students, but I think we’d have to kind of light fires for the accrediting bodies, the PAEA, those that are in charge of PA education to really make sure there is a policy in place that not every university can create their own online PA program.

As far as any other major recommendations, there are two that will affect students in a way. One of them got passed this year, and this was an initiative started by the student academy, increasing PA diversity. That did get passed and what that policy states is that there needs to be an initiative for increased funding for development and operation for PA programs at historically black colleges and universities, predominantly black institutions, Hispanic serving institutions, and rural serving institutions. The last one here, support for PA federal loan limits. I see now that with the increasing challenges or competitiveness to get into PA school, there will be more students that come in with a Masters beforehand, and sometimes these loan limitations can affect these students. That is something I think will benefit future PA students.

PA School Spotlight: University of St. Francis

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PA Program: University of St. Francis in Albuquerque, NM

How long is your program and what quarter/semester are you in?: The program is 27 months. I am currently in my 4th rotation (General Surgery), and I have 4 six-week rotations left!

Class size: 40 students

Why did you apply to your program?: I am originally from a small town in rural New Mexico, so I mostly applied to schools close to home.

Why did you end up choosing to attend your program?: USF was my first interview and my first acceptance. I was offered a few other interviews, but I turned them down. I took my first acceptance because I was eager to get started and I loved the location!

Is there anything unique about your program?: The campus is located in a commercial office complex, and it only has a PA program! There’s a main campus in Illinois with other degrees, but in New Mexico, USF is only for PAs. I like that all the school’s efforts and resources go towards PA education.

What is your favorite study resource?: I mostly studied from my professors’ slides and Quizlets made by my classmates and me. I just bought PANCE Prep Pearls and I plan to use it for PANCE studying! (Affiliate link)

What is the most difficult or surprising part of PA school?: Didactic year as a whole is so difficult. It’s true when they say it’s like drinking water from a fire hydrant. So much information and so many exams in so little time!

What advice would you give to other PA students?: Study early and often! I usually did a quick review of the slides after every lecture, and then went over them at least 2 more times before it was time to buckle down before a test. Repetition is key! Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help if you are struggling.

Where can we find you? Instagram: @_erinleanne 

Attached is a picture of me with my pup, Melo, who I have had with me throughout school. My other advice to students is don't be afraid to have a pet during PA school! She's been a wonderful source of stress relief and keeps me active. She also has an Instagram: @corgmelo 


If you are a current PA student and would like to share more about your program, email us at savanna@thepaplatform.com

PA School Spotlight: University of Oklahoma

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PA Program: University of Oklahoma—Health Sciences Center (OKC) Class of 2020

How long is your program and what quarter/semester are you in?: 

The program is 28 months total. We started in early June 2018 with Anatomy and we are in our second term (Fall). We will start rotations in October 2019 and graduate October 2020!

Class size: 51 

Why did you apply to your program?: 

I applied to my program for several reasons. It has been around since 1970, so the longevity of the program alone is outstanding. Until 2010 it was the only PA program in the state when OU-Tulsa formed its program and there are 2 other OK programs that have started in the last couple years. The first-time pass rate for the PANCE at my program has always been very high and everyone I spoke to about my program had only great things to say about it. I also just love the campus and all of the opportunities for rotations. The added super bonus was that I had already been living in OKC for a few years so I wouldn’t have to move. I just knew that this is where I wanted to go. 

Why did you end up choosing to attend your program?: 

I applied to 3 programs, but was accepted into 2. There were other factors, but honestly, I just knew the other option was not the right choice for me. So, I took a risk and officially declined the “sure thing” before finding out if I even had an interview at my first choice. Thankfully it all worked out! I don’t necessarily recommend this move to everyone because there’s always that risk of it not working out. I was just fortunate enough that it did and I’m extremely grateful that for that. 

Is there anything unique about your program?: 

Yes! While some schools are doing away with cadaver Anatomy, it is the first thing you do at my program. It is a 7-hour credit course taught over 6 weeks so it was an incredibly busy start. We did 2 hours of lecture almost every day and 2 hours of lab Monday-Thursday with a practical every Friday on that week’s material. After the practical quiz and even after exams we would still have lecture to get started on the new stuff. 

Along with Anatomy, we also had another 2-hour credit course, “Foundations of Medical Sciences”. This class is a review of the basic sciences to help get everyone caught up, knowing the same information. We studied biochemistry/metabolism, genetics, and microbiology for 2 weeks each over the Summer in conjunction with Anatomy and it was great. It’s been 5 years since I took some of these courses in undergrad so it has been very beneficial for me. The 2019 class had a different layout to the Summer courses, so the program is always changing to improve the program. 

Also, when it comes to rotations OUHSC has just about any elective available on campus. There are so many learning opportunities and I am really excited to see what I get to do next year when I start my rotations.  

What is your favorite study resource?: 

I mostly use just the slides provided. If there is a concept I don’t quite understand or if I need a different explanation I will often use AK Lectures, CrashCourse, or Osmosis.org on YouTube. I often rent the course books, but how much I actually use them is variable. For Anatomy, I recommend getting an atlas (affiliate link) and/or textbook to keep at home because you will probably end up using it well after anatomy has ended. 

What is the most difficult or surprising part of PA school?: 

The weird thing about PA school is that you truly don’t know what it will be like for you until you’re there. Some people come in, have their study strategy down, and are able to do extremely well early on. But honestly, I struggled with my first semester because I never really needed to study in my undergrad or graduate programs. It’s been crazy to go from studying maybe 3 hours per week to 30 hours per week outside of class time. I’m still fine-tuning and working to be more efficient with my time; but it’s getting there. If you are not sure how to keep up or if you find yourself overwhelmed with the volume of material, I truly encourage you to meet with your advisor, professor, tutor, counselor, or whoever you feel can help you. Take every opportunity to learn. And that includes learning how to learn, learning how to study, learning how to listen and take effective notes. 

What advice would you give to other PA students?: 

PA school is hard. It’s supposed to be. But even in the craziness make time for FUN! Even though you will be on campus more than at home, even though you will spend more time in class/studying than with your family/friends, make time for yourself. If you like to work out, read something besides a text book, play music, go out; whatever it is that you like doing, make sure you continue doing it. 

Also, you will study your butt off, work harder than you ever have before, and still get at least 1 really crappy grade. You may even fail a test in the most spectacular way possible. It’s OK! Meet with your professor to see what you could be doing better. Chances are they’ve been where you are and they made it. I love hearing about my professors’ experiences in PA school because knowing that it was hard for them, too makes everything better. They’ve been through it; some did it without the Internet, others had small children, others were newly married, or completely single. No matter the circumstance they understand how hard it is, and they sincerely want you to succeed. 

Find a good group to study with. I usually study with 2 other girls (my program besties) just a couple times per week. Studying alone the majority of the time is best for me, but group study helps you know what you don’t know and you can work together. If you just want to study in silence with a couple people for the sake of studying alone together, that works too. 

It’s truly amazing how much you can learn in such a short amount of time. Do your best, don’t get discouraged, and remember why you chose to go for it. It’s not easy but it will be worth it.

Where can we find you?

You can find me on Instagram! Feel free to follow, ask questions, or just say hey!

@SamiRD2PA (PA School-focused blog)

@RD2PA (Personal blog)


If you are a current PA student and would like to share more about your program, email us at savanna@thepaplatform.com


PA School Spotlight: University of Nebraska Medical Center

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PA Program: University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska

How long is your program and what quarter/semester are you in?: My program is 28 months. I am a third year PA student, and will graduate this coming December!

Class size: 60 (50 on my campus, 10 at a satellite campus)

Why did you apply to your program?: I had a friend go to the med center and she had highly recommended it. It was also a program that was close enough to my family and now-husband, which I really liked as well. UNMC is also a top ten ranked PA program in the nation which I thought was pretty impressive.

Why did you end up choosing to attend your program?: I ended up choosing my program for a lot of the same reasons I applied. However, I felt like UNMC was the right fit for me after my interview on campus. I really liked Omaha and the location to my family, I had heard positive feedback from people about the program, and it was a top ranked program in the nation. All these things were things that got me to apply, but after I was on campus I knew it was more than just that. Things just sort of clicked and felt right when I was on campus; the facilities, the faculty and staff that I got to interact with. It was easy after that.

Is there anything unique about your program?: We have 15 months of clinical rotations, which is so great. What’s even greater is that you actually get to choose 6 electives!! I know so programs only get 1-3, so having 6 is so amazing! You really get to broaden your horizon and maybe choose something you wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to do so. So yeah, I think that’s pretty unique.

What is your favorite study resource?: Google Docs! I know that’s probably an unexpected answer, but my friends and I made medicine study guides on google docs during didactic, and we constantly are going back to these as a resource to study, or to make new study guides off of. Hands down the best thing we ever did. But, I also love me some PANCE Prep Pearls!

What is the most difficult or surprising part of PA school?:  The volume of information you are expected to know. It’s not always that it’s super difficult information to comprehend, it’s just that there is SO much more than undergrad. It can definitely be overwhelming, especially if you don’t stay on top of if.

What advice would you give to other PA students?: 

  • School wise- I would say the most important thing to learn early on is to not compare yourself to your classmates. How they study, how much they study, when they study, etc. Do NOT compare yourself! What works for them may not work for you, what takes them 5 hours, may only take you 3 hours. Whatever works for you focus on that, and focus on doing it well.

  • Outside life wise- Definitely still have a life and don’t think you need to study 24/7. Your life is not over when you start PA school. You need to make time to take breaks doing things you enjoy- whether it’s watching Netflix, working out, or cooking, do whatever you need for a mental health break. That’s just as important as cramming an extra half hour of studying in.

Where can we find you? - Instagram - @kellieg.denhartog

Ultimate Physician Assistant Gift Guide - 2018

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Wondering what to get for all of the PAs in your life? Whether Pre-PA, current students, or practicing PAs, we’ve got you covered with this 2018 Holiday Gift Guide. We’ve broken it down by category and you’ll find more practical options to go with some of the more fun choices. Feel free to pass this guide along to your family and friends to give them some hints about what’s on your shopping list. Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means we get a small percentage if you make a purchase as no extra cost to you. This list is just in time for Black Friday so make sure to keep your eyes peeled for deals!

To Wear

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Looking professional is a staple as a physician assistant! Medelita is my go-to brand for medical wear in clinic. A gift card will provide a choice between the various scrubs, white coats, or scrub jackets, but I’ll share some of my favorites.

Medelita offers free shipping, the option of embroidery, a 1-year warranty, and at-home try-on. What more could you ask for? I recommend any of the scrubs, and my favorite white coats are the Ellody or the Rebecca. If you’ve never bought anything from Medelita, you can set up a new account and get $20 off your first purchase over $70. Use the code PAPLATFORM4 for a 20% discount.

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If you’re looking for something more casual, check out Medthusiast for the cutest and comfiest T-shirts and sweatshirts. Both Medelita and Medthusiast are companies that were created by PAs, which makes them even cooler!

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To Read

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For the Pre-PA Student - To help future PA students reach their goals, there are some must have resources out there to make the process much easier. The Applicant’s Manual of Physician Assistant Programs provides information about all of the current PA programs. This is a huge time saver because it can be difficult to track down that info. After applying, the interview is the next step, so the Physician Assistant School Interview Guide is a great present for anyone in the application process.

For the current or soon-to-be PA Student - There were 2 books that were extremely helpful to me while I was in PA school - the “green” book and Lange Q&A. I used these the entire time and particularly when studying for boards. I’ve also heard great things about PANCE Prep Pearls.

For anyone and everyone - Dr. Atul Gawande is my favorite non-fiction/medical author. His books should be mandatory reading for anyone in medicine. Better and Complications would be welcome stocking stuffers for any PA!

For School

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While PA school is thankfully a somewhat distant memory for me, there are a few things I couldn’t have survived without.

A great computer. If you really love your PA student (or soon-to-be student), make sure they have a functioning laptop. I’ve heard great things about the iPad Pro and Notability for taking notes, so that’s a good option too. I started school with a MacBook Pro and ended with a Microsoft Surface. I wish I had my Surface at the beginning of my program so I could have taken notes directly on our never ending PowerPoints. I’m back to a MacBook now, but the Surface was great for studying for boards.

A functioning printer. Even though everything is online these days, I’m still a pen and paper type of person at times. I like to write things out and take notes by hand, particularly for last minute studying before a test. I have the HP Envy, and it’s wireless, and does the job.

A water bottle. I’m the first to admit I’m the worst at staying hydrated. At work I use one of the large Tervis tumblers to keep my drinks cold or a good Yeti cup. I love this water bottle that helps to remind you to drink frequently by glowing to help increase water intake.

Amazon Prime. Having 2-day shipping was a lifesaver during PA school and clinical year. When my feet and back were so sore during my surgery rotation, I was able to get some compression socks and better shoes on the way ASAP because by the time I got off work nothing was open and I just wanted to sleep.

For Clinic

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If you’re in the market for a new stethoscope, and want one that functions excellently and looks sharp, check out the ERKA stethoscopes from Medelita. I don’t use a stethoscope frequently in dermatology, but my husband has claimed by ERKA as his own and uses it daily at the hospital. There are plenty of color options, and the tubing holds up nicely even with frequent use.

For a coffee drinker, Medthusiast has amazing ceramic coffee mugs with gorgeous artwork on them. These mugs will be the envy of everyone else in the office!

For CME

While I wouldn’t recommend booking a full CME trip for someone else, travel essentials are always a great gift. After going to a few conferences this year, I’ve realized I don’t have great luggage or carry-ons, so those are at the top of my list this Christmas.

Lecture halls at conferences are always freezing for some reason. While I dress business casual and professional when I go to CME events, I’ve been carrying my Medelita Ionic scrub jacket with me to keep me warm. It’s a great weight and still looks professional, so I’ll just leave it at my seat in between sessions. Mine is embroidered so I don’t worry about it going missing. These are available for men and women, and they fit true to size. This is also my husband’s favorite jacket to wear at the hospital, even more than his white coat. (And don’t tell, but even all of the non-medical people in my family are getting these jackets this year!)

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At conference, I always take a good size purse or bookbag to lectures, and I have my trusty Lilly Pulitzer notebook and a ton of pens. You could create a little conference survival kit and that would be an awesome present. Don’t forget the candy and snacks!

For Fun

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Makeup and skincare are always a nice present because who doesn’t love a little pampering. Put together a basket with some bath bombs, sunscreen, and skincare kit for someone who needs to relax a little bit. I’m the first to admit that I’m a product junkie, but most recently, I’ve been using the FRÉ Skincare line. Being a dermatology PA, I’m very picky about products, but these are easy to use, gentle, and leave my skin feeling fresh. The choices aren’t overwhelming and I love that I only have to leave the Detox mask on for a few minutes. You can use the code SAVANNA1 for 15% off, and make sure you’re following me on social media for extra deals (and there’s a really good one coming for Black Friday!)

For more of my recommendations and favorites, check out my Amazon list.

PA School Spotlight: Wayne State University

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PA Program: Wayne State University Class of 2020, Detroit Mi 

How long is your program and what quarter/semester are you in?:

My program is 24 months long. I just started my second semester! 

Class size: 50 

Why did you apply to your program?: 

I applied to my program because I went to WSU for undergrad which allowed me to really integrate into the community. The program is also in the center of Detroit’s the medical campus and utilizes the resources of WSU SOM such as the clinical skills testing center and the human cadaver dissection lab. Additionally our program is what I like to call one with a “working resume”, we are able to apply our skills through tons of volunteer opportunities that allow us to help the underserved areas of Detroit. Lastly Wayne State University’s PA program has been nationally ranked #1 in the state of Michigan. 

Why did you end up choosing to attend your program?:

Although I interviewed and was accepted to other programs, I ended up choosing my program for a variety of reasons. I chose WSU because it was my number one choice, it was the first school I really researched after deciding to pursue the PA profession. I attended a couple of the informational meetings and really felt like it was a great fit for my personal and career goals. I wanted to attend a program in Michigan, served those in need, had a access to great resources (the medical campus and medical school) and was able to serve me once I became a PA (great clinical sites and relationships with PA’s all over the metro-Detroit area). WSU really met all of my needs and it was an immediate yes once I got the email of acceptance! (I still don’t believe it and I am so grateful for this journey) 

Is there anything unique about your program?:

The one thing that a lot of people find unique about my program is the cost of tuition. Currently, the WSU PA program is significantly lower compared to the ones in Michigan and across the nation. Besides the cost, WSU program is centrally located in a huge medical campus in the heart of Detroit. There is a Women’s, Children’s and Heart Hospital in our backyard and because of this our lectures are taught from experts in their fields, sometimes they come to teach us straight from clinic. Also, one of my favorite things about my program are the site visits, starting first semester we see real patients in the hospital, take their history and physical and after we write a H&P. This really makes it feel more “real” and a good reminder of the end goal, PA-C! 

What is your favorite study resource?:

PA school is NOTHING that I could have imagined in my wildest dreams, although it is super challenging, I am loving it. I would say my favorite study resource besides my awesome classmates would be Pance Prep Pearls, First Aid books and Rosh Review (I know this is more than one but they truly help me in different ways). (Affiliate Links) PPP is great because it has all the high-yield diseases and their hallmarks together in one resource. I use First Aid when I want to go a little deeper into a system or disease, it presents dense information in a really organized and simplified way and I use Rosh Review at the end of studying mainly to test my level of understanding and it solidify concepts. 

What is the most difficult or surprising part of PA school?:

Oh gosh, the most difficult thing about PA school is the amount of class room time and workload. In undergrad, I might have had classes 5 days a week but each class was, say only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so on the other days I was not in class I could catch up on the material covered. However, in my program we have lecturers Monday – Friday and I would say on average we are in the classroom from 8 am – 3 pm. Having class every day and then going home to organize/learn the material was a bit challenging and something I am still working on. Besides the amount of time in the classroom, the amount of material covered is unimaginable and I still in shock that I can get through it all and do well on exams. Our brains are amazing guys, and yes you can do it! 

What advice would you give to other PA students?:

If I could go back in time before starting this challenging, but amazing, journey I would tell myself, do not compare yourself to others. This is so hard to do, TRUST ME! I am still working on it, it is so hard not to compare your study habits to your classmates because FOMO is real and it can get overwhelming. Do what has worked for you in the past, of course it will need to be tweaked because of the amount of material you are covering is extensive, but do not lose the foundation of your study methods! One last  little “pearl”, do not try to know every little detail about every little thing, learn the hallmarks of the disease and most importantly have confidence in yourself! (It’s okay to cry too!) 

Where can we find you?

My Instagram is @Vitangela and you can email me at Stramagliav@gmail.com

PA School Spotlight: High Point University

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PA Program: High Point University

How long is your program and what quarter/semester are you in? My program is 27 months. I am about to start my very first clinical rotation next week! I'm starting with Family Med. 

Didactic year is 15 months (June-following August)

Clinical year is 12 months (August-following August)

 Class size: 35 students

Why did you apply to your program? I went to undergrad at High Point University and I could not imagine going to another university for PA school. I valued my undergraduate experience so highly that attending this PA school was my top choice.

We have a brand-new building that houses all of the graduate health professional programs. We have a SIM center with more than 13 high fidelity mannequins equipped for very real-life simulation experiences. Our main class is clinical decision making and is primarily problem based learning, however we have supporting lecture based classes in pathophysiology, pharmacology, clinical methods and procedures, and history and physical examination. We also have a brand-new cadaver lab for anatomy!

Why did you end up choosing to attend your program? I knew as soon as I interviewed with the faculty that this was my top choice. Also, the campus is breathtaking if you haven’t seen it!

Is there anything unique about your program? I am in the 3rd PA class at HPU. The application cycle is currently in progress for the 5th class.

We are a program with 15 months of didactic. This allows us to go from 9AM-3PM most days, which allows plenty of extra time to study each day.

We have mini clinical experiences during our 3rd semester of didactic year where we get to shadow various providers in the community.

We are located in North Carolina, which is a very PA friendly state (The first PA Program was started at Duke!).

We have at least a week-long break in between every semester which is so nice to spend time going home or going on vacation. It’s a great time to relax and mentally prepare for the next semester.  

What is your favorite study resource? (Affiliate Links)

Pance Prep Pearls

A Comprehensive Review for Certification and Recertification Examinations for Physician Assistants- AKA “The green book”

Up To Date

Medscape

Step Up to Medicine- and other books in this series

Blueprints series

What is the most difficult or surprising part of PA school? 

Difficult- PA school needs to be a top priority; your schedule literally revolves around what you are doing with your program. It’s very difficult to make plans in advance, but that’s the nature of dedicating 27 months of your life to your future career. However, most PA programs realize that life doesn’t stop and you are very capable of missing time and making time up for weddings, funerals, etc.

Surprising- For me, it was not as hard as everyone made me fear going in. As long as you go in with the mindset of this is your top priority, you will be okay. Spend the time you need studying and make sure to learn the necessary material for both didactic and clinical years, and you will make it through and become a great provider.

What advice would you give to other PA students?

Take time for yourself!! This is the most important advice I have, and it is everything I stand for in PA school. There is plenty of time for friends and family on top of studying. Your entire life does not need to be consumed with studying while in PA school, you have extra time to do the fun things that matter to you.

Take things one day at a time. When you have 5 exams coming up in a week, you need to focus on each one as they come first. Focusing on all at once will stress you out, and you will burn out.

Eat healthy! A lot of time will be spent sitting down and studying, don’t get trapped into snacking and eating out every day. Spend the extra time to cook healthy things. Some people in my class have meal prepped, and others have used meal delivery services like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh.  

Find a group of friends to study with, they will help you so much and they will be some of your greatest friends in life.

Where can we find you? (websites, Instagram, etc.) 

@ConqueringPA on Instagram!

conqueringPA.com -  Blog coming VERY soon!! :) 


If you’re a current PA student and would like to share your experience, please email savanna@thePAplatform.com

PA School Spotlight: USF Morsani School of Medicine Physician Assistant Program

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Program: USF Morsani College of Medicine PA Program

How long is your program and what quarter/semester are you in?: 24 months. Im currently in my second semester

Class size: 40

Why did you apply to your program?: USF is in my blood because I'm a 3rd generation Bull! My husband and I both grew up in Tampa and went to USF as undergrads as well (Go Bulls!!) 

Why did you end up choosing to attend your program?: USF PA program was always a top choice for me because of the location near my husband's work and our family. The hype of my alma mater finally opening a PA program was a big push for me too and MCOM moving downtown in the next 1-2 years means more job opportunities in the best hospitals of my home town!

Is there anything unique about your program?: USF MCOM is moving to downtown Tampa and is a huge part of the downtown expansion project. This means we have strong ties with TGH and other teaching facilities in our city which makes both rotations and job opportunities appealing. Our PA program has many rotation sites within a 10 mile radius (most of which are on USF property) including 5 rotations (Moffitt, Morsani, VA, Shriners, and Florida Hospital) which are all in walking distance. Since this is only the second year of our program we have a chance to influence the program and our feedback is welcomed by our staff. There are a few of us who hold leadership positions and meet with faculty every few weeks to discuss things we want to change or do to improve our program. 

What is your favorite study resource?: I use so many different resources that its hard to pick just one. Some of my favorites include Osmosis, Smarty PANCE, PANCE Prep Pearls (affiliate link), and other review/recertification books. 

What is the most difficult or surprising part of PA school?: You really can't understand the amount of material and the analogy of “drinking from a fire hose” until you’re in it. You really do study 24/7 and there is no way around it, but at least you’re learning something you love! 

What advice would you give to other PA students?: Stress is your #1 enemy!! Yes, you will be stressed and exam weeks are the worse but you have to try to fight it! Find something that is a stress reliever and really try to give yourself breaks. Take mental and social breaks because its a long journey full of hard work and you deserve it! 

Where can we find you? Instagram: @thereallife_pa, Website: thereallifepa.com (WARNING: I have been very bad at keeping up with my website since starting school but am always available via instagram!!) 

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If you're a current PA student and would like to share about your program in a PA School Spotlight post, send an email to savanna@thePAplatform.com or use this link to contact us at The PA Platform now.

PA School Spotlight: University of Manitoba Physician Assistant Program

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PA Program: MPAS (Manitoba physician assistant studies) 

How long is your program and what quarter/semester are you in?: 26 months and I am just starting out first semester!

Class size: 15

Why did you apply to your program?: It's close to home, it's the only masters program available in Canada and it has a 100% pass rate on the national certification exam!

Why did you end up choosing to attend your program?: It was the only program I was interested in and the only one I applied to. In Canada, there are only 3 programs so far and I didn't want to apply to the states since the tuition costs are much higher than here.

Is there anything unique about your program?: I would say our class size makes us unique, with only 15 of us we get to know each other and become a little family. We also get more time one on one with skills and in the lab. 

What is your favorite study resource?: I like watching videos on YouTube to explain topics. The animations make things much easier to understand and visualize than reading notes.

What is the most difficult or surprising part of PA school?: Since I just finished week one, I anticipate the most difficult part to be balancing all my classes and making sure not to neglect any while studying. It's easy to immerse your self in one topic until you understand it completely, but you might not always have the time for that when you have multiple exams coming up.

What advice would you give to other PA students?: To those just starting (or even mid way through) doubting they will be able to get through didactic year just remember you were selected for a reason and the admissions committee knows what they're doing, you can do it!

Where can we find you?: My Instagram page is @carmenashley_pa 

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If you're a current PA student and would like to share about your program in a PA School Spotlight post, send an email to savanna@thePAplatform.com or use this link to contact us at The PA Platform now.

Guest Post from XO Hollyd. - Preparing for Life After PA School Graduation

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So, you’ve finally made it through didactic year, and are starting to get the hang of clinical rotations – I am so happy for you! But now what can you do to start preparing for after graduation, you know that thing you thought might never happen (or is it just me?!)? Here is a list I compiled of things to consider as you move toward graduation and becoming a PA-C. Keep in mind that this is non-comprehensive, but covers the big things that I found important to do or know about in the process of myself becoming a new PA-C.

6 months before graduation

Start determining how and when you will be studying for the PANCE. Decide if you are going to attend a board review course. I did, and got a lot out of it, but several of my friends did not and still passed their boards. It really is a personal decision. I decided it was the right choice for me because I wanted a little more confidence and a little less anxiety going into the exam. I used CME Resources, which was $750 for a 5-day course, and I thought it was totally worth it! Don’t forget to add in the cost of the binder ($50) if you want it, as well as the hotel/flight if you are traveling to attend, and money for dinners every night (breakfast and lunch were provided, but double check with your specific review course). Each course might also be a little bit different, so be sure to check out the specific itinerary and details on their website.

6 months before graduation (or later)

Start looking for jobs! There is quite a lot of variance among when students begin to look for positions, but most in my experience tend to have a job lined up prior to graduation or around graduation. However, that doesn’t mean you have to have a job before you graduate! Some students I knew waited until after graduation to start applying for positions. There are so many jobs for PAs in my experience, so you can really take as long or as short of a time finding and accepting positions. However, if you have a specific specialty, location, or any other perks that you are adamant about having in your first PA position, I’d say jump on them because the position may or may not be there when you decide you are ready to apply. Again, it’s a completely personal decision. I applied about 5 months before graduation, had my interview about 3 months before, and accepted the position 2 months before I graduated. Once you accept a position, there is a bunch of credentialing paperwork that your specific employer will send you, in my experience it comes in increments because of the massive amount of information they need. Be prepared to provide a lot of information that you would typically need for any job you’ve had in the past, as well as completing background checks, drug screens, and a check/update on your immunization status.

3 months before graduation

You are now eligible to register for the PANCE exam, or your certifying exam. Your program has to authorize you to be able to do this, but once they do you can register for a location, day, and time to take your PANCE. The cost was $500 when I took it in June 2018. You are eligible to take the PANCE 7 days after graduation and can decide to do it a week after graduating or wait a few weeks like I did. Again, a personal decision, and I waited so I could attend a board review course prior to my exam. It takes about 1-2 weeks to receive your scores back after taking the PANCE, so relax and enjoy your time until then! No need to stress about scores until you see how you did. Here is the link to the description of how many times you can take your PANCE: http://www.nccpa.net/pance-registration  This is the website where your register to take your boards and pay for them, as well as where you will keep track of your CME credits and certification in the future. 

Received Your PANCE Pass E-Mail?

After you’re officially certified (YAY!), now you can start submitting your state board licensing application(s) which allow you to practice as a physician assistant in that particular state. For me, I applied to the State Board of Medicine and the State Board of Osteopathic Medicine because I will be working under both MDs and DOs. Depending on your position, you might only need one or the other, or both like I did. The website you will visit depends on the state in which you plan on practicing in. You can find a list of state boards on AAPA’s website through this link: https://www.aapa.org/advocacy-central/state-advocacy/state-licensing/list-of-licensing-boards/ . This process can take quite a while to both submit and obtain approval for your license depending on the state you plan to practice in, so you should try to do this as quickly as possible without compromising your application. Some suggestions: if you find it is taking longer than expected and you need your license in order to start your new job, try calling your personal state representative and explain to them that you are trying to get your licensing process moving along. I’ve heard many success stories of new PAs waiting for months to have their license approved, but as soon as they contacted their state representatives, they had their license shortly after! I personally contacted my representative after about 6-7 weeks of my application being submitted and having no updates coming in from the state.

You may also need to obtain your National Practitioner Data Bank Self Query for state licensing, which can be found here: https://www.npdb.hrsa.gov/ .

At this time, you can also apply for your National Provider Index number, or NPI number. This number is specific to you and allows you to be identified as a healthcare provider in the United States. Attached is a document providing additional information on the NPI number: https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Provider-Enrollment-and-Certification/MedicareProviderSupEnroll/downloads/EnrollmentSheet_WWWWH.pdf

After obtaining your state license

Now it is time to obtain any additional licenses you may need. Typically, your employer/credentialing specialist will inform you of anything you might need in order to work for them. For me, I had to obtain my DEA license. This license cost me $731, and you must renew it every 2 years. Some employers will pay for it, so make sure to double check! Prior to receiving your DEA license, your employer will also have to submit a Written Agreement to the state, which basically states the physician you will be working under, your provider insurance, and what you will be allowed to do under this provider. This Written Agreement must be approved, which then gives you an Mx number, which links your DEA license to your supervising physician and allows you to prescribe the scheduled drugs that have been agreed upon by your supervising physician and yourself. This portion was a little confusing for me, so I could be unintentionally omitting or confusing information, but the general process and materials that you need to submit are accurate.

The process of obtaining all of the necessary licensing and credentialing documentation is definitely a lot, but remember that most company employers will have a licensing and credentialing specialist that will be assigned to your work load. Typically, you can contact them with any additional questions you might have.

If you’ve got some extra time to kill before starting your new position

Relax, do something for YOU (you deserve it after these past few years!), read up on the specialty you’ll be working in (in the most leisurely way possible – don’t stress too much because you’ll be learning a bunch on the job as well!), or you can start to aquire some CME credits. I personally used Medscape and linked them to my NCCPA account once I read journal articles and answered questions, but you can really use any website that is approved for CME credits. Just make sure that you register your credits as soon as you complete the activities so you don’t forget about them! CME credits need to be completed every 2 years, and you need at least 50 category 1 CME. Most online journals count as category 2 CME, but you can earn up to 50 this way, and why not get a head start if you’re feeling up to it! 

I hope this helps to ease some of the confusion and anxiety surrounding becoming a PA-C with all of the appropriate licenses and paperwork. Good luck in your new job! Go show the world what an amazing PA you are going to be!

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Holly is a newly graduated PA just starting in Neurology. She graduated from Marywood University. Prior to attending PA school, Holly graduated from Temple University Honors Program in 2014 with a degree in Neuroscience and minor in Psychology. She then worked for two years as a mental health worker, direct service professional in an autism center, and as an emergency department scribe. You can find Holly on Instagram at @xohollyd and on her blog XOhollyd for more PA tips!