The Easiest Way to Gain 200 Hours of Patient Contact Experience

If you’re racking your brain to come up with direct patient contact experience, stop for a second and consider all of the direct experience you get just through the Excell Pre PA Assistant Clerkship program!

Not only do you get over 200 hours of real-life patient experience over the course of your clerkship, you’ll come out the other side being able to speak directly to your role as a patient advocate and liaison.  By the time you’re done, you’ll have developed skills in bedside manner, gotten direct patient interaction, detected and resolved patient quality of life issues, worked as a liaison between patients and staff, experienced being part of a healthcare team, and more! Read more »

What to do before, during, and after applying to PA schools

Before you begin the physician assistant program application process, you’ll want to create a basic timeline that you can refer to. This timeline will help you figure out which tasks need to be done by when, but it will also help you organize your application materials. Think of your timeline as a master schedule- it’ll help keep you on top of the application process and plan for the unexpected.

Applications are usually submitted a year prior to attending, but you’d be surprised how quickly a year can fly by! Applying early helps you avoid those unexpected delays, allows for processing time, and may even improve your chance of admission to programs that utilize rolling admissions.

Below is a basic breakdown for the PA program application process. Keep in mind that we’ve broken up our timeline into two major chunks: before and during the application process. You may want to create a more detailed monthly schedule or a Google calendar to better keep track of your application progress.

What to do Before Applying to Physician Assistant School:

Open a CASPA account
This will help you read about the application process directly from the source, even if you’re not applying until a later application cycle.  It also allows you to be updated with any changes to CASPA or current events related to the PA profession.

Research PA programs
The PAEA Program Directory is a great place to start, but there are plenty of other ways to search for your ideal program.

Schedule a time to meet with your advisors
If you’re still in school, find a time to talk about your plans to apply to PA programs.  You’re already paying for access to advising personnel, so take advantage of this resource while you have it!

Pinpoint Missing Credits/Classes
If your undergraduate major was in a non-related field, take any prerequisite courses you may be missing. 

Get involved in extracurricular activities
Doing this will boost your resume and help outline your key qualities.  Things like joining an active student organization, doing volunteer work, or participating in research opportunities are all great ways to show that you’re a motivated leader capable of teamwork.

Prepare for and take standardized tests
If your ideal program requires the GRE/MCAT/TOEFL or any other standardized test, give yourself adequate time to prepare and take the tests.  You may find that you need to take the test multiple times to get the scores needed for admission, so don’t let this delay your application process.

Do your healthcare experience hours (HCE)
If you feel that you’re lacking in this area, consider taking additional vocational coursework to earn a certificate so you can work as a paramedic, community health worker, or medical assistant in a healthcare setting. Basically, you want to take advantage of any opportunity possible where you can accumulate direct patient contact hours

Stay organized from day one
Start a file or folder for each program you’re applying to. You’ll want to make a note of the following for each program:

  • Requirements (prerequisite courses, tests, etc.)
  • CASPA participating program?
  • Deadline
  • Supplemental deadline date (if applicable)
  • Interview date
  • Make sure to include a section for notes such as tuition, program class size, area of focus, etc.

Order all transcripts
You’ll need to order transcripts using CASPA’s transcript request form at least one month prior to the earliest program deadline. You should also consider getting an additional copy to keep for your records.

Choose Your References
It’s never too early to start thinking about your letters of recommendation.  Ideally, at least 2 of your recommenders should be supervisors from your time spent accumulating healthcare experience hours. It’s also a good idea to have a backup recommender (remember- expect the unexpected!) Also, be sure to secure their commitment to writing you recommendations before moving forward.

What to do During the PA School Application Cycle 

You can never have enough healthcare contact experience, so racking up more over the course of the application process will do nothing but benefit you.

Prepare for your interviews.
The more time you spend practicing and internalizing your answers, experiences, and anecdotes, the easier life will be on interview day.  Run over the questions alone, gather anecdotes and experiences that relate to the PA profession, and have mock interviews with friends and family. If public speaking makes you nervous, start working through this anxiety and find ways to cope.

Submit your CASPA application.
This can take up to one month to be verified, so you’ll want to do this as early as possible.

Triple Check Your Dates
You’ll want to make absolutely sure you know all of the deadlines for the programs you’ll be applying to. Some programs may end up extending their deadlines depending on the amount of applications they receive, so check monthly for updates.

Confirm that your letters of reference have been received.
Once this has been confirmed, print a copy of all application materials for your records.

Apply for scholarships and grants.
Some have early deadlines and are not tied to a specific program, so do your research early on to avoid missing deadlines.

Accept or decline interviews
You’ll want to make a decision on whether or not you’ll attend an interview immediately after you are asked. When in doubt, always accept – it’s better to keep your options open until you can make a more informed decision.

And, of course, write and submit your PA School Narrative and any supplemental applications!

What to do After the PA School Application Cycle

Once your interviews have ended, send a thank you note to each school. If there were 3 or fewer people on your interview committee, write one for each individual member. If your committee was larger, you can write a single thank you note addressed to the entire committee.

Once you’ve accepted a seat in your desired program, do a victory dance… and then make sure you contact the school’s Financial Aid office to start your financial aid process!

Additional PA School Resources

  • The Complete Guide to Getting Accepted to PA School
    Everything you could possibly need to know about the PA school application process
  • Personal Narrative Review
    If you want a second set of eyes, you may as well ask a Physician Assistant who has already gone through the process – and who has also been on the admissions board for the Rutgers PA Program!
  • Mock Interviews
    If your interview skills need polishing, we can help – remember, the best way to avoid jitters is to be confident through preparation!
  • PA Shadowing & Mentorship
    Our program works – 100% of our program graduates have gotten into PA school, and we can help you too!
  • Apply to the EXCELL Pre-PA program
    If you’re ready to jump right in, apply today – admissions are on a rolling basis, so early applicants are more likely you are to secure one of our competitive spots!


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Many PAs will find themselves in a situation where they need to act both as a leader and a team player. Being able to step up in the moment and lead a team without a second thought while still maintaining a “group effort” mentality is important and necessary if you want to be a successful PA.  If you don’t have the ability to work well in both roles, you may find yourself unable to keep up with the professional demands of the job.

How can you prepare to fill the role of both the leader and team player? Besides focusing on your communication and planning skills, there are specific traits you can work on to help feel more comfortable jumping between leadership and collaboration mode. Read more »

How Important is PA Program Length?

It seems like many PA programs are increasing the amount of months it takes to complete their curriculum. The average PA program length has increased to around 26 months, with some spanning 36 months or more.  While some may argue that the quality and depth of PA training will increase with more program time, this approach isn’t necessarily true.

Longer program lengths do allow for additional training and projects, but they also come with some negative consequences. Read more »

The Best Questions to Ask During Your PA School Interview

More often than not, your interview panel will ask if you have any questions for them at the end of your interview. Out of all the questions asked during your interview, the last thing you want is to be caught off guard by the very last question!

PA interviews are designed so the program can gauge whether or not you’re a viable and valuable candidate for their program, but they’re also set up so YOU can get a good sense of a program and whether it’s a good fit for you and your goals. By asking some of the following questions as a follow-up, you’ll show that you’re genuinely interested in learning more about that specific program while showing that you’re a competent and observant individual. Here are the top questions you should be asking: Read more »

Demonstrating Personal Integrity During Your PA School Interview

During the PA school interview process, you will be asked a handful of ethical questions.  These questions are designed to evaluate your professional and academic integrity, as well as your sense of morality.  These questions are a way to see how you would react in situations that challenge your ethical standards, and generally place you in an uncomfortable scenario.  In these scenarios, you’ll likely have to balance your emotional response, moral code, and understanding of what a PA can and cannot do when providing care. Read more »

How to Choose the Right Pre-Physician Assistant Major

If you’re thinking about becoming a Physician Assistant, you’re probably questioning what the “right” or “best” path is towards getting into PA school. The majority of students question which major will give them the competitive edge needed to get into the best PA program possible. Students that are in the process of completing their undergraduate degree or those who have decided to return to school often think that majoring in biology, pre-med, or even a dedicated pre-PA program are the only options if they want to become a PA. While this vein of thinking is completely logical, challenging majors like these aren’t always your best bet.  Read more »

The Essential Personal Narrative First Draft Guide

If you’re having a hard time starting your personal narrative, don’t feel discouraged! Many intelligent pre-physician assistant students struggle with starting their writing process because of how open-ended and overwhelming the prompt can be. After all, there are infinite reasons why you want to become a physician assistant and you have a lifetime of experiences and motivations to pull from. Combine that with the fact that your admissions panel will be looking for unique, convincing, well written, and well intentioned personal statements, and it seems almost impossible to write a strong personal statement. Read more »

What’s your true motivation to become a PA?

If you’re going to convey honesty and transparency in your personal narrative, it’s crucial to understand what motivates you.  It’s unlikely that your interview panel will directly ask what motivates you, but they may ask about the reasons you chose to become a PA.  If you’re just looking for notoriety, a decent salary, or for the opportunity to “help people” your motives will undoubtedly be questioned. Read more »

How to Get The Best Letters of Recommendation

More often than not, applicants don’t focus enough of their attention on their letters of recommendation. Many pick a handful of references, provide them with the information needed to submit their recommendations, and completely forget about them.  While you can’t involve yourself to the point where you’re editing your own letters of recommendation, an outstanding letter of recommendation could very well be the difference between landing an interview and being passed over by admissions committees. Read more »

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