Are you finishing up your undergraduate degree and looking to go straight into a PA program? Are you planning on taking some time off to work and boost your resume between finishing your undergraduate degree and starting PA school? Maybe you’re interesting in switching career paths and need a bit of guidance to start you off on the right track. No matter what your situation may be, you’ll need to have a solid plan to prepare you for the path ahead. Read more »
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When you’re preparing for your physician assistant school application and interview, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the history of the PA profession. Going into your interview without a firm understanding of the history of the PA profession will make you seem unprepared and generally uninterested in the PA career path. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with our brief overview of the PA profession.
Physician Assistants Then…
The first PA program was founded at Duke University in the 1960’s by Dr. Eugene A. Stead. The inaugural class included US Navy corpsmen and US Army Combat Medics, and based the curriculum off of his knowledge of the training doctors received during World War II. The inaugural class graduated on October 6, 1967. Now, October 6-11 is recognized as National Physician Assistant Week in their honor (this is an easy way to remember the beginnings of the profession!)
Dr. Eugene A. Stead is known as the father of the PA Profession. Stead is well known for wanting all PAs to have relationships with physicians to increase their body of medical knowledge. He also found the concept of distance education to be very efficient, believing that it was more valuable to know how to quickly look up information as it was needed that to try to remember everything.
As of now, there are around 92,000 PAs eligible to practice. By 2020, the demand is expected to grow to 150,000, making it the 3rdfastest growing profession in the country. In fact, the PA profession has been rated as one of the top 30 careers for job satisfaction, prestige, job market outlook, and salary, and has been included in the top 10 best jobs in America on Glassdoor and Forbes for the past few years.
Still, there is a notoriously low acceptance rate for PA programs due to the small amount of available spots and large amount of applicants. The best way to ensure your acceptance is to apply to multiple programs, have a stellar personal narrative and application, and perform well at your interview.
If you ever need a quick refresher, check out this video from the AAPA and the Physician Assistant History Society that traces the origins of PAs.
Become a part of history – start taking your steps towards becoming a successful Physician Assistant today!
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?
- 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
CONTINUE ACCUMULATING HCE WHILE YOU WAIT!
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!
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
You’ve completed your personal narrative, submitted your application, and may have even completed your interview. You know that, based on your experiences, grades, and demeanor that you’d be a great pick for any PA program. You may think you’ve got this in the bag, but do you really know what PA programs look for when judging their potential students?
Knowing what each program looks for in their applicants and how they’ll be assessing both your interview performance and application materials is crucial for determining your success. Think of it this way- it’s much easier to do well on a test if you know how you’re being scored. The same concept rings true for your acceptance into a PA program. Read more »
If you’re considering becoming a PA, you’ll often find that many programs require a certain amount of patient contact or shadowing experience. Patient contact experience comes from shadowing working Physician Assistants, so the most important step is finding and securing a shadowing opportunity.
As you may know, PAs can be very busy people when on the job, but the overwhelming majority love talking about their profession and answering questions- you just need to find a time when they can talk!
So how does one go about finding a PA to shadow? Read more »
If you’re considering a career in healthcare, there are plenty of options to choose from. Most people assume that becoming a doctor is the best option when working in the medical field solely based on their notoriously high salaries, but this simply isn’t true. If that logic were applied to other fields of work, we’d have a surplus of architects and no carpenters, or an abundance of chefs and no farmers.
Becoming a PA is a rewarding way to provide hands on patient care without many of the barriers MDs face along the way. It’s also a great way to work as part of a healthcare team- directly alongside MDs. Don’t believe us? Here are just 5 of the countless reasons why becoming a PA could be a great fit for you.
- You Make a Great Salary
Yes, doctors tend to earn some of the highest salaries, but PAs make a fantastic living as well. In fact, the average rate of pay for a PA continues to rise year after year due to increased demand. PAs can even earn a six-figure income by working in high paying specialties like dermatology or emergency care.
- You Get to Work as a Team
Teamwork makes the dream work, and this is especially true for PAs. Doctors tend to be leaders who often find themselves at the head of a department or practice. The extra responsibility or burden of being the “decision maker” can separate doctors from their co-workers in a way that doesn’t typically happen for PAs. If you love working as part of a team, you may find the PA career much more rewarding than working as an MD.
- You Get a Flexible Career and a Great Work-Life Balance
Doctors train for years just to work in one specialty and they’re typically locked into that specialty for good. PAs have a huge advantage because they have the qualifications needed to work in virtually any medical specialty, and can transition from one specialty to another without needing to go back to school. PAs also work more regular hours. This means that you can work a fulfilling career and fulfilling life outside of work without having to compromise.
- You Spend Less Time (and money) in School
Medical school is no laughing matter. If you compare the 7-8 years of school and residencies a typical doctor needs against the 2-3 years required to become a PA, there’s no question that PA programs are the fast track to a rewarding medical career without the burdensome debt. Becoming a PA is no easy feat, but you’ll be able to start working and paying off the debt you may have incurred much faster than an MD.
- Being a PA is Rewarding
Many of us try to find a working environment that fits our personality and satisfies our occupational needs. While doctors and PAs do much of the same work, PAs have a higher focus on patient care. You get to spend your time providing top notch patient care without worrying about the rest of the bureaucratic mess that comes along with being a doctor.
If you want the flexibility of changing specialties, the freedom to provide a high level of direct patient care, the balance of a fulfilling career and home life, plus a great salary without the burden of medical school debt, becoming a PA may be the right move for you!