A HELPFUL ARTICLE
Becoming a PA: Top 10 FAQs
As a PA counselor, I often get asked a lot of questions by students either looking into a career as a PA or from PA students about entering the profession. Here, I will address the Top 10 FAQs I receive day to day!
1) What is the best undergraduate major to choose as a pre-PA? Is one more competitive than another?
My answer is always the same. Choose any major that you have interest in and will actually enjoy, and that preferably allows you to complete all of your prerequisites. Doing this will keep you more engaged and motivated to do well. Your GPA is a very important part of your application, so choose a major that interests you so you can perform well academically.
2) Can nurses become PAs or is majoring in nursing okay when applying to PA school?
Absolutely! While many nurses choose the nurse practitioner route, others feel that PA school is more in line with their goals. Nursing is a great way to gain patient care experience and earn an income as you apply to PA school. Be sure to check if your coursework in the nursing program will cover your prerequisites as well.
3) As a PA, are you expected to know everything when you begin your first job?
No way! In every job there will be a learning curve and be sure to choose a position that has a solid onboarding process. More importantly, finding a physician that you trust and can help train you is great when entering into your first position as a PA. There will be self-study involved, but you will be surprised how quickly you will learn!
4) Do you have to do a residency or get a certification to change specialities? How hard is it to make the transition?
No! That is the glory of the PA profession. With the generalist training, you can switch between specialties without residency training or special certifications. With that being said if you are switching between similar specialties for example from urgent care to ER, that transition will be smoother as many of the concepts overlap. However, if you are doing primary care and decide to switch to a surgical subspecialty, the learning curve will be greater, but it certainly can be done.
5) Do patients refuse to see you because you are not a doctor?
If I am being 100% honest, there have been some instances where a patient has requested to see the doctor. With that being said, in most of these scenarios once I begin speaking to the patient and redirecting them back to the source of their visit, they often begin to feel more comfortable and in the end do not see the doctor. However, it is always a patient’s right to see a physician if that is their preference.
6) What can I do in high school to start my journey to PA?
The best thing you can do both in high school and college, in my opinion, is focus on your academics. Having a strong knowledge base and GPA will set you on the right path. You can opt to take AP classes in high school in sciences, but know you may have to still take them in college as some programs do not accept AP credits for prerequisite courses for PA school. You can look for any volunteer opportunities that do not have to be medical in nature, get BLS training, join your state PA society to learn about the profession or any upcoming local events, and find a PA to shadow.
7) How do I obtain patient care experience when I am in college?
When in your undergraduate years, the focus should be on your academics. However, we all know that the average person accepted to PA school has about 2000 hours of patient care experience, so depending on your timeline, you may have to obtain these hours while in college. There are certifications such as becoming a CNA or phlebotomist that have relatively short training times and are a good place to start. Other options include EMT (some colleges offer this course), Medical assisting, and medical scribing. I would recommend doing these part time or on breaks to minimize the impact on your studies if possible. There are many ways to obtain PCE, so get creative!
8) Does it look bad to take a gap year?
Absolutely not. In fact it has become more common than ever to take a gap year to not only strengthen your application but gain some real world experience. The average age of an accepted PA student is 24/25 so you will see a lot of applicants taking a gap year or two to prepare themselves for success in the application process. With that being said, you certainly do not have to take a gap year if you are ready to apply as a junior in college. Remember, to go straight through from undergrad to PA school, you will need to apply your junior year.
9) How can I make my application stand out?
Personally, I believe a well-rounded applicant is a competitive applicant. Having a strong GPA (somewhere 3.5 or above) and over the minimum patient care hours will set you up for success, but also look for leadership opportunities like serving as an officer on a board or teaching experience by serving as a tutor. Getting involved in extracurricular activities, shadowing, and having research experience can also be a plus. Join your state PA organizations as well as our national organization AAPA, to show your interest and learn about the profession. Shadowing is difficult right now during the pandemic, but many PAs are offering virtual shadowing sessions. While this does not replace in person shadowing, it is the best we can offer right now. I would list this shadowing on your application as virtual. If programs do not accept it, at least it shows effort and you learn what it is like day to day as a PA in different specialties.
10) Do you ever regret not being a doctor?
In all honesty, no. I made a conscious and well thought out decision to become a PA. It has allowed me to practice medicine as well as have the flexibility to achieve my personal goals. I have moved across multiple states and with each move was able to find a position as a PA to fit my needs. Now having a child, I work part time and have the opportunity to pursue other interests like counseling pre-PAs! Being a PA has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Over the years I have watched the evolution of the PA profession as well as its growing popularity. At the same time the competition to be accepted to a PA program has become more rigorous and the process variable between schools. As someone who had little guidance, I have made it my mission to help pre-PAs and PA students navigate the waters as they enter on this journey. I am so excited to continue this work and see the evolution of leaders in the PA profession.