Patient Care vs Healthcare Experience Explained

PA Coaching • May 24, 2023

Patient Care vs Healthcare Experience?

That is the question…but here is the ANSWER! It can be confusing on what qualifies in each area, so in this video I break it down more simple for you regarding Patient Care vs Healthcare Experience.

Patient Care vs Healthcare Experience Explained

When applying to PA school, one of the most important considerations is the distinction between patient care experience vs healthcare experience. Many pre-PA students are often confused about the significance of these two terms and what they entail. In this article, we will break down the difference between patient care experience and healthcare experience, clarify their importance, and provide examples of what counts as each when applying to PA school.

Understanding Patient Care Experience

By definition, patient care experience refers to having direct responsibility for caring for patients. This means actively engaging with patients and being involved in their medical care. There are various roles that are considered patient care experience, and while some PA programs may differentiate between higher and lower levels of patient care, there are common ways to gain this experience.

  1. EMT, Paramedic, and Medical Assistant: These roles involve direct interaction with patients, providing medical assistance, and performing vital tasks under supervision.
  2. CNA and Patient Care Technician: These positions involve hands-on care for patients, including assisting with daily activities, monitoring vital signs, and ensuring their comfort.
  3. Physical Therapy Aide and Behavioral Technician: These roles involve assisting patients in therapeutic activities and supporting their overall well-being.
  4. Medical Scribe and Pharmacy Technician: While there may be a slight gray area with these roles, as they don’t always involve direct patient interaction, some programs accept them as patient care experience. However, it is advisable to check with individual programs for their specific requirements.
  5. Clinical Research Coordinator: While some programs may not consider this role as direct patient care, others acknowledge its value. As an example, for an oncology PA, this experience would be viewed as valuable patient care experience. It is important to check with the programs you are interested in to determine their stance.

These are just a few examples of roles that are generally recognized as patient care experience. However, it is crucial to consult each PA program’s website or contact them directly to verify their specific criteria.

Understanding Healthcare Experience

Healthcare experience, on the other hand, exposes individuals to a medical environment but does not necessarily involve direct responsibility for patient care. It provides valuable exposure to the healthcare system and allows individuals to understand the dynamics of healthcare delivery without having direct patient interaction.

  1. Patient Transporter: This role involves transferring patients within a healthcare facility, ensuring their safe and timely movement.
  2. Administrative and Clerical Roles: Working in the front office of a medical practice, handling paperwork, billing, coding, or other administrative tasks, contributes to healthcare experience.
  3. Support Services: Delivering meals to patients or assisting with non-medical tasks in a healthcare setting also falls under healthcare experience.

It is important to note that having both patient care experience and healthcare experience is not mandatory for PA school applications. However, patient care experience is highly valued and should be prioritized. It demonstrates your ability to work directly with patients and provides a solid foundation for a career as a PA. Healthcare experience, while valuable, serves as a complementary factor that supports your application.

Volunteer Work and Certification

Many pre-PA students wonder if volunteer work can count as patient care experience. The answer is yes, depending on the nature of the volunteer work. Medical mission trips or involvement in local community service that directly serves patients can be considered as patient care experience. However, you must make a decision whether to list it as volunteer experience or patient care experience, based on the amount of patient care hours you have.

As for certifications, while some roles like medical assistant or phlebotomist may require certification for specific job positions, certification itself is not always necessary to count the experience as patient care. It is important to review the requirements of the job you are applying for and check with individual programs to determine their preferences.


In summary, patient care experience and healthcare experience have distinct differences when it comes to applying to PA school. Patient care experience involves direct responsibility for patients and includes various roles such as EMT, medical assistant, and CNA. Healthcare experience exposes individuals to the healthcare environment but does not necessarily involve direct patient care. Examples of healthcare experience include administrative roles, patient transport, and support services.

While having both types of experience is beneficial, patient care experience holds greater significance in PA school applications. It is crucial to review each PA program’s requirements and consult their websites or contact them directly for clarification. Prioritizing hands-on patient care experience will demonstrate your readiness to become a PA, while healthcare experience can further support your application.

Remember, patient care experience and healthcare experience are not mutually exclusive, and there are numerous roles that qualify for each category. Researching specific programs and seeking guidance from mentors or professionals in the field can provide further insights and help you make informed decisions as you navigate the application process.

Also read: Should I become a physician assistant (PA)?

About me:

I’m Michele Neskey, aka The Posh PA. Welcome to my YouTube channel! My mission is to provide personalized guidance, education, and motivation to build confidence and promote wellness for aspiring physician assistants and beyond.   

Having been a PA for 17+ years and helped hundreds of students gain acceptance into PA school,  I understand the admissions process. I know what they are looking for, and I can help you tailor every component to make you shine, giving you the BEST chance of getting accepted to a program.  But it doesn’t end there. I create personalized plans for PA students and practicing PAs including test-taking strategy for the PANCE, contract negotiations, and tools to overcome and prevent provider burnout. 

My goal is to get you into a physician assistant (PA) school & survive the rigorous program, help you prevent burnout as a practicing PA, and help you take care of yourself so you can be the best version of YOU for your patients, family, and most importantly YOU!