Getting Into PA School: Paul’s Story

It’s easy to get caught up in the demands of physician assistant requirements.  With all the exams for prerequisite classes, researching PA programs, filling out CASPA applications, chasing down letters or recommendation, and paying the bills any way you can, things can turn into a grind.  Do you feel that way?  I remember how clearly I felt it.

It’s been a while, and I’m feeling a reflective today, so I’ll share a little of my own story.  Sometimes it helps to see that others have been through something like what you are going through.  My story is not perfect, or even typical, but maybe you’ll get something out of it.

I hadn’t considered the field of physician assistant medicine much until I told my primary care physician, Dr. G., that I needed to do something different after being a stay-at-home father of three young children for five years.  Before being a parent, I had enjoyed working as a marriage and family therapist, but it was hard work that didn’t pay well, and it just didn’t seem like the answer.  Dr. G. told me about a PA named Lynn whom he had preceptored, and he suggested that I call her for an “informational interview.”  It was great advice.  Lynn had worked in orthopedic surgery, midwifery, primary care, emergency, and was now a hospitalist.  She was enthusiastic, and reassured me that PA medicine was a field that had allowed her to remain an active parent to her children, earn a tidy income, and do work that she loved.  She spent plenty of time with me on the phone (on two or three different calls), gave me her email address, and even offered to let me shadow her.  I should have taken her up on it, but I’m embarrassed to say that never did. 

After researching the field for a while, I decided to go back to school to become a physician assistant.  In order to apply, I needed to take anatomy, physiology, and microbiology.  To be more competitive, I also decided to take a private EMT Basic course.  I had worked as an EMT some years before, but had let my certification lapse, so I had to start all over.  In all, while parenting, these courses would take me at least two years to complete.  I was excited about the opportunity, I jumped back into school with a vengeance. 

I loved my studies, but quickly realized how much work I was in for.  I took anatomy, and studied in spurts – an hour here, a weekend there.  I was intimidated by the course, but managed to impress my instructor, who eventually became a friend and letter writer for my PA school application.  On my non-school days I stayed home with my three young kids.  During this process, I felt torn between my family and my education.  I studied late at night and during the day for short periods while the kids played on their own.  I was tired all the time, and frequently grumpy and irritable.  I didn’t feel like a very good student or father, but I knew that not following through with this would mean being unhappier and therefore an even worse father, so I kept going. 

The second year of my preparation, I began looking for a health clinic to volunteer with, but had no luck.  I was told by several that they were too busy, or that they couldn’t take me because they couldn’t afford to insure me, and wouldn’t let me get my own insurance.  Finally, I lamented to a friend that this was my dream, but I was stymied.  She talked with a physician friend she knew (who eventually became one of my preceptors) at one of the clinics that had turned me down, and he was able to push through the red tape to get me in to volunteer.  I learned so much in clinic and had a great time doing it. 

sleeping in the car

It was never comfortable…

Soon after, I learned that because it had been years since I had taken physiology, I would need to retake it in order to have a chance of being accepted.  Unfortunately, I found this out in August of the year before I applied, late enough that all of the classes in my area were full with wait lists.  I searched up and down Northern California for an open slot in a physiology class and finally found one in Eureka, CA, a three-hour drive from my home.  Undeterred, I signed up.  On Mondays I had microbiology at my home school, and on Tuesday I left at 4 PM for Eureka.  I studied while driving by listening to a digital voice recorder into which I had dictated notes and questions like, “BLANK is the enzyme that unwinds bacterial DNA…Answer: Topoisomerase II.”  I got to class at 7 PM, finished lab at 10 PM, and then turned around to drive three hours back home.  I took naps by the roadside because I couldn’t stay awake on the long, winding road, and I usually didn’t get home until at least 2 AM.  My diet consisted so “gut bombs,” the cheap burgers you get at gas stations, Coca Cola, and that spicy dried mango you also get at the gas stations.  (Yes, I could have done better with the diet).  Through it all, I was with my kids whenever I wasn’t in class.  I didn’t know if I would get in, and all I kept telling myself was, “This has to work.” 

After completing my prerequisites, I began my CASPA application.  I treated CASPA like a job.  I went to “work” every day at the library for three or four weeks to write and rewrite my essay.  I printed multiple versions of it and tormented everyone I knew with it.   In the end, it said a lot about me, and I was very proud of it. 

When it came to letters of reference, I blew it.  I had one of my references (my anatomy teacher and friend) write one on paper, and I promptly lost it.  I called him at home, apologized profusely, and he wrote it all over again.  (Learn from my mistake, people).

Confession: although I would love to let my readers believe that I got interviews and acceptances to PA to programs all over the country, maybe the truth will prove more useful.  I applied to only three programs, all within 5 hours of my home, and got exactly one interview: UC Davis, my absolute, hands-down first choice.

I interviewed at UC Davis in October, on what I later was told was the second day of interviews.  It was a panel interview with four faculty members, all of whom were kind and responsive.  They told me that they had received a record 1300+ applications that year for 57 seats in the class. 

I thought about those numbers–1300+ and 57–for the entire three-hour drive home, and by the time I arrived, I was furious at myself for “blowing it” so spectacularly.  It had been a good try, but I was prepared for the worst – a long wait to receive a form letter beginning with something like “We receive many applications each year, and although we wish we could accept all of them, regrettably, we cannot.” 

The following morning, while dropping my daughter off at her kindergarten classroom, I got the call from their director of admissions, and it was all I could do not to scream — I had been accepted. 

I hope my story is useful to you in some way.  If you have questions or comments, please don’t hold back.

 

  • Kate August 9, 2011, 8:49 am

    Thanks for the encouragement! I realized a few months ago that my Anatomy class was more than 5 years old (had it really been that long?!)…. I frantically stood in lines at every community college in the area just to be turned away with no room even on the wait list! I finally found UC Berkeley’s Extension program and drove the 2 hours each way 3 times a week to get it done in an accelerated 8 week term. But I can officially check it off my list… and it was SO worth it!! It’s nice to know that you all are going/went through a similar hectic path. People on the outside may think it’s absolutely crazy. And maybe it is. But there’s no feeling like standing on the other side, the accomplished side, of those mountainous hurdles. I’ve got several to go… but am trying to enjoy the ride!

    Reply
    • Paul August 9, 2011, 10:43 am

      Awesome. I did a physics class through UC Berkeley Extension years ago, and had a similar commute via BART from the peninsula to school Great school, great memories – except for physics! Man I hated that subject!

      Reply
  • Missy August 18, 2011, 12:09 am

    Hi,
    I was just wondering after you got accepted, what happened then? You finished your PA program and then what happened? .. Are you working now? If so in what field?
    I really need to shadow a PA and can’t find any.. :(

    Missy

    Reply
  • Jessica August 21, 2011, 7:30 pm

    After reading your story, I am relieved to know that not all applicants are the “perfect model”. It is encouraging to know that you have faced, and conquered, many of the challenges I currently struggle with. One of the biggest concerns of mine is balancing school and family life. How did/do you manage with THREE kids? Did you feel guilt over putting studies above family and how did you manage?
    This website is so incredibly helpful and I am glad to have this resource to refer to as I make my decision to become a PA!

    Reply
    • Paul August 21, 2011, 11:15 pm

      Only rarely did I feel guilty. Because I was the stay-at-home parent for six years, I felt like I had done a lot for my family, and it was my turn to do something that made me happy (which was also good for my family). It was hard, and there were days that I thought I would lose it. But sometimes the only way to win is to not quit…

      Reply
      • Emily August 22, 2011, 6:31 am

        “But sometimes the only way to win is to not quit…”

        I have a tattoo of the tortoise and the hare on my foot to remind me of this. Got it when I started the PA prep, since I figured I might need an indelible reminder… :)

        Reply
        • Paul August 22, 2011, 9:50 am

          Ha ha. Awesome! That’s one of my favorite fables. I never believed in it until I got older and realized that the tortoise usually wins. When you’re young, you always want to be be the hare – skipping steps and leap frogging. But in the long run, you’d get to you goal faster if you pay your dues and keep going in a straight line.

          Reply
      • Candy August 4, 2014, 9:42 pm

        Hi Paul. I realize this is an old post but are you the one standing next to the gentlemen named Gabe? If so, did you ever live in Orange County, California? Maybe worked at Safeway in Brea, California?

        Reply
        • Paul August 9, 2014, 11:49 am

          I am, but no, I’ve never done either of those things. I guess I have a twin!

          Reply
  • Emily August 22, 2011, 6:30 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this story! For those of us still in the trenches, trying to figure out how to make it all work and terrified we won’t this is pure encouragement.

    Reply
    • Trisha September 24, 2014, 9:34 am

      It’s also helpful for someone just starting to contemplate getting into the trench. I am an MS-level environmental scientist/microbiologist but feel I missed my calling as a healthcare professional. I think it’s going to be a long road to become a PA but I want my two and a half year-old daughter to see that it’s never too late to go after your dreams.

      Reply
  • Tei August 24, 2011, 9:59 pm

    Im going through the process right now of finishing up classes and im already looking toward the personal statement and letters of rec.
    honestly i have no idea where to go and what to do with a letter of rec. some say write it like an autobiography but then again it can sound like a resume. im not sure if it should be some profound story of how i decided medicine was for me (really, theres nothing profound about it, i like it and im good at it) or perhaps what kind of PA I want to be.
    As far as LOR I’d love to have the PA im shadowing write one but I’m atleast a year away from applying (Spring 2013) and am not sure if it makes sense to shadow that long. Could I go back and ask around then? Also an instructor I had for Chemistry (again, a year after the fact) and maybe an advisor.
    Besides schooling itself these are things I currently stress over.
    And I got a C in anatomy in 09 which I know will have to be addressed in my PS.

    sorry this is such a long post.

    Reply
    • Paul August 25, 2011, 11:56 am

      Focus on the question that is asked on your CASPA Application: “Describe your motivation toward becoming a physician assistant.” Answer it by telling them about who you are, what you’ve done, and why that has led you to the goal of becoming a PA. It’s about your motivation, AND who you are.

      Reply
      • Melissa March 16, 2012, 6:19 pm

        Is there a page limit CASPA gives for this essay or any others?

        Reply
        • Paul March 16, 2012, 11:56 pm

          Hi, Melissa! There’s no word or page limite – CASPA uses a CHARACTERlimit of 5000, which includes spaces, carriage returns, etc. This is more or less one single spaced page in 12 pt font. Definitely use MS Word or Notepad to count the characters in your essay before you cut and paste it to your CASPA application.

          Reply
  • Derek September 9, 2011, 5:30 am

    Paul thank you so much for sharing your story. I am in kind of the same boat. Right now I work as a Network Administrator and I am finishing up my Bachelors. I have decided to then apply for the PA program offered at the school, I already know I have to wait till summer 2013 to apply and they have less than 10 seats open (they are saying).

    On top of that I have 3 children and I also have to take some prereq courses (A&P, micro, and chem)

    I have been talking to some PA’s currently and I am setting a shadow with one of them here soon. I hope come Summer 2013 I can have the same great news you received.

    Reply
    • Paul September 9, 2011, 10:04 am

      Thanks, Derek. It’s a long process, and I always wished that I had a little input from someone who was already in it. Hopefully we’re providing that!

      Reply
  • Rose October 23, 2011, 8:02 am

    Congrats, your story has truly motivated me! I graduated this past May with a Biochemistry degree. I was stuck bc I didn’t have a very high gpa bc math and science were very hard subjects for me. I ended up loving it in the end. I want to be a PA now and wanted to know does becoming an EMT give you a higher advantage of getting into a PA program? I have 3 years pharmacy experience as a tech and 1 year internal med. experience as a med. Assistant. I’m taking 3 more upper div. Classes next semester and my science gpa will only be a 3.1. Any suggestions as to what else I could do to help my chances? I really want this!

    Reply
    • Megan October 24, 2011, 11:30 pm

      Rose,
      Becoming an EMT will definitely give you an edge. The clinical experience is invaluble. With my B.S. degree (neuroscience) and EMT certification I was able to get a job as an ER tech (sort of like a medical assistant) which is all the wild and crazy of emergency medicine but you also get more patient contact because EMTs aren’t always interacting with patients or going on the “cool” calls (they send the paramedics for those). Anyway, I was just accepted to Pitt after a year and a half of after-college work :) You could also boost your GPA by taking some easier but medically-related classes such as med-term or nutrition. Some schools even require those classes so it’ll broaden your options. Good Luck!!

      Reply
  • David May 29, 2012, 10:27 pm

    What is the best way to start out, to go to PA school? i do not have any of the pre req, completed. should i call the school that i want to apply to and ask them what the pre reqs are ?

    Reply
    • Paul May 29, 2012, 10:48 pm

      Yes, I would check with several. Use our free PA Programs by State Directory. It has email addresses, snail mail addresses, phone numbers, and some basic information on what’s required to apply. Specifics about coursework should be addressed directly with the schools, since every one is different.

      Reply
  • Biar June 11, 2012, 8:14 pm

    Hello Paul, I have finished my undergrad 1 year back but been delaying this process of applying to PA school because the process itself scares me away…. The problem I have is I am not too confident about my personal statement/narrative and while I try to change it I get more confused and in the end i get disappointed and stressed.. Would you be able to help me out with my personal statement If I email you, just to c if it is good enough??? Please dont say NO!!!
    Thank you

    Reply
    • Paul June 12, 2012, 2:15 pm

      I get requests for this, but at the moment I don’t have much time. My suggestion: post it to the forum in the essay/narrative section. There you can read others’ essays, and ask for critique. When I find time, I read them and comment as well.

      Reply
  • Andriene June 20, 2012, 9:34 am

    Thanks for this awesome post! I have to believe, I have to believe, I have to believe!!! I am beginning my last pre-req on Monday, it has been 3yrs of school, parenting and working when I can to try and pay the bills!! My family has taken the biggest toll and they have been troopers supporting me all the way!! I have been working on my CASPA since April and I plan on turning in my app by the September 1 date!!! You have given me that much needed boost right here and right now!!! Thanks

    Reply
  • angel July 11, 2012, 3:23 pm

    Hi Paul, I am a biological science major and junior in one of the university. I really want to go PA school. I am done with most of all of their prequisite , only left organic chemistry and anatomy II. I have to take plenty of science classes for my major and for cell biology i am not doing good at all , this is my second time taking that class. I was thinking if i could change my major to psychology finishing my prerequisite classes for PA. Is it going to look bad in my transcript while applying to PA school ?

    Reply
    • Paul July 14, 2012, 10:02 pm

      Hi, Angel!

      You might get away with it, but it does look a little like you couldn’t handle cell biology and switched to something with less hard sciences. Psychology isn’t a bad major for a pre-PA, but it’s the switch that I worry about. Could you get some extra tutoring or cut back on your course load? If you really think that your current major is going to bring you bad grades for sure, then you could try it, but I also worry. If you are struggling so badly with undergrad science courses, you’ll be in even bigger trouble in PA school – the curriculum is much more intense. I advise you to think it over carefully and speak with an academic counselor about it before you make the switch.

      Reply
  • Eugene July 29, 2012, 7:26 pm

    Hi paul , it was very nice reading you story. anyway I’m a RN who really want to get into PA school , what advice can you give me to help . I been out of school for over five years , I do not knot if they will take my nursing course credit.. any ideas?

    Reply
    • Paul July 30, 2012, 10:35 pm

      Most schools will accept nursing coursework, but some want more recent coursework than 5 years. Just be sure to call the programs that interest you ask them. You should definitely do some PA shadowing to show that you know how the PA field differs from the nursing field.

      Reply
  • Oliver August 13, 2012, 10:16 am

    Hi jentle pouloo!
    I m in leberia, can I enroll into pa
    pogrm with my high schl cert?
    Is their other enhance courses I can
    attain in other to be a professional in
    In this noble career?

    Reply
    • Paul August 13, 2012, 8:54 pm

      Hi, Oliver –

      There are college level prerequisite courses you will need in order to be eligible to apply to PA programs. Visit our directory of Physician Assistant Programs by State and have a look at a few of the programs that might interest you (where you think you might want to live) and visit the schools’ websites. They will tell you everything you will need to be considered for their programs.

      Reply
  • Matthew September 9, 2012, 6:12 pm

    Paul,

    I have been reading the many updates and personal stories on this blog for almost a year now. Time has went by so fast and now I am in the process of waiting to hear back from any one of the 13 schools I applied to within a 5 hour radius of my home. My nerves are getting the best of me. It’s so frustrating to think that I am going to be judged solely on how I look on paper. I only hope that I get the chance to prove myself in person at an interview. My worry stems from my GPA. I have a 3.2. I realize that isn’t stellar, but I am hoping that with my patient contact hours and life experiences I get a chance to show the schools I will be a great PA. I am 27. I did the military route after high school. I was a Corpsman in the Navy and I loved it, but wanted to push myself further so I left as soon as my contract was up. 4 years later and here I am writing this message to you. I have prepared myself for the very real possibility that I may not get an interview. I am trying to work out a back up plan so that I can be better prepared in case I need to reapply next year. What do you suggest that I do? I realize I could retake some of the courses that I got C’s in, but what else? As of now I have over 15,000 patient contact hours, I have shadowed a PA friend of mine, and I am still working in the ER as a tech. I know this is what I want to do with my life. I just need to prove that to the schools. How?

    Thanks in advance.

    I just realized that was a lot to write on here. I got carried away. I apologize.

    Reply
    • Paul September 10, 2012, 9:38 pm

      Matthew! First, hear this: YOU ALREADY HAVE ENOUGH HEALTH CARE EXPERIENCE. Beyond doing a few volunteer hours per week to maintain the perception that you continue to work with patients, you can safely stop accruing bigtime HCE hours!

      If you don’t get in, you know where to focus. You can now devote yourself wholeheartedly to your academics, as you alluded. Yes, retake those C’s. Make sure you get A’s, even if you need to retake them one at a time and use a tutor. Your only goal now should be shining your academics – not to increase your cumulative GPA, but to show that you are now a different student than you were back when you got the C’s. KILL those courses.

      Then write an amazing essay that shows them how they would be FOOLISH to pass up one so experienced as you.

      SEARCH OUT THE WEAK POINTS IN YOUR APPLICATION, AND GO AT THEM LIKE A SAMURAI. Your job is to shore up all the holes in your app so that any way they pour water in you, you don’t leak a drop.

      Got it?

      SUCCESS.

      Reply
  • Guria November 16, 2012, 3:47 pm

    Hi Paul,
    I am a senior and will be graduating in the spring of 2013. I applied for PA school already. I have a 3.45 cumulative and a 3,23 science GPA. i am majoring in Health sci. The most of the school for which i applied are on East Coast such as NYIT, UMDNJ etc. I also took GRE recently and did bad on it. I got 279 points. As per my HCE, I have shadowed a doctor for 120 hours. I shadowed 2 PAs’ as well for twenty hours. Other than that, i have worked as a medical interpreter for more than a year. i am worried right now. what are my chances to get into a pA program for the year of 2013? Thanks

    Reply
    • Paul November 22, 2012, 11:42 am

      Hi, Guria – I’m sorry – I really can’t say. There are so many factors involved. All you can do is put in the best application you can and see what happens.

      BUT. In the meantime, why not continue to improve your weakest areas, in case you don’t get in this time around? From your writing, that might be the GRE. Take some time to study for it, and then retake it. With a few months of work, most people can raise their scores noticeably.

      Reply
  • Kara November 28, 2012, 11:33 am

    Hey Paul,

    I am extremely interested in becoming a PA, and I am currently a freshman in college. I have a huge dilemma though. I applied to the school I am currently at thinking it would give me the best undergrad degree that would set me up perfectly for PA school. My school offers a plethora of opportunities to volunteer and get experience since it is in Chicago. I did not know that there were five year combined bachelors and masters pa programs until I came to college. Unfortunately my school does not offer one. I ended up applying to transfer next semester to a school that has the 5 year program. I visited this past month and I did not like the school. I really want to stay where I am but would the 5 year program be best for my career? One of my biggest fears if I stayed here is that I would not get in to the pa school I want after my undergrad because they are so competitive. Any advice on what I should do?

    Reply
    • Paul November 28, 2012, 8:16 pm

      My opinion: the combined bachelor’s/master’s programs aren’t any better. In fact, you’ll be better rounded if you get your BA in one school and go to another for your PA/Masters. Go where you want for now. If you are enjoying yourself, you’ll do better, and that will make it all the easier to get into a PA school when it’s time.

      Reply
  • Jessica December 1, 2012, 1:19 pm

    Hi Paul!

    I absolutely love this website & forum! So inspiring. I am a recent graduate of UC Davis in nutritional science with an emphasis in biochem. I also just got my EMT license. I am planning on working as an ER tech and scribe for a few years and then apply to PA school. The only problem I have is that my GPA is pretty low :( My workload was way too much with my PA pre-reqs and my other courses (trying to get out of college within 4 years). Do you know if I took some of my pre-reqs at Davis, would I have to retake them at Davis to count? Or could I retake them at a community college? I have no doubt in my mind that I could get As in the pre req classes if i retook them with the nutrition classes.
    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Paul December 1, 2012, 9:19 pm

      A retake is a retake. It doesn’t matter where you do it. You might get a little more credit if you took it at Yale than if you took it at a community college, but not much.

      Reply
  • John December 9, 2012, 6:20 pm

    Hello Paul!

    I am a student attending high school as a junior and I strongly believe that becoming a P.A. is the correct path for me. However, I am finding it a little difficult to research all of the prequisites etc. For an example, am I allowed to attend any college for my undergraduate years? Or am I restricted to attend colleges only accredited to the P.A. program? Also, a majority of websites have explained that experience within the medical field is required. My second question is: Is it possible to become an EMT during my undergraduate years to fulfill said experience? Or do you have any other suggestions?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Paul December 9, 2012, 10:33 pm

      Hi, John! No, you can go to any college. The bachelor’s in PA is totally optional, and not very common. I don’t even particularly like the bachelor’s in PA option.

      You can become an EMT while in college. But what’s important is time working as an EMT with patients, and that would be hard to pull off while in school full time. My suggestion: focus on getting the best grades you can until you’re done, and wait on the health care experience. You’ll have plenty of time to accumulate experience when you’re out of school.

      Reply
  • Andriene December 18, 2012, 10:04 pm

    Hi Paul ~
    I wrote to you several months back and have once again stumbled upon your blog, which is really inspiring and wonderful! I did exactly as I said I would and got my application in to CASPA as well as MEDEX by the September 1st deadline. I have been invited to interview on January 8th (yeah!!!) and I am just concerned about being able to adequately sell myself. I am confident that this is what I want to do and that I have the capacity to do good work! However, I am very worried about the academics, I am a good student, with an A/B average but I have to work very hard for my B’s in science. I am 46 yrs old with oodles of HCE and shadowing, my kids are both in college and my husband is my biggest fan (as you know this really helps!). I enjoyed writing my personal statement (well after it was done anyway : ) ), and I feel like I did the best I could in representing an authentic look at “me”.
    I guess my question is more or less how likely is it that I would get an interview if they didn’t feel like I had a fighting chance at being accepted?

    Reply
    • Paul December 18, 2012, 10:28 pm

      It’s unlikely. You should be pleased. Assume that you are a strong candidate (at the worst, you’re an eligible candidate).

      Don’t bring up your concern about your academic ability unless they do first. Then have a truthful but positive answer for them. Something in along the lines of “I work hard for my grades and my persistence and good study habits have paid off for me.” might work. But you need to decide what works best.

      Go get ‘em, baby.

      Reply
  • Andriene December 19, 2012, 8:55 pm

    Thank you!!

    Reply
  • Anne December 28, 2012, 12:34 pm

    Hi Paul,
    Thank you for your post! Your story is similar to mine and therefore I find it interesting that I fell upon it while seriously contemplating going back to school to become a PA.
    I am a CA public school teacher, yet a stay at home mom for the past 6 years, due to lack of job security. As much as I love working with children, public school teaching is a legal form of teacher abuse. I know that is drastic to say, but has much truth to it. Both my husband and I are public school teachers in California and have gone through hell and back with this profession. (Other than ourdirect experince with kids) As one example, we have moved 14 times in six years, with two of those moves to overseas schools, in order to have work every year. Since receiving our credentials, they no longer offer permanent spots, and teacher retention is based entirely on money and seniority– not on your qualifications nor merit as a teacher. So, if you’ re the first to come, you are the first to go, no matter if you have the highest qualifications and reviews. And your voice as a teacher is silenced when issues between students/parents and teachers come up due to districts being paranoid of getting sued. So, if a student lies and makes a false claim against a teacher, the teacher immediately is put on leave, reputation is lost along with your dignity, and the student has no repercussion. Your entire career can be ruined by one spoiled teenager having a bad day with a parent who doesnt see through this.
    Anyway, I could go on and on…. I DO love teaching children, but what you have to deal with in order to do it is aweful. Not to mention salary paid 10 months out of the year to find yourself for three months without an income and not able to pull it with unemployment, or a second job. And so called ‘medical benefits’ when you have to pay $900 out of your $3000 monthly check to have coverage.
    I have always felt drawn to humanitarian work through education or medicine. Thus, my interest in becoming a PA. Just to see if I could handle the science aspect, I took a chemistry class a few semesters ago. I loved it and aced it.
    I am encouraged to continue.
    I live in northern california as it appears you do as well.
    Since, I have a BA already, I was wondering what you could advise regarding preparation into a PA program? Do I need to just ask a program directly?
    Thanks!
    Best,
    Anne

    Reply
    • Paul December 28, 2012, 11:02 pm

      Hi, Anne. I used to be married to a teacher, so I found myself nodding my head at your narrative of frustrations. I think you will find a career as a PA will provide you with much more compensation of all types – just know that it can be hard work too.

      Take the prerequisites for the programs that interest you. I also recommend medical terminology and EMT certification if you have time. But yes – by all means – contact the schools that you are considering for their specific likes/requirements. They are mostly too glad to tell you what they’re looking for if you just ask.

      Reply
      • Anne December 29, 2012, 1:36 pm

        Thanks Paul.

        Reply
  • jenna January 3, 2013, 8:48 pm

    Thanks, Paul! Uplifting, inspiring and highly motivating…I’ve got a long road ahead but your story was just what I needed for a boost! Thanks and congrats!

    Reply
    • Paul January 5, 2013, 4:16 pm

      Thanks, Jenna – you’re not alone!

      Reply
  • Kourtney January 29, 2013, 7:04 pm

    Hi Paul
    Your story is amazing. I have been trying to get into PA school for the last three years. I applied twice after graduating with a degree in biology and did not get in. I know I need to work on my GPA (which is low 2.92). I am taking courses though to improve it. Is it important to take courses until i get it to the 3.0 level because its taking a lot? I plan on applying again this year but really want to get in. I am also currently working as a CNA. Any Advice for a successful application or for me period.

    Reply
    • Paul January 29, 2013, 10:25 pm

      Forget your GPA. Once you have your degree, it takes large numbers of classes to change your cumulative GPA, as all the other grades are averaged. Instead, focus on getting A’s in all your remaining coursework (prerequisite or retakes). You will want to make the case that you haven’t gotten less than an A (hopefully) in the last X semesters. This won’t change your GPA much, but if you pull it off, you can make it clear and believable that you are not the same student you once were.

      Reply
  • Krista February 9, 2013, 4:04 pm

    Paul,

    In the midst of my physician assistant research, I happened to run across this thread. I must say, the story of your personal experience is very inspiring and encouraging. I, like you, have about a 2 year process in front of me just in preparation for applying to programs. My situation so far: I graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor’s degree in Business and a cumulative gpa of 3.6. I have no healthcare experience but have signed up for a CNA course that starts next week. Once I get certified, I will start working as a cna and continue that for the next 2 years, along with a whole bunch of shadowing, volunteering, and hopefully getting straight A’s in all the prereqs I still need. I find myself getting a little discouraged when I hear stories of people with 4.0 pre-med degrees and years of medical experience not getting accepted to pa school. The programs that I want to apply for are all in Southern California (preferably Western or Loma Linda) and don’t seem to require a medically-related undergrad degree. If you don’t mind, what do you think my chances are? Is CNA an alright route to gain HCE? Any additional advice? Your comment of “this has to work” hit home with me because I have researched and researched and I am so set on making this happen for myself, whatever it takes. Any words of wisdom would be greatly appreciated, thanks!

    Reply
    • Paul February 10, 2013, 12:20 pm

      We generally avoid “What are my chances” questions because it’s such a subjective process and there are so many variables. But it does sound like you’re taking a solid approach.

      I generally prefer EMT experience to CNA – they take the same amount of time to certify (about a semester). EMT jobs are a little harder to get, but they pay off with better HCE. Being totally in charge of a patient and making life/death decisions about their care is better than the daily living responsibilities of the CNA role. But people do make CNA work.

      Other tech professions such as respiratory tech offer great experience too, so you might want to check your local community college.

      Reply
  • Krista February 9, 2013, 5:51 pm

    On the other hand, maybe I do have a little bit of healthcare experience but not hands-on (anything helps I’m sure..). I just listed to your podcast on HCE and it got me to thinking. Although it wouldn’t qualify as high quality HCE experience, I did spend about 7 months in a role as a Patient Case Coordinator where I spent all day, everyday 5-6 days/week on the phone with patients who were being treated with infusion drugs for chronic conditions. While the calls consisted of a lot of appointment reminders, explaining insurance coverage, and referring patients to financial assistance programs, I also followed up with patients after their infusions to make sure they were doing alright and to report any adverse events if necessary. I definitely learned a lot and talked to many patients daily. Hey, its a start!

    Reply
    • Paul February 10, 2013, 12:16 pm

      That’s great. You really have to troll your brain for relevant experiences. Sometimes you have more HCE than you realize!

      Reply
  • Stephen February 10, 2013, 8:02 pm

    Hello Everyone! Paul, thanks so much for creating this site. It has helped me, and it looks like many others, answer many of the questions that come up during the crazy application process to PA school. I just wanted to quickly say that I was recently accepted to my first choice PA program and could not be happier. We start in July of this year (2013) but I wish we started tomorrow.

    I applied 3 times before being accepted. My background is in Psychology. I have experience as a Pharmacy Technician and an EMT-Basic. My grades weren’t stellar (mostly A’s and B’s but straight C’s in O-chem – that class is the worst). I really just want people to know that there is always hope for getting in. You have to have a plan, you have to be consistent and you have to fight for yourself! Make sure people know how badly you want it. Make sure you are honest with yourself and everyone who asks what it is you want to do and why.

    My best advice for those getting ready for applications and interviews is to be consistent and confident in your answers to questions. If someone asks you why you want to be a PA, have a strong answer (maybe even a few bullet points). Make sure that you are well versed in your answer and make sure it is the truth.

    My application was average at best, but I was extremely confident and passionate in my interview. The single turning point for my application (in my opinion) was my answer to the question “What will you do if you are not accepted this year?” I said “well, you are going to get sick of seeing my face, because I’ll be here next year!” This was after applying twice before and not getting in. Confidence and determination go a long way.

    Good luck and go get it!

    Reply
    • Paul February 10, 2013, 10:09 pm

      HUGE CONGRATULATIONS! I tip my hat.

      Reply
  • Shari February 12, 2013, 6:41 pm

    I’m so glad I came across this site – such invaluable information. As for me I graduated with a BA in psychology 2.9 GPA about 5 years ago. I decided recently to go back now for PA and I’m only short 4 classes to fulfill my prerequisites. After years of not being in school and taking biology and chemistry it’s so difficult and I’ve always been a B/C student. Ill also have my certification as an EKG technician in another few weeks and will begin my hours to shadow a PA. I also plan on signing up for community service. My concern is my GPA though!! I’m so hungry for this career that I’m doing everything I can to get through these classes, but how do schools weigh this all in? Will seeing I went back 5 years later and not getting a’s or b’s put me on the bottom of the list? It’s encouraging to hear stories of people getting in but I’m also getting very nervous and stressed about people who keep applying. Will these schools tell you what you need to do if you don’t get accepted???

    Reply
    • Paul February 12, 2013, 10:38 pm

      Some schools will tell you, but many will not – they just don’t have time. There are many applicants and therefore many who don’t get in, and to give feedback to them all is just unfeasible. But ask and maybe you’ll get some. Go in person to speak with the admissions coordinator or program director. This kind of personal pressure is harder to say no to.

      GPA is is probably the most important factor in PA school admissions, with health care experience coming in at a close second. But do your best in your coursework and impress them with an excellent essay, and you may get an interview despite weaker grades. Our ebook on the essays addresses this issue, if you’re interested.

      Reply
      • Shari February 14, 2013, 7:10 am

        Thanks Paul! I feel like i may have overwhelmed myself with the challenge of jumping right into a PA career without a solid healthcare background first, especially considering my GPA consisting mostly of B’s and C’s. Do you think there is an advantage of being a more competitive applicant to work as an RN first? Not just in prep to become a PA but to really get to know the field of medicine and explore all areas.

        Reply
  • SASCO February 17, 2013, 8:44 pm

    Hi Paul
    Regards for keeping up and trying at best to answer as many questions as you possibly can. Its been more than a year now since you wrote this blog but you haven’t gotten tired of answering new entries.

    I’m 37 with BSc in Engineering (2000) and MSc in Computing(2004). Having practiced IT for over 7 years with little satisfaction, I accidentally bumped into this profession over year a go but my interest has been growing daily and I’ve reached a point of making the biggest decision in my life. But I’m fighting so many dilemmas:
    1. At the age of 37 with no prerequisite, I have constant nightmare of telling myself that “I’m too old for this A&P classes and all the medical jargon”
    2. With no HCE, I’ve constant nightmare of telling myself “I cannot scale down to do low paid scaled job as CNA ” in order to obtain HCE
    3. With a family of 4 (2 girls of 2yrs and 6month respectively), I’m constantly being hit with a nightmare of “How am I going to be able to work round getting enough hours for studies” and getting a good grades?
    4. Should I just to stick to my IT and tried hard to find some enjoyment for the rest of living years?
    5. The quickest route I can get my PA is about 5years from now, does it really worth the hassle? At age 43 isn’t it too late to start life?

    Wow, this is way too long for anyone to read but It been building up in my mind for months and can’t figure out how to deal with this. Hoping someone can share his/her experience.
    Thanks in advance

    Reply
    • Paul February 17, 2013, 10:24 pm

      I completed PA school at age 43, and it’s been worth every bit of the work it took to get here. If you’re not sure if that would be the case for you, you should do some shadowing. I find that most people have a pretty clear idea about how important it is to them after spending some time actually working with one or more PAs and their patients.

      Reply
  • Michelle February 20, 2013, 10:52 am

    Thanks so much for sharing your story! I am a “career changer” currently applying to P.A. school. I thought I was the only one that was tired and frazzled- torn between school, work, and kids. Your post has given me some reassurance that this is a normal part of the process! :)

    Reply
  • Seth February 28, 2013, 2:50 pm

    Thank you for this incredible thread, Paul! I have been thinking of PA school for the last five years, but life kicked my ass a bit. I have a BA, and am a certified EMT, but I need to work in the field and get my pre-reqs done. I also live in Northern California, do you have any recommendations for pre-req schools? Thanks for the extra inspiration.

    Reply
    • Paul March 6, 2013, 5:39 pm

      Hi, Seth! Honestly, no. I think you are better off doing your prereqs where they are convenient, or perhaps where there is a prof who has a good reputation for teaching one of the classes that you are gong to be taking. PA schools make far less of WHERE you take your prereqs than they do of HOW WELL you do.

      Reply
      • Kayla March 10, 2013, 7:41 am

        This is a very helpful thread. I am currently finishing up my Junior year and have most of my prerequisite cursework done. Now I am going to focus on the Health Care Experience. My question is on the essay. My reasons for wanting to become a PA stem from my personal health struggles as a child. I have some health issues, but so far this has ot held me back from succeeding in school. I have a 3.7 GPA in a Biomedical Science major. If I was to write about my personal struggles and how that influenced me to become a PA, I feel that it would hurt my chances of being accepted into PA school. That they may be worried about my chances of success. I think my health struggles have made me more determined. Any thoughts?

        Reply
        • Paul March 10, 2013, 10:43 am

          Yes, Kayla – I think you would be wise to share your experiences with them. They are part of who you are, and – I think, at least – why you could make an excellent PA.

          Our ebook covers how to do this in some detail. You don’t necessarily need the ebook, but you might want to check it out (link to ebook page).

          Reply
  • Brandon March 1, 2013, 12:55 pm

    Paul,
    Your site is excellent. I have spent the past few hours reading as many entries as possible and your detailed responses have given me much comfort.
    I am a 29 year old musical theatre actor in NYC, and an obvious career-changer (strongly considering PA). I’m in the process of applying to a post-bacc program for pre-health (to obtain ALL the pre-req’s – I was a theatre major in undergrad) and am very excited about the possibility of having a steady & structured career in medicine, unlike the chaotic business of theatre.

    I have some clinical experience in a PT’s office, and have shadowed my father on many an occasion – he is an orthopedic surgeon and I have shadowed him at the hospital, as well as observed a total knee replacement. With my dance background, I believe I would have much personal experience to offer patients in orthopedics.

    I’m trying to decide between PA & PT. I like the idea that PAs have flexibility in what kind of medicine they could practice. Also, would someone like me still have time to pursue performing in a show here or there (after completing the program, of course). Do you have time for hobbies? Have you known anyone in my position (transitioning from the arts to medicine)? Do you have any words of wisdom for someone like me? I am single with no children.

    I look forward to hearing any and all of your thoughts.

    Best,
    Brandon

    Reply
    • Paul March 10, 2013, 9:57 am

      Hi, Brandon – it can be done. In your case, a post bacc program makes a lot of sense. It will give you the necessary science curriculum to “reorient” you from fine arts to medicine.

      Whether you have time to perform in a show is complicated. It depends what specialty you will work in, where you will work, your job’s hours, etc. On the whole, I would estimate this to be unlikely. But yes, if you become a PA, you will have time for hobbies. For example, I work 8-6 M-Thurday (40 hours). I have time for hobbies, but a show would likely demand several nights per week, from 6 PM on, so it would be very tough to swing. I have wanted to take a community college class for fun and may be able to do it after work, but I will need to arrange it so that I can break free one night per week at 5 instead of 6. Thankfully, my clinic and supervising doc can probably manage this.

      Words of advice? I guess my first ones are these: medicine and theater are VERY different pursuits. I suggest you do some shadowing to make sure that it is all that you hope it will be. Also, work experience will be critical, so get some good HCE. Expect this to take time. New careers are born overnight.

      Reply
  • Erika March 4, 2013, 11:19 am

    Just a tip – After completing my CASPA, taking 10 pre-reqs at a local community college, and writing a pretty good essay – I still did not have an interview at any of the schools that I had applied to. I did some sleuth work and found out when an open house was being held at my first choice. The open house was 2 weeks before the final interview for that particular cycle. At the open house I found the admin staff that previews applications, and I asked them about my application and if they would consider reviewing my application again. They called the next Monday morning with an invitation to interview & 2 years later I’m in the middle of my clinicals. If you are concerned about your application on paper (as I was) go and sell yourself in person – in a non-creepy way : )

    Reply
    • Paul March 10, 2013, 10:05 am

      Erika – what a beautiful example of doing what you need to do to get yourself in. You were creative, and you didn’t just say “Oh well, I guess that dream won’t happen.” I’ll share your story with our readers! Good luck in the field!

      Reply
  • Jenna March 5, 2013, 3:06 pm

    Hi Paul!

    Currently I am a pre nursing student, though I have decided that being a physician assistant is the right career for me. However, I am very overwhelmed, and almost scared, to do the PA school route. I am mainly at a cross roads with what major I should strive for. All of my pre nursing coursework is completed, and I am even almost done with my psychology minor. This is already my third year in college so I do not want to switch to a major that would take me four more years to complete. I checked, and because I have been minoring in psychology all this time, it would only take me another year and a half before I could graduate with my bachelors. I also already have my anatomy done, half of my chemistry, statistics, and even some of microbiology classes done. Should I just go ahead and finish my psych degree and just get the other recommended sciences courses, or would it be in my best interest to start over with a different major? As of now, I have A’s in all of my psych class, as well as A&P, chemistry, microbiology etc. Any advice?

    Also, I have a ton of volunteer experience, though I was going to take classes at my community college for either EMT or CNA to fulfill work experience. Which would be better? Thanks!

    Reply
    • Paul March 10, 2013, 10:11 am

      Jenna: First, DO NOT START OVER WITH ANOTHER MAJOR!

      Whatever you’re majoring in now will be fine if you are taking coursework relevant to medicine, and it sounds like you are. After you get your bachelor’s degree, finish up the remaining pre-requisites at a community college. PA schools aren’t overly picky about where you do your courses. They mostly want to know that you did well in your coursework.

      Second, you can never have enough health care experience. Go get your EMT/CNA and work in the field as much as you can up until the day you start PA school. PA is an accelerated curriculum that requires experience to handle. Believe it or not, you actually absorb a lot of medical concepts by osmosis in the work you do leading up to PA school.

      Reply
  • Ong March 8, 2013, 2:02 pm

    Your story is such an inspiration. I felt like crying reading this, feeling I can relate. Currently right now, still trying to get my undergrad, both me and my husband are full time student, full time work, and trying to be there as much as possible for our two kids, 4yrs and 10 mth old, trying not to miss out on their tiny yrs that flys by. On top of no babysitter at all really, and cannot afford for one. I feel like pulling my hair out sometimes, feeling hopless and stranded. But your story was a great inspiration to me, I hope to do as great as you :)

    Reply
    • Paul March 10, 2013, 10:30 am

      Thank you Ong. It’s been a long and hard road to finding a career in which I am well-compensated for doing what I love and feel good at.

      Reply
  • Farnaz March 25, 2013, 12:39 am

    Your story is so inspiring and here I am 12:30 at night praying that mine ends as happily. Having children and embarking on this roller coaster seems courageous with a little stupid mixed in. You definitely have to have tunnel vision with such an undertaking! But as you said you are well-compensated and doing what you love!

    Reply
  • Eloise March 26, 2013, 9:59 am

    Paul,

    I have read your story and many of the responses. I was hoping I could ask for your advice or at least a bit of encouragement. In high school I applied to one school with little to no effort and managed to get in. It was a combined Bachelor’s and Master’s 5 year PA program. At 17, I did not realize how lucky I was.

    During my 3 years of undergrad, I maintained A’s and B’s with minor struggles in Chemistry 2 (a final grade of C) and A&P 2 (a final grade of C). Regardless, I continued on to the graduate portion of the program with the rest of my classmates. As you know, the didactic period is very time intensive. I studied constantly and changed my eating habits. Sleep became a pipe dream and eventually I grew very ill. So, I struggled with my ailing health and schoolwork but managed to make it through the first semester with A’s and B’s. My second semester, while still ill (and shamefully non compliant with medications) I struggled again with classes but none more than Pharmacology. Despite tutors and study groups, the professor (who also happened to be the head of the PA program) pulled me aside to inform me that I would never be a PA along with many other negative comments. I received a final grade of C- (with A’s and B’s in my other courses) and he happily expelled me that May. At the time I was too exhausted and embarrassed to fight back, so I accepted my fate.

    A few weeks later, I anxiously and eagerly applied to three local schools naively believing that I was an ideal candidate. However, I did not get in. After some self-reflection I decided to use that following year to amp up my student profile. I had already been EMT certified (as required during my undergrad), but the idea of emergency medicine frightened me still, so I got certified as a nurse aide and got a job as a tech in a level 1 trauma hospital. In addition, I volunteered in a nursing home and continued my clinical research with a stroke center. At this point, I thought nothing could stop me but I applied to 8 schools just to be safe. Again I didn’t get in! In the midst of all this, I was constantly reminded by coworkers that I should become a nurse instead. Everyone seems to have this consensus, but I can’t bring myself to give up that easily. I love the medical model of medicine! I love that PA’s can switch fields! And I honestly love that we have to get retested every 6 years. Why wouldn’t you want to stay refreshed in all fields?

    So now I have been out of school for 2 years, and my PA class graduated this past August. I am leaving in two weeks for a two month medical internship on the island of Malta where I will be shadowing doctors during rounds and helping out in any way I can. My cumulative GPA is 3.4 while my science GPA is 3.2. My GREs are sub par, but I will be taking them for the third time when I return from Malta. I have a full year experience of hands on patient care, with 4 years experience in clinical research, and abundant volunteer work. I wasn’t really frustrated until I realized you got in on the first try after only applying to 3 schools.

    Would you mind helping me realize what I’ve done wrong? I really want to be a PA, but I don’t know what else I could be doing.

    Reply
    • Paul March 28, 2013, 4:29 pm

      Hi, Eloise!

      Your story is not the first like it that I’ve heard. Things happen and people don’t always complete PA school, but in my mind that says little about what kind of PA you will make if and when you finish it. So don’t be so hard on yourself!

      You have some great experience and it seems you just need to find the recipe to overcome the roadblock that developed when you left your previous program. I assume that one of the difficulties, if not the main one, is that you have had to share on your new CASPA app that you have previously been released from another PA program. Knowing that, PA schools are very leery admitting you because it costs them a seat in the class when they admit someone who doesn’t finish.

      I think you need to paint a picture for them. Help them to see the details, the shading, and the nuance so they understand your situation. To paint the picture, you need to tell them a convincing story about what happened and make it clear to them how different of a candidate you are now from the one you were then. Have you thought about what’s different about you now? I assume that you have, or you probably would have just said, “Well, I guess I can’t be a PA.” Something in you knows that if you go now, the outcome will be different. Help them to see this. Help them to see that you are (in some ways, at least) a different applicant that you once were, and why. If they can see the contrast between who you were then and who you are now, they might be more willing to take a chance on you. If they don’t see a big enough contrast, they won’t chance it.

      Reply
  • Sherry March 28, 2013, 3:22 am

    Hi Paul. (:
    I was wondering how should I prepare myself for the interviews?
    I am afraid that I will end up embarrassing myself and not answering their questions and/or explaining my reasons.
    Also, how long do you think the interviews are?

    Reply
    • Paul March 28, 2013, 11:48 am

      It depends on the school. Some will have you interview with several people at once, some with a panel, and some with multiple individuals. I would just plan on spending 1/2 day or more at the schools. You will probably get a tour in addition to your interview. I suggest you have them schedule your interview late in the day so that you can learn about the school when you tour.

      We have several articles on interviews – just go down to the categories section on the right below and click “Interviews” under “Getting Into PA School.”

      Reply
  • Eloise March 28, 2013, 7:34 pm

    Paul,

    Do you think the best way to show my growth is through the CASPA essay or would that be veering too far off of the “motivation to be a PA” topic? I could instead send off some sort of confessional addendum to each of the schools if that seems more reasonable. Also, should I explain the circumstances surrounding my expulsion or focus on the positive changes I have made since?

    Thank you so much for all of your advice.

    Reply
  • Drabak March 30, 2013, 7:05 pm

    Hi Paul,
    It was really awesome reading all these threads regarding the PA program.I am really confused at this point of time regarding my career.Right now, i am in a Phd program(Biomedical science) about to complete my 1st year.Its still 4-5 years to be out of the program.I am feeling that it was a wrong decision of mine joining the phd program.Reasons, i m right now 33 yrs,would be 38-39 when i complete the program.Would have to spend some more years doing post docs(Nobody knows how many yrs?)i would be 44-45 by then.After that also i dont see a clear route as far as opportunities are considered.i m not a big fan of getting into academia.Well, having said that i am seriousy contemplating leaving the phd program and start preparing for the PA. I need to do my prerequisites, get a short term degree and start for the HCE.I really am scared leaving this program because i am getting a decent stipend and on a track.I am not sure whether i can make to the PA school or not.What if i dont get selected……I am in big dilemma.. Time is running fast. I have to decide by the end of this summer.Please advice.With Regards

    Reply
    • Paul April 1, 2013, 10:54 pm

      Hi, Drabak!

      Wow, that’s a tough decision. Have you spent any time shadowing? Shadowing is a great way to find out how you feel about the career, and to make sure you understand what it will really be like. We have several articles on shadowing on our site – just scroll down the right side bar to categories and click on Physician Assistant Shadowing.

      Security is good, but if it leads you into a secure career doing something that you don’t care for, I think you’re doing the right thing by questioning your direction. Follow you passion!

      Paul

      Reply
  • Lauren March 31, 2013, 8:56 pm

    Hi Paul,
    I’m currently a high school senior, and I’m very interested in the PA field. I decided to shoot for a career as a PA a few months ago, but I’m already confused about where to seek patient care experiences while going to school full time (future biology major). I live in a city, so should I try to volunteer or do internships at local hospitals? I guess I could just use some advice on the best methods to balance school and real-world experience. Thanks for your help! I really appreciate it!

    Reply
    • Paul April 1, 2013, 11:03 pm

      Do yourself a favor: wait on your health care experience. The most important thing you can do to get into PA school (by far) is to get great grades. I talk to applicants all the time who botched a few classes in undergrad and are now regretting it because they aren’t getting interviews. You can always go and get more health care experience, but you can’t go back and undo a bad grade. (Retaking a class helps, but it still doesn’t eliminate the low grade – it just averages in with it).

      So use your time and energy to crank out A’s – as many as you can. THEN go get health care experience*.

      * But if you’re REALLY impatient, you could spend a little time volunteering at your school’s student health clinic. Just make sure it doesn’t take you away from your studies!

      Reply
      • Lauren April 2, 2013, 2:39 pm

        Thank you so much for your help! I really appreciate it!

        Reply
  • Pam April 2, 2013, 9:36 am

    Paul,
    Like your story shows, there are several things that can stop you from realizing your dreams. I am in the same situation. I have a foreign PT degree and have been working for 8 years now. I have tons of HCE hrs and have worked with PAs. But my problem is pre reqs. I am planning on completing my organic chem 1 and 2 this fall and spring, but they are wanting me to do 4 healthscience classes in a college or univ in the US, all mine are from comm college (since none of my undergrad classes transferred here). I am applying to only 2 schools for family reasons, I have little ones and this is something I would Love to do , but would not put if before my kids. What do you think will improve my chances getting in ?.. I have requested a meeting with the program director to plead my case.

    Thank you for your time and appreciate your assistance .

    Reply
    • Paul April 3, 2013, 7:10 am

      If they are telling you that they want you to do 4 health science classes in a university, they are giving you a critical piece of information. This is what they need to see you do in order to feel comfortable admitting you. RUN to a university and get these done (with A’s), and then go become a PA.

      Reply
      • Pam April 25, 2013, 12:11 pm

        Paul,
        Thank you for the repy. I do not have to do the healthscience classes after all yayy!!!. just the org chem classes and I may end up taking those in a community colege (I cannot go to the univ classes during the day because of work). I have all A’s from my classes here (US)have requested for an evaluation of my foreign degree, which I am not sure how the GPA will translate and my MBA (from US as well) GPA is 3.74. Given this and my HCE of 8 +years, and having a good essay, do you think I have a chance?. I am applying to only one school close to home and so this is IT for me.

        Reply
  • Kathy April 5, 2013, 1:30 am

    Paul, what a great and inspirational story! I just want to thank you for providing all this valuable information…between your job and kids…I am sure keeping up with this site is a lot of work! So thanks for taking the time to help everyone. I’m sure that’s why you’re probably a great PA! :)

    Reply
  • Mini April 10, 2013, 4:47 pm

    Paul, thank you for such an informational website about PA training. I have been reading articles from your website since last year, when I started my application on CASPA to apply for PA schools. But I don’t know how I missed reading this post until today. After hustling the whole morning, googling and sending e-mails (which has been case most of the mornings for couple of months now) to find a shadowing I came here to read your advice again to refine my efforts. And as I read this post, I was relived to see that your pre PA days are much similar to my days right now. I earned my Medical degree from another country I am a stay at home mom of 2 kids for 12 years now. Being an old graduate and wanting to have a Healthcare career staying close to my family, it gave me a sense of relief when I learnt about Physician Assistant career and esp., one at U.C Davis, close to home. It was struggle to get into Anatomy and Physiology courses at my local community college. I completed Anatomy, Physiology, Psychology, Cultural Anthropology and Microbiology, Statistics courses with a 4.0 G. P. A last year. But I have an average 3 .2 in the ones I took in my country years ago. I did barely make it to the 2012 CASPA deadline for the program at U.C Davis, but was not called for an interview. One thing I know I don’t have is HCE in America and shadowing / Healthcare volunteer hours. I am learning Spanish and am also planning to get into EMT course which is offered in Fall 2013.
    I have applied to hospitals for volunteer opportunities, but not been successful yet in finding shadowing opportunities. I have found contact information of some Physician Assistants practicing around this area and hope to contact them personally (I am not sure if this is such a good idea, but I need to do something!).
    Do you also think that having no HCE in America and volunteer hours is a big thing that my application lacks? Please suggest.

    Reply
    • Paul April 10, 2013, 6:23 pm

      It sounds like that could be a major factor. You should also call attention to the fact that although you’ve had more mediocre grades in the past, your last x units/courses have been taken with a 4.0, which is impressive and adds important context that your cumulative GPA doesn’t.

      I don’t think it’s unwise at all to contact PAs about shadowing. If you can contact them through someone you know mutually, that’s the best, but sending an email to them and making it clear that you really need their help is also okay. We have an article on this – look in the section on shadowing.

      Don’t forget to talk with your primary care physician. It’s okay to say to them: “I’m seriously considering PA as a career and I’m having a tough time finding anyone that I might shadow. Do you know any PAs who might be willing to let shadow for a day or two?” You can also shadow doctors, don’t forget. Just make sure you spend at least a day with a PA so you can honestly say you know what they job entails when you are asked what it entails at an interview.

      Reply
      • Mini April 11, 2013, 2:09 pm

        Thanks for your quick reply Paul, that was very helpful. I did get a list of PAs contact info (phone no. and address) from an online site, but not their email ids. I was wondering if it would be inappropriate or would look rude to just call or drop in their office with request to shadow. I will look around to obtain their email ids. Also I did contact couple of my friends who are Physicians and wrote to a PA. They were very encouraging, but have not have been able to help. Like you have suggested, I can ask my Physician (who works for HMO, so I can’t shadow him) to help me if he knew any PAs that would let me shadow.
        I had to mention this yesterday but somehow missed it. This well put line in your story, “I didn’t feel like a very good student or father, but I knew that not following through with this would mean being unhappier and therefore an even worse father, so I kept going.” is so true !!

        Reply
  • Lauren April 16, 2013, 5:11 pm

    Hi Paul,

    I’m facing quite a dilemma going into next year, and I was hoping you could give me some advice. I’m a high school senior who recently got into a direct admit, 5-year PA school off the waitlist. The problem I have now is that I can’t really afford to go there. My mom is a single parent, and she lost her job last year, so we really don’t have any money to put toward this very expensive private school’s tuition, so I would just have to take out a bunch of loans.

    The thing is, I got a full ride to a state school (tuition, fees, housing, the works), including $5,000 per year for their PA graduate school, if I got in. While this is also a great opportunity, I am afraid that since the PA field has become so competitive, I don’t know what my chances of getting into this program would be.

    I was hoping you could maybe give me some advice about what to do in this situation. With the direct admit private school, I have a guaranteed admission into graduate school, but with a ton of debt ($100,000+). At the state school, I would have no debt (except for about $30,000 for grad school) but I don’t know if I could get into their program. I know this is super random but any insight you could give me would be much appreciated! Since I just got off the wait list last week, I’m trying to play catch up best I can before the May 1st deadline.

    Thank you so much for any help you can give me! I really appreciate it!
    -Lauren

    Reply
  • Neda Sarmast May 10, 2013, 8:13 pm

    I am so happy I came across your story. I’m currentely finishing up my master in MFT, however I feel like I made a poor decision since I know that although I enjoy working with people MFT would not be the right fit for me, specially not with finishing 3000 hours and in the end have a pretty low income. Although it’s important to like your job for me the income is also a factor and important for me as I need to support myself. PA is something that I would love to do, my question is would you say it’s a hard path to take if you have no experience in science at all? My brother is periodontist and he keeps telling me it is not for me since im weak in that area as well as other family members who are MD. Your input and opinion would mean a lot. / Ned

    Reply
    • Paul May 14, 2013, 10:50 pm

      Don’t listen to anyone who tells you what you aren’t able to do. Surround yourself with people who believe in you.

      it’s not necessarily a HARDER path, but if you have no experience, it will necessarily be a LONGER path. But who cares? If you decide this is really really what you want to do, why would that stop you? You might consider starting with some more basic courses to increase your confidence in the area of sciences. General science, health science, and the like can offer you a chance to get your feet wet and build your confidence. Once you have confidence, you will be hell bent to prove your detractors wrong. And then LOOK OUT.

      Reply
  • unee May 27, 2013, 7:01 pm

    I am 50 yrs old and want to go to PA but not confident for GRE exams. Are those schools w/o GRE requirements are also good ones. I am very good in science and can finish all pre req in 2 semesters at a community college. Are there enough jobs available in other cities if you graduate from other and do internship there but then look around for job in your home town. I will appreciate any responses. I am looking at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences – Manchester, NH but live in Florida.

    Reply
    • Paul May 31, 2013, 5:17 pm

      There tend to be a lot of jobs for PAs. As in any profession, there are more jobs for those with experience than those with little or none. But I think you’ll be fine.

      There isn’t any big rhyme or reason to which schools require the GRE or not. Get your PA certification anyway you are able, and all doors will be open to you.

      Reply
  • Blanca Pena August 17, 2013, 12:30 am

    After retiring from law enforcement after 20 yrs i decided to re-invent myself to pursue my life long dream of working in the medical field. I have finished my prerequisites for PA school with a 3.7 GPA overall & a 4.0 in my sciences. With no HCE I am going to start a course in sept 2013 to become a phlebotomist. Once I do that course I will start working part time, then will be working on my BS in Interdisciplinary Health Science, a degree suggested by an advisor at Fresno State. Will this degree be a strong degree, once I apply for PA school? And will working as a phlebotomist satisfy the requirements for HCE. Please let’s know if this is the right path to follow to be a strong candidate to get into PA school.

    Reply
    • Paul September 1, 2013, 9:33 am

      I think interdisciplinary health is a good choice for a degree. It provides you with some options for what to study within the degree (ie electives), and clearly relates directly to health.

      Phlebotomy is a good start to HCE. It is narrow in scope, so I might encourage you to round out your HCE with some other form of acute care, such as work in the ER (volunteering a few hours per week would work), EMT, mission work, etc.

      Reply
  • Brock August 20, 2013, 9:55 am

    Hi Paul,

    Great story and very inspiring. I live in Southern California and I own a gym/wellness center. I am 36 years old and just had my first child and now am looking for a career change working more closely with people in need. My schooling includes a Bachelors Degree from CSUN though it’s not focused around science or health. I called a local PA program and found out they no longer require undergraduate science classes. They only require a degree, which I have, and to have completed the MCAT. Also of course are letters of rec and the proven desire to be a PA. Being the son of a heart surgeon I have always been intrigued with human anatomy and physiology which I have soaked up and learned over the years due to my fascination of the human body. I am currently self learning Organic Chemistry, Physics, and just brushing up on Anat/Phys. before planning to take a MCAT prep course followed by the eventual taking of the MCAT. Also, I train some top Doctors in L.A. that would be happy to give me positive letters of rec when the time comes to apply. My question to you is does this seem like a plausible approach along with volunteer work? Should I be doing something else in my outlined approach?
    Thanks so much,
    Brock

    Reply
    • Paul September 1, 2013, 9:39 am

      I am very skeptical of any PA program that does not require undergrad science classes. This is a norm in all PA programs. Are you sure this was a PA program that offers a masters and/or certificate? There are some Bachelor of Science PA programs which do not make you a PA, much the same way that pre-med majors don’t become physicians upon graduation from undergrad. You don’t necessarily need another bachelors degree, but I’m almost certain you will need undergrad science classes. You should double and triple check this.

      Taking the MCAT is fine, but you should definitely take the GRE, as it is more commonly accepted for PA schools and having a GRE score will therefore allow you to apply to many more PA programs.

      Sounds like you have some good options for letters of reference. Make sure that your letter writers have some working knowledge of you, not just a friendly connection. An important way that readers evaluate letters of reference is to determine the type of relationship between the writer and the candidate.

      Reply
  • Kristy September 22, 2013, 6:52 pm

    Paul,
    Your story is wonderful and seriously gives me hope! I am a 27 and I have recently been laid off from my job. It was actually a blessing because it was an unhealthy working environment. What kept me there for so long was the flexibility. I was given custody of my niece when she was first born. Now that she is almost 3 and with the loss of my job I am so scared of being a single/jobless mom. I do not want to be the “stereotype” single mom barley making it on her own. I refuse to let it be me!I believe that hard work pays off. Right before I graduated from college I interned at UT College of Medicine. I was so fascinated by all the doctors and residents I really wished at the time that I had taken school more seriously and went to Med School. But my GPA is beyond terrible! Needless to say, I grew up a lot after gaining custody of my niece. I would love nothing more than to work hard and get into a PA program, but this time do it right. Try to make up for all my failures in undergrad. I have no idea where to even start. Like I said, my GPA is awful. I know that this journey is going to be long and hard. Aside from the day I decided to adopt my niece, this might be the hardest thing that I will ever have to do. I am not married nor am I dating. I will strictly be doing this all on my own. I am scared and nervous, but I want to make a difference in the world and my passion is helping people. I think that the best place for me to start is taking all of the prerequisites.I wrote down step by step on what you did to get into a school. What did you do about your bills, parenting tips, and studying. I admire you because you have 3 children and I only have one. Seeing that you did this 3 children it cannot be impossible. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I would like to start taking some of the courses this upcoming spring. I know that I will need to work, go to school, and raise a child. Does it seem impossible all together? Thanks for all of your help! You really have given me a lot of encouragement. :)
    Kristy

    Reply
    • Paul September 24, 2013, 8:14 pm

      Well, Kristy, you definitely have my respect (yo). Taking on someone else’s child (even that of a relative) is a huge job, and you are to be commended.

      Here’s my take.

      Your GPA is horrible. Well the positive way to look at that is that at least you know your weakness as a candidate, which makes the work you have decided to do clear. You need to take classes. Yes, start with the prerequisites. Take them as slowly as you need to in order to get A’s. Don’t let the time it takes you to put a good foot forward deter you – the tortoise and the hare is a perfect story to keep in mind.

      I should say (as I have many times on this site) that a good cumulative GPA will not be your goal. If you have a degree with bad grades, you would need to take far too many classes to change it much. BUT: you can demonstrate how many courses you have crushed since getting your head in the game, and call their attention to that. Make it clear to them that you are not the student you once were.

      While I’m at it, you MUST include your adoptive single parenting experiences in your essay. This will show them all you have had to do while back in school, which will make them all the more impressed with you. You have the makings of a great essay.

      Please keep me posted on your progress.

      Paul

      Reply
  • Sara September 25, 2013, 10:45 am

    You are the first person/website I have found that posted about when they heard back from the school for interviews. I applied to Davis as well, and now I’m so anxious to hear that they called you in October! EEP! This was a great post, very inspiring to the hopeful PA’s of America. Here’s to hoping we share the same alma mater!

    Reply
  • Mk October 4, 2013, 9:39 am

    Paul,

    You have a very inspiring and wonderful story. You have displayed a true test of commitment in your struggles, I commend you for that.

    I graduated with a BA in Business in 2011 (not a good GPA, a 2.9 ) and a month before my graduation date, my grandmother passed away suddenly due to pancreatic cancer. Her passing was so quick it felt like it was a dream (29 days). Anyways, as you can imagine my family spent a lot of time in the hospital and I noticed a few “doctors” that were spending extra time talking with there patients. I’m talking a level of care that other busy doctors would not have time for. Upon closer inspection I realized they were PA’s. I heard of the PA field before but it did not strike me until the tough ordeal with my grandmother had passed. Soon after, I turned down my MBA scholarship and acceptance to go back to a junior college to complete my prerequisites. Now here comes the kicker…

    I have found that, taking science course has been quite the struggle for me due to the fact the I work full time. In Anatomy I earned a B+, Chem 101 I earned a B+ and now I am struggling to maintain my A in both General chem and Physiology. After this semester I have General Chem II and Microbiology to take. Struggling to maintain an “A” has really been discouraging me, as of late, I am very hard on myself about my grades. I put in a lot of study time and well, do my very best to make the efforts necessary to get an A but sometimes fall short and end up with the “B”. Some days I feel the best I can do is a B, which in my opinion, is unacceptable. I feel like if I am lucky enough to get into PA school, drinking from that fire hose of information is going to overwhelm me and I would not be able to assimilate this information quickly enough.

    I have been an EMT for 3 months now and just got an internship at the hospital doing rotations in each department. I am also a volunteer at a local children’s home. By the time I apply to PA school, I should have around 1,000 volunteer hours.

    My question to you is, when you go into PA school, how did you handle the workload immediately? I feel like if I was not working so many hours, that I would be able to get a handle on my studies, but this is speculative. While I am usually a driven and self motivated person, at the current moment, I do not feel confident in myself. I do however, have a strong desire to become a PA and have made arrangements to shadow a PA in the coming months.

    I guess I am looking for some insight to see if anyone else reciprocates this fear of the unknown here.

    Thanks for your time Paul! :)

    Mk

    Reply
    • Paul October 10, 2013, 9:57 pm

      Mk – don’t worry; they will teach you everything you need to know. There will be plenty of studying and probably stressing too, but most people who put the effort in make it through. Learning medicine takes time and experience. There is plenty you learn from a book, but there are plenty of things you can only learn from time in the field with patients. I am still learning and plan to continue doing so until someone pries my father’s stethoscope out of my lifeless hands.

      School while working is tough. You will not have the *luxury* to work while in PA school, if it can be called that. Your new career will require all you time and energy, at least in the beginning. But that’s part of the fun of it – getting sucked into the thing you are looking forward to. Don’t worry about money while in school – sure it may be tight, but there are plenty of ways to fund it (loans are the most common).

      As for your current academics, do your best and don’t be too hard on yourself – you’re being split in several directions, and that makes 100% perfect focus much harder. Believe me, when you have the freedom to concentrate on your learning, you will learn more and faster than you ever thought possible.

      In terms of getting into PA school, if you’re too busy to go full time and still do well, consider slowing up a bit so you will protect your GPA. (see here http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CC8QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.mypatraining.com%2Fpa-school-application-tip-2-protect-your-gpa&ei=4IRXUsnBH-7VigKjzYFo&usg=AFQjCNG1Wr5pqBLpstHuhSVg-aGFaqpNGA&sig2=nww7O10CRqzgXjiXIQHo4w&bvm=bv.53899372,d.cGE)

      SUCCESS.

      Paul

      Reply
  • Yukti Sharma October 5, 2013, 9:07 am

    Hi,
    I was searching about prospects of PA program when I saw your blog. Its really very inspiring how you have overcome all your hurdles.
    I did my Ph.D. in field of Toxicology in 2005 after finishing it I joined Howard University in Department of Physiology in college of medicine as Postdoc and worked for almost 6 years. Currently, I am working as Adjunct Prof. teaching Anatomy and Physiology I and II for past two years. Since academics doesn’t pay well and I feel stagnation in this field so I am thinking of doing PA.
    I have questions for you
    1. Do you think with my experience its a good idea to do PA?
    2. Do you need any clinical experience to get admission in PA program?
    3. Also, do you think I should also consider online program?
    I live in DC area, and we have only one university (George Washington) offering PA program but tuition is very high approx. $90,000 for entire program.
    I would appreciate if you answer my question as I am so confused with my situation.

    Thanks,
    Yukti

    Reply
    • Paul October 10, 2013, 10:10 pm

      Yukti –

      Yes, that sounds confusing! I can’t be sure without reviewing your CV and application, but my guess is you will have technical experience that will be invaluable if you choose to go the PA route. I assume that you will have a strong academic record, which is 1/2 the battle. The other 1/2 may sound like starting over, but you will need time working with patients in a health care setting. If you have done that as part of your toxicology degree, you may be okay, but my guess is that’s been more academic than clinical. They will want to see that you have spent time working directly with patients. Thankfully, this isn’t necessarily a difficult requirement, but it does take time. Many schools will require 500-3000 hours of health care experience. You can read about ways to get that on our forum: http://www.mypatraining.com/forum. There you will see a section on health care experience, and you can read the thread “Creative Ways to Get Health Care Experience.”

      There really is no (totally) online PA program so far. There are some programs that are experimenting with distance learning, but they are not fully online. You might look at programs like the distance option at University of Madison in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, due to newly developed federal regulations governing distance education, their program has recently been restricted from teaching students who are residents of the following states: AL; AK; CO; FL; IN; IA; KS; KY; MD; NM; NH; NY; NC; ND; OH; OR; TN; TX; WA

      But you might call and ask them about other programs that they know of that are similar.

      Reply
  • Lori November 7, 2013, 11:57 am

    As many have said, I was very encouraged by your story! We have 3 children and my husband has been working as a counselor for the past 4 years. He was researching jobs and ran across PA with a specialization in Psychiatry. He is really excited about this and it sounds good to me too but I am wondering how you financed pa school? I am a teacher and really want to stay home with our kids but could work possibly at a virtual school while he gets his prereqs done and pa school. Did you take loans out or were you able to get any scholarships/grants/fin aid? I really don’t want to be in debt but It looks like that might be the only way. A friend told me about some companies/hospitals that will repay student loans once you sign on. Also, would you recommend is waiting until our kids are a little older since our youngest is one year old? Thanks so much Paul.

    Reply
    • Paul November 10, 2013, 1:27 pm

      Yes, what you’ve heard is true. I didn’t take out loans before school – my wife at the time had a sufficient income to allow me to be home with our kids and take prereqs part time. But once in school, the vast majority take out student loans. The financial aid department of your PA school will help you to determine how much help you’ll need and where to get it. I received some grants (like $2K per year) which is basically free money. The rest was via subsidized and unsubsidized guaranteed student loans. Subsidized loans are the best – the interest is paid for until you graduate so they don’t accrue so fast. Unsubsidized loans begin accruing interest as soon as you take them out. Overall though, student loan money is some of the “cheapest” money you can borrow, with interest rates usually between 6.8 and 8.25%.

      No one likes to borrow, but you will make good money once you graduate and the loans can be repaid at a reasonable rate. Obviously, it all depends on your expenses and debt level going in.

      There are also PA scholarships, but not many. National Health Service Corps is the one most people know about. In addition, depending on where you work when you graduate, your employer may help you. For example, one of my classmates was an employee of Planned Parenthood and works for them as a PA now. They are repaying her student loans for her, a certain amount per year that she works for them.

      You should also read out article on the topic here.

      Reply
  • Cody November 12, 2013, 8:58 pm

    Hey Paul,
    First off I want to thank you for starting this site and giving students a great resource. I’m a 23 year old student with a degree in kinesology. I finished school with a 3.85 gpa and I plan on applying in the spring for PA schools but can’t seem to find any places to get great patient interaction. I have 200 hours as an intern under a PA at a orthopedic clinic but I am really looking for another place to add to my resume and was wondering what is the best way to contact clinics and ask if their physicians or PA’s allows students to shadow? Any help is greatly appreciated

    Reply
  • Jamie November 20, 2013, 10:13 am

    Hi Paul,
    Your story is inspirational as others, along with myself, stress about PA school. I am currently attending college to obtain a degree in a Bachelor of Arts in biology. I do not have to take physics or calculus, knowing it would lower my GPA. Do you recommend these courses to be taken or do you think the required courses are enough with electives? Thank you.

    Reply
    • Paul November 28, 2013, 4:40 pm

      Physics could be helpful, but you don’t need to take physics for science majors and/or engineers, which will require higher math like calculus. That level of study probably won’t carry over much to your PA school studies. Unless you have some compelling reason to study calculus, I wouldn’t bother – it’s not something you’re going to use in your work as a PA, for the most part. Nor is it a prerequisite for the majority of PA schools for just that reason.

      Reply
  • Lance December 2, 2013, 11:34 am

    Paul,

    First of all, congratulations! People like you should be rewarded after the sacrifice you made. I am also applying to PA programs. I got an interview to 1 of the 3 schools I applied to but I just recently got declined by another PA program and I am not sure why. I am still waiting to hear back from the 3rd school. Anyway we can e-mail back and forth? I need advice.

    Reply
    • Paul December 7, 2013, 4:31 pm

      I’ll do what I can. Send me a message via the Contact link at the top.

      Reply
  • Aly December 6, 2013, 6:57 am

    hey Paul,
    Thanks for you wonderful web page.
    Do you know how can I get to talk with a PA graduated at the AACC in Maryland?

    Reply
    • Paul December 7, 2013, 4:19 pm

      Thanks. Just call their program and ask them if you could speak with a graduate. I’m guessing they would be glad to hook you up.

      Reply
  • Lexy February 23, 2014, 8:56 pm

    Hi Paul:

    I am a single mother to a 5 year old girl. Currently, I am 27 years old but somewhat restarting life. I went to school back in 2006-2010 wanting to obtain a degree both my AS and BS in biology. Due to financial issue I had to stop. I recently just paid off a debt owed to my previous school and wanted to restart. Originally I wanted to become a doctor but I recently became fixated on the PA programs and its benefits. I am wondering what avenue do I take now. Being out of school for so long most of the pre-req’s. needed for this program are over 5 years. I thought about going for a BS in health science but I would have to quit my full time job (which is my only source of income). I also thought about obtaining a degree in Public Health but I assumed it would be useless to the PA program. May you please assist me in what route can be taken in order to finish my career goals?

    Congrats on this accomplishment…your story is truly amazing and inspiring.

    Reply
    • Paul February 24, 2014, 11:41 pm

      Thanks, Lexy!

      I wouldn’t waste more of your precious time with an additional degree. Just take the prerequisite courses while you are gaining some health care experience, and when they are complete, apply. If you have a bachelor’s in Biology already, it shouldn’t take you 5 years – find out from the programs that interest you how old they will allow your coursework to be to apply, and then retake the science prereqs that need to be updated. All program websites will have a list of the courses they require.

      Paul

      Reply
  • Alicia February 25, 2014, 8:26 pm

    Paul
    Have you heard about the percentage that foreign doctors got into a PA program? . I really need your sincere opinion about it. I am one of those physicians, with a lot of clinical experience, skills, and a very good GPA . I updated Anatomy,Physiology, and Microbiology. I applied 2 times to the same school It took me 3 years to do all of that: Caspa, updated credits and finally I got an Interview They told me that they interviewed 100 from 800 hundred applicants. They denied me the opportunity. They do not said WHY . I really need to know Which School in USA pay attention to foreign doctors like me that all we want is work. Thank you very much

    Reply
    • Paul March 2, 2014, 10:43 am

      That’s hard, Alicia. Your experience and knowledge would serve you well in this field. When you are talking about attracting interviews, you are really talking about inspiring PA schools and piquing their interest. It’s not enough to come across as a qualified candidate; you need to come across as a unique and interesting candidate. Think about it. Say you are on the admissions committee for Harvard University (undergrad) and you have 5000 seats to fill in your freshman class and 1000 applicants who have 4.0 GPAs and good SAT scores. What do you do then? You start looking at other factors. One of the biggest factors by far is what type of person the applicant seems to be. What personal traits do they possess? These are things that can best be gleaned from a strong and eye-catching essay. There may in your case also be a factor related to their opinion of people who wanted first to be doctors – they would probably rather see that you wanted more than anything else to be a PA (there are PLENTY of those people). So your essay should deftly address that issue as well.

      Reply
  • phillip March 6, 2014, 11:55 pm

    Oh man…I hear you. Im currently working full time as a night shift respiratory therapist awaiting my final weeks to earn my bachelor’s degree in respiratory therapy only to start prerequisites I have finished almost 10 years ago. It’s reassuring that I’m not the only one that is flustered about retaking these courses. I don’t know how Im going to do it, but ill figure out out when I get there!

    Reply
  • Sam April 12, 2014, 7:39 pm

    Good evening Paul,

    This was exactly the kind of read I was looking for. Quite inspirational indeed. I am 29 and spent 6 years as a Navy corpsman. Before that, I was an EMT out of High School full time. Loved it, which is why I joined the Navy. After getting out of the Navy in 2010, I started school again full time. It had been 7 years since I went to school. What a challenge. I got my EMT cert back and now I am getting more experience hours, I am also still a corpsman in the reserves, I keep Marines up to date on shots, blood draws, etc. So that counts too. So, here I am. I am getting married to an amazing kindergarten teacher and she is so supportive of me. I have a long ways to go, especially since I don’t have any credits in the science classes. I am ready to buckle down and really give this my best shot. I enrolled in the community college and I am going to start in the fall. Hardest part for me right now is confidence in my academic ability. But, I am willing to work hard and ask for help when I need it. What do ya think? Does this look like a good plan of attack? Thank you for taking the time to answer.

    R/

    Sam

    Reply
    • Paul April 19, 2014, 1:54 pm

      Yes, it sounds like you are taking the right path. Don’t take too many science prerequisites at a time, and work your @ss of in them!

      Reply
      • Guelsy April 23, 2014, 1:41 pm

        Your story is very inspiring. I’m at the beginning of the path, working towards my Biology Bachelor. When you said:”…Don’t take too many science prerequisites at a time, and work your @ss of in them!” How many science prerequisites would you suggest at a time (since it’s lecture and lab for each of them)? Is Biol and Chem, together with Math and Eng too much? Take into account that I also have 2 kids and work full-time. Thanks in advance; and thanks a lot for answering our questions. We all appreciate it so much!

        Reply
        • Paul April 24, 2014, 10:44 pm

          It depends on what kind of student you are and how much freedom you have to study. I chose to take them one at a time because I had kids. If I hadn’t had kids, I probably would have done two at a time. Unless you’re very confident academically, I wouldn’t suggest more than two of the primary courses at a time. Remember: PROTECT YOUR GPA.

          Reply
  • Russ April 13, 2014, 4:40 pm

    My story is eerily similar, except I am still plugging away trying to get accepted. I only applied to West Liberty University. I was interviewed on January 22 and was told I would have an answer no later than the end of March. The end of March came and went, so I sent a follow up email thanking them for the interview and asking for a return e-mail or phone call to advise me of my status. I still have not heard a word. Is this the normal way PA programs treat applicants? This cycle I am not putting my eggs in one basket. I will be applying to at least 20 schools. I am 41 years old and have a 3.78 GPA since returning to school fiver years ago. I managed this while working 50 hours a week also. However, when I count in my grades from over 20 years ago my GPA is only a 3.1. Are there schools out there that value older students and look at the recent grades a student has earned as opposed to grades from last century? I have also noticed in my research that the PA programs is Florida have less prerequisites. Does this mean those schools are easier to get into? Sorry for all the questions and thank you in advance for any answers.

    Reply
    • Paul April 19, 2014, 1:59 pm

      No, I wouldn’t call your experience typical. It behooves them to accurately represent the process by giving you the most accurate notified-by date that they have, and to then notify you by that date. But you need to remember that there are a ton of things going on behind the scenes. Some programs are administratively disorganized. Others receive more applicants than they expect and have to play catch-up. You are doing the right thing by moving forward and anticipating the next application cycle.

      No, Florida schools are no easier to get into than the rest. It probably relates to regional differences in undergraduate education – the courses that most BS/BA grads leave school with, etc.

      Reply
  • Anna April 21, 2014, 2:52 pm

    Hi Paul
    I’m almost done with first year of undergrad college and my friend told me about being a PA which got me really interested. I’m currently going to major in BS Psychology but I was wondering if I should take a good amount of science classes to be competitive or stick to preq’s? I’m just worried if I load my classes I might not get the best grades but if I don’t I might not be competitive.

    Reply
    • Paul April 24, 2014, 10:21 pm

      They have the prerequisites for a reason: they are the classes you need (most). I wouldn’t go out of your way to take other science courses, particularly if you don’t plan on getting A’s in them. PROTECT YOUR GPA.

      Reply
  • Kyle April 21, 2014, 6:17 pm

    Hi Paul!
    I am currently a Junior in college and I am planning on going into the Air Force for 4 years either as a commissioned officer or enlisted after I graduate. Either way I would be conducting combat search and rescue operations, the enlisted route involves medical training all the way up to paramedic qualified, the officer’s medical training is up to the basic EMT level and is heavier on the side of administrative duties and commanding the missions. My question here is: What would be more beneficial when applying to PA school? What experience would they like better?

    Thank you in advance for any answers!

    Reply
    • Paul April 24, 2014, 10:26 pm

      Clearly, from what you have shared, the enlisted route would be better for PA school. Obviously there are other factors to consider, such as what your career will like if you don’t get into PA school, your pay as an officer vs. enlisted, etc.

      But as you have it here, there is no contest: enlisted would be better for PA school.

      Reply
  • Jina May 4, 2014, 11:15 am

    Hey Paul,

    I have heard about this website being very helpful for the students wanting to get into the p.a school. I am also here for the same purpose. First, I wanted to thank you for making this website for others to help them achieve on their goals with great advices. I want to begin talking about my gpa. My gpa is 3.1 for overall and the science gpa is 2.7, (bio 1 = B+, bio 2 I am currently taking, chem 1 = B+, chem 2 = C, A&P 1 & 2 = C and microbiology first D then retook it and got a B+, orgo 1 and 2 = B+, essential orgo 1 = B ). I am not happy with my grades because I do have serious reasons which I am hesitating to talk about but since I need to be very honest and need to tell the truth here for a real advice, I will say what really happened. So long story short I was in a relationship for a long time ( on and off), we used to fight a lot and he had angry issues…the point is that he gave me a lot of stress in life and he used to physically abuse me. So I had a stressful and physical painful life which really effected my grades but still I tried my best to keep my pain in and just study for the good grades but as you can see, my grades are not so good because of all the disturbance i had and it looks really bad. I am away from all that horrible environment now and no one can come in between me and my dream of becoming a PA. I have a bachelor of science in nutrition and food science, 500 hours of working as a medical assistant in a gyn office and I’m still working here. I also have 100 hours of pa shadowing hours. I want to apply in this cycle for the pa schools but I doubt I will get it. Can you please suggest me what I should do. Should I retake the classes I got C in? Should I still apply and just hope for the best or wait and retake the classes? Thanks for your help.

    -Jina K

    Reply
    • Paul May 10, 2014, 12:16 pm

      Yes. If your grades aren’t great the best thing you can do is to show them that you are now a better student by retaking the most important classes and getting A’s in them. The most important classes are generally the science prerequisites.

      Reply
  • Emily May 22, 2014, 5:50 pm

    Hi Paul, just like the rest of your readers I have found your forum to be both inspirational and informative. I thank you for starting this and keeping it up. I am seeking your advice I just earned my BA however my GPA is a 3.198 ( it was a 3.20 but due to an untimely medical issue my last semester was not a good one) which I know is pretty low. I know I meet the min criteria of 3.0 but it’s still low. However, I have worked in a hospital for years. I have tons of shadowing hours along with great references. My question to you is; what would you do if you were me? would you even attempt to apply to PA schools or would you take another year and redo some of the classes. ( for the prereq’s I have mostly B’s. I have a couple of A’s and 2 C’s).

    Reply
    • Paul May 24, 2014, 11:20 am

      I think I would do both; work on your courses while you apply. If you get in, great. If not, your resume won’t look exactly the same. Start with classes in which you earned a C+ or less.

      Reply
  • Robert Collier June 4, 2014, 12:25 pm

    Mr. Paul,
    You have responded to questions I had before via private email. I regrettably due to extenuating circumstances did not reply with a grateful thank you. As many others have posted above your site and advice are inspirational and a much needed help. I look forward to asking more questions regarding the application process and further PA knowledge. I find your videos and blogs even helpful for my job in the Navy. Thanks Paul.
    Sincerely,
    HM3 (FMF) Collier United States Navy

    Reply
    • Paul June 4, 2014, 6:53 pm

      No problem, Robert! I’m glad it’s been helpful!

      Reply
  • Monineath June 27, 2014, 11:33 pm

    Hi Paul,

    I am a recent grad and now I’m looking to shadow a PA but I haven’t had any luck anywhere around my area. If you are a PA right now and you live in Southern California, I was wondering if it is possible for me to shadow you?

    Thank you in advance for your help

    Reply
    • Paul July 5, 2014, 10:22 pm

      first, I’m in Northern CA. Second, my work has not been opening to having a shadow, since I see so many patients. Have you spoken with your own doctor? Don’t ask to shadow him/her – just tell them that you’ve been having a bear of a time finding someone to shadow and do they know anyone who might take you on. This way they aren’t in an awkward position if they don’t want to and can still give you a name of someone else who might. They also might want to help you! You can also check out http://www.pashadowonline.com

      Reply
  • Olivia July 14, 2014, 7:13 pm

    Hi Paul, thanks for the informative article. I graduated with a non-science degree with a high GPA in 2010. I want to eventually get into PA school, but I’m stuck as to what is the best route. Should I become an RN to get that needed experience? I would still have to take some extra classes such as Chem and Bio. Or should I look for another health-related job and just get all my pre-requisites out of the way? What do you think? If you have any helpful resources regarding this decision, that would be amazing too! Thanks so much!

    Reply
    • Paul July 16, 2014, 12:42 am

      Become an RN if you want to go into nursing. If you want to become a PA, look to other types of experience. Work part time on your classes while you consider some of the jobs for HCE that we have talked about elsewhere on the blog.

      Reply
  • Aimee August 17, 2014, 1:57 pm

    Hi Paul! Great site….very informative!

    I have 2 Bachelors (Psych GPA 3.7 and Nursing GPA including all PA prereqs 3.85). I’ve been an RN for 11 years in ICU, GI and Observation Unit. I’ve begun my CASPA app and have 3 MDs very happy to write letters for me. I’ve also taken two NP grad courses: Advanced Pharm and Advanced Pathophys (both with As). My prereqs are on the older side but my HCE is 11 years of nursing. The program I’m applying to says prereqs older than 5 years are RECOMMENDED but with more HCE that will help. Do you think I have a strong app?

    TIA!

    Reply
    • Paul August 29, 2014, 4:48 pm

      I’m sorry, Tia, but we steer a wide berth from “What are my chances?” questions – the selection process is so subjective and there are so many factors that I couldn’t begin to assess you as an applicant from the items you have shared. If you have anatomy or physiology or possibly microbiology that is older than 5 years, I suggest you retake them. It will give you another chance to shine a great grade at them, and it will prepare you well for some of the basics you will be learning in your didactic year of PA school.

      Reply
  • Tanner August 23, 2014, 8:47 am

    Paul,
    My mother emailed my wife your article because she had found out I am struggling as you did in this process.
    Can I please get your email and contact info. I appreciate your feedback and perspective. Your article really moved me
    Thanks Paul
    Tanner

    Reply
  • Olivia September 9, 2014, 9:33 am

    Hi Paul I was hoping I could get your advice on something,
    I’ve just graduated and finished my prereqs and now I’m at a crossroads between applying for EMT jobs and beginning paid medical experience for PA school, or attending a surgical student internship at UC Davis medical center. I applied and was accepted to the program, however I wanted to ask your opinion on whether participating in the program would be valuable for PA school. The four month program allows students to observe surgeries and patient rounds with doctors, but it is also heavily focused on academics and writing reports and research projects. Although this program seems like a great experience and would give me great insight on what it would be like working in surgery, I’m wondering if this program will actually be beneficial for applying to PA school or if just going straight into working and getting paid medical experience as an EMT would be better. Ultimately at most I could put the program experience on my resume, talk about it in personal statements and possibly have a letter of recommendation from a health care professional, but otherwise I could be getting hours to meet the medical experience minimum requirement for PA schools.
    Thank you for your help!

    Reply
    • Paul September 9, 2014, 6:54 pm

      It sounds like a really cool opportunity, but it doesn’t sound like you would be working very much with patients. At four months longer, if you’re spending a lot of your time on writing reports and research projects, you won’t have time to accrue many hours of experience in direct patient care, which is what they’re looking for.

      I guess my answer is to do this if it interests you more than anything, not necessarily for the health experience hours. If you’re really wanting to fast-track qualifying for PA school by accruing as many hours as quickly as you can, I would go with EMT. Just remember that the value of being an EMT is related to working as an EMT, not just being certified as one.

      Reply
  • Cayley September 12, 2014, 4:47 pm

    Hi Paul,
    I am a 19 year old Sophomore at a community college, and I just changed my major from nursing to a Bachelors in Biology in order to be on the right path towards becoming a PA. I have no health care experience besides a year-long high school medical internship program, and at least 500 medical volunteer hours, neither of which will count towards the schools HCE I’m applying to. I am working full time (office job) and going to school full time as well, while protecting my GPA by taking one science a term, and currently have a 4.0 GPA. My question for you is this, my bachelors degree will take about 3-4 years, and because I want to focus on academics, I won’t have health care experience during those 4 years. So, after getting my bachelors I will need 1-2 years of experience. The problem is, by that time my pre reqs (A&P, Chem) will be expired!! Do you have any suggestions on how to juggle this sort of thing in order to not be overwhelmed, yet not take pre reqs that will just have to be retaken?
    Thanks so much!
    -Cayley

    Reply
    • Paul September 15, 2014, 10:20 am

      Usually students wait to take anatomy, physiology and other required courses until they are closer to graduating (junior or sophomore year). Can you do that? If not, double check with the schools that interest you to see how old your courses can be. Some schools will take them older than 5 years. Others will not. Otherwise, you will need to take them again (boo!)

      I would call the schools that interest you and ask them for their thoughts. If you are only 2 years out of school, they may grant you an extension for your coursework that was done early in your college career.

      Reply

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