After your grades, the most important aspect of your pa school application is your health care experience.

PA school is a relatively brief two years.  In that time you need to learn so many things – physiology, disease processes, pharmacology, behavioral health, health care policy, and so much more.  The only way you can learn it in such a short span is if you already know something about medicine when you start.

Unlike new medical students, most new PA students have some health care experience, and many have extensive experience.  Experience will be your ace in the hole, the one thing that makes it possible to become a clinician in such a short time.  It is nearly impossible to get into PA school without it.

Great Health Care Experience (HCE)

First off, know this: there are few if any short cuts to accumulating HCE. They want to see that you have put some time into preparing for your new career, and they can smell rushed, irrelevant, or low quality HCE a mile away.  Just to get an idea what some schools are looking for, check out the HCE page on the University of Florida PA program’s website.

To maximize your chances of getting into PA school, your health care experience (HCE) ideally should:

  • Be long enough.  You should accumulate enough total hours to show your commitment to medicine (500-3000+, depending on the school to which you are applying).
    • Some programs strictly require a certain number of hours, while other programs only recommend a number.
    • We have heard tales of people getting into PA school with little or no HCE, but we’ve never met one. Put simply, to show that you are committed to a career in medicine, you need to put in some time preparing.
  • patient contact experience

    The best HCE will have you working closely with patients.

    Be in-depth enough.  You should do it over a period of months or years, not days or weeks.  Start early!

  • Be broad enough.  Provided you have the previous two points covered, having varied HCEs shows your versatility and will come in handy in PA school.
  • Put you into direct contact with patients.
    • Many schools will want to know what percentage of your HCE involved working directly with patients – the higher percentage the better.
    • These can be patients of just about any kind, so long as they are human.  Veterinary medicine may be useful, but schools want to see that you have worked with people.
    • “Direct contact” means that you are talking with and/or touching patients yourself.  You don’t need to be running the show, but you need to at least be a member of the cast.
  • Involve assessment and treatment. 
    • Assessment is the act of trying to determine what the patient needs (by interviewing them, examining them, etc.), and treatment is providing it.  Gigs that have you doing one but not the other aren’t going to help as much as jobs that have you doing both.  Gigs that have you doing neither are of questionable value.
  • Relate to Western (allopathic) medicine.
    • acupuncture, acupressure, massage, Rolfing, Reiki, and other complimentary medical fields are not ideal, and many schools will not count them toward your HCE.  Check with the schools to which you will apply.
    • No energy healing, no aromatherapy, etc.  You may like it and believe in it, but PA schools don’t consider things like these HCE.

“But What If My Health Care Experience Isn’t All Those Things?”

Don’t panic.  The above guidelines describe the theoretical ideal for HCE, and few if any applicants have HCE that covers all of the above.  But let this list guide you in your efforts to find the best health care experience that you can.

Check out the Creative Ways to Get Health Care Experience thread on Inside PA Training’s Physician Assistant Forum.