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Student that could really use some advice

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Hello everyone, 


I have to say, either the requirements have greatly changed within the last few years, or it is much harder to gain entry into PA school than I had previously believed. My story is a long one, but I will condense for ease of read. 


Undergrad: Illinois State University

Major: Sociology 

GPA: 3.57


Worked 3 years as a prison guard in maximum security prison. Was not happy, decided to work toward entry into medical school. 

Before Illinois State would allow me to gain admission as pre-med student, I had to take Bio 1 and Intro Chem @ CC. 


Bio 1:                        A

Chem:                      A


Then started the progression of coursework at ISU


Fall 13

Gen Chem 1            A

Physics 1                 A


Spring 14

Bio 2                        A

Physics 2                 A

Gen Chem 2            A 


Fall 14

Organic 1                A


Spring 15

Organic 2:                A


Then I started navigating toward attending PA school. I am currently enrolled in following


Fall 15


A&P 1                     A

Micro                      A

Med term               A

Nutrition                 A


I just started working full time as an ER tech about a month ago, so I am working towards getting my HCE hours up. Other than that, I have 9 months where I volunteered in a different ER 2 hours/week. 


Anyways, point is, I thought I was well on my way. To my dismay, every school in Illinois I have spoke with has told me that my courses are not enough, they are all entry level and I need to illustrate that I can perform in upper level division courses of Biology and Chemistry. I figured Organic 2 was upper level, I guess not. Everyone has appeared to be turned off by my anatomy/physiology course because it is also intro; they act as if it must be upper level, with preference for a cadaver lab. I don't know about the rest of you, but not one of the surrounding areas, as in up to an hour in any direction, have a cadaver lab. I'm not arguing with any of it. I can understand why they would want to see upper level performance. I guess my question is, why the sudden change? For years before this, all of my courses were just great, not anymore. 


What should I do. Should I find an upper level A&P course somewhere and take it even though I still have A&P 2 to finish next semester? Should I take courses such as upper level physiology, pathophysiology, pharmacology, and biochemistry? If so, I will need to take them through the internet because I am over commuting 45 minutes to class each way while working full time. Plus, there is only one program that offers upper level A&P and their advisor did not suggest taking it if I just took intro A&P. 


Of course I know I must accumulate my health care hours and need to achieve a high score on the GRE, my main question pertains to which direction I should move in order to be a competitive PA applicant this day in age. 


Thank you

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I'd say you're definitely well on your way on the right track. Were the A&P classes 100 or 200 level? Lots of schools will accept 200 levels -- but 100 are usually "not for science majors" and aren't seen that well. I would definitely take genetics and biochemistry if you can swing it. Cell biology, pharmacology, parasitology are also good ones. My only upper level science courses when I returned to do my prereqs were Genetics, Orgo 1-3 (upper division in OR), Cell and Molecular Biology, and Molecular Medicine. I did have a h/o doing well in upper level soft science courses during my psych undergrad though (Cognitive Neuroscience and the like). One to two terms of solid upper division courses should get you there.

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Sounds to me like you've mostly been screwed by location--the school you've attended just wasn't offering the classes that the schools you'll be applying to want to see. The community college A&P in my town is exactly the same curriculum as the 300 level course at the local university, but upper level looks better on a transcript. Stop wasting time/energy/money on courses that aren't going to help you work toward your goal. You've consistenly done well so far; beef up your transcript and you should be fine.

Also, don't just do the bare minimum. If you can, go above and beyond the requirements for the schools you're currently considering. I pushed back applying by a year due to a health issue, and the list of schools I planned to apply to changed dramatically after doing extensive research. Having a broad base of upper level science courses (full year of A&P, 2 terms of O chem w/ 1 term of lab, 1 term of each Biochem, Immunology, Genetics, Communicable & Chronic Disease, Microbio w/ lab) meant I met the requirements for a long list of schools and has let me be choosy as to which program I think will be the best fit for me. 

Best of luck

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The only A&P offered by my cc or state university are the exact same courses: Bio 181/182; a 1 year course covering anatomy/physiology. 

The only other thing that I can find is a stand alone animal physiology course at the university. 

After next semester, I will have a full year of


Gen Bio w/ lab (196/197)

Gen Chem w/ lab (140/141)

Gen Physics w/ lab (108/109)

Organic with lab (230/231/232/233)

A&P with lab (181/182) @ CC


One semester 

Intro Micro w/ lab (191; 1 semester) @ CC

Med Term (110; online) @ CC

Nutrition (120; online) @ CC


These are all the courses and more of what my university has set aside for med school/pa curriculum. 

Of course I have stuff like the english, statistics, psych components completed from original major. 

The only thing I could have done differently was take the higher level Micro 260 @ university. 


As of now I am looking for courses to take university online courses to beef up the resume. 

I am thinking about taking the following: 





Human disease 


As I said, I'm working full time and still need to complete A&P 2 next semester up @ CC. So between full time work, traveling, taking A&P, I'm guessing I can perhaps fit one other class in the schedule, such as Biochemistry. In the summer I plan to take Human disease. Then in the fall I will take Genetics and Physiology, unless others have a better recommendation. 

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I would recommend against taking an animal physiology course. Everything I read said human A&P or bust. Any suggestions would depend heavily on what is available to you to take. I don't have much experience with online courses other than the ones from my local CC, but I do find it surprising that your state college doesn't have more upper level courses. Mine has tons, including gross anatomy.


If I were you, I would drop anything that wasn't upper level unless it's a pre-req for the upper level. Definitely take genetics, as it's a pre-req for a lot of programs and therefore will only aid you if it doesn't happen to be a pre-req for the program(s) you're looking at. What I did when looking through the university catalog is scan everything and find anything that is science that could apply to medicine. You could also try finding medical ethics, medical sociology, that kind of thing. But only take them if you need to fill out your semester.

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I agree with the above - don't waste your time and money taking intro courses when you already know they won't count (I'm thinking specifically of your intro to micro course and maybe A&P).  Your med term should be fine.


If moving for PA school is an option, you could consider checking other schools to see if any of your pre-reqs count though I hate to say it, they probably won't for most programs.  Maybe things have changed since I was in undergrad, but 'upper level' at my school meant course #s 300/400.  Any course that has 'intro' in the title is probably not going to work for you.  Like others have said those are often not for science majors and tend to be a little lighter on the material and truly are intro - just the basics.


You're in a tough spot  and there's not a whole lot we can offer for advice here since we don't know the schools in your area.  One extra word of caution: be careful with what classes you take online.  Some PA programs will not accept any pre-reqs as online courses, some will not accept online science courses, and most want to see an 'in-person' lab section if lab is required.  Do a little research to save yourself the money and headache of finding out later it doesn't cut it.  If you're just taking things online to boost your grades and expand your range, online is probably fine.  Just be careful with the pre-reqs.

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