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Hi All,


I'm really excited to pursue a career as a PA, but I'm nervous that I don't have the right experience. I have health care experience, but not necessarily doing direct patient care. I worked in patient registration for two years in the ED, and then another year in hospital admissions. I've also worked as a ward clerk/unit coordinator for urgent care for about 6 months. Then I worked as a project manager for 6 outpatient clinics to reduce no-shows. Would these experiences count as health care experience? I had direct contact with patients in each of these roles, but I was not responsible for any care plans. Now, I'm a community health worker for an affordable housing agency where I provide health education and accompany patients to their medical appointments. Would this be considered health care experience even though I am employed by a social service agency and not a medical provider?


I've considered becoming a CNA, but I'm afraid it would be a backwards step for me. Please note I do not intend to offend anyone because I have much respect for CNAs, it's just that getting my CNA would be a financial burden for me at this time. I finished my MPH two years ago, so I must work full-time to fulfill my financial obligations and going back to school for CNA would require me to reduce work hours. Instead of getting my CNA, could I use shadowing experience?


Thanks for any advice!

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On the CASPA, there is a section for what I call patient care experience (can't remember the official term off the top of my head), and general healthcare experience. Based on what you've said, your experience sounds like healthcare experience. Most (if not all) programs that say they require so many hours of experience are talking about patient care experience.

I know exactly what you mean. I'm basically supported mostly by my husband because I'm working as a diet tech to get my patient care experience. However, I can see how direct patient care experience is valued by programs. Some argue say that it is unlikely a person could know whether being PA is what you really want to do if you've never taken care of a patient clinically (not saying this is the case for you, although I found it true for myself.) I also worked in an administrative position in a healthcare setting, and while you may understand billing, infrastructure, and insurance better than most, programs want to see if you have compassion for patients outside of the office setting... where you know the smell of C. Diff diarrhea, or can tell the difference between a true cry for help or someone who is clinically delirious. You don't really need to know what C. Diff diarrhea smells like, but you will if you pursue being a PA.


That being said, research programs that don't require direct patient care experience or very little, and apply there. Maybe try being a CNA on the weekends just to get your feet wet and see if this is what you want. If you don't get in, want to increase your chances, or REALLY want this, bite the bullet and go full time, if you can survive financially. Programs will respect that, but it? s up to your family situation.


Oh, and shadowing doesn't typically count as direct patient care experience, as far as I know.

Best wishes to you!

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Thanks for the information and advice! It is really helpful. 


I know that I want to be a PA after shadowing and working closely with PAs as a community health worker. It's just hard to make that transition from my current role to CNA, especially when the pay is a lot lower. However, I really like your suggestion of being a CNA on the weekends. My fear (probably like many others) is that I am making huge changes (like going back to school to take prerequisites in the evenings and a career shift) with the possibility that I will not get in to PA school. It's a scary feeling! But as you said, if I REALLY want it, then I need to bite the bullet.


Do you know if my experience as a community health worker counts as direct patient experience? I essentially work with patients to make sure they understand their care plans, as well as help them identify and address barriers that prevent them from adhering to those care plans. I'm sort of the communicator between the patient and the medical provider. I also do BP and blood sugar tests for some patients.


Thanks again!

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You have great healthcare- related experiences and an advanced degree that will help you as you apply to PA school. 

To answer your questions about healthcare experience:
  • You should look for PA programs that set minimal to no requirements for patient care experience. Your experience as a community health worker will help you.
  • You can probably leverage your prior and current networks to find a medical assistant position that only requires on-the-job training rather than a certification. 
  • PA programs usually evaluates the quality of healthcare experiences on a case-by-case basis. It sounds like you have great patient interactions and an understanding of care plans as a community health worker. You should frame your experiences to highlight these aspects during your application.

Hope that helps!

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You could likely justify some of it as HCE, but realistically none of it is direct patient care (which you seem to understand).  The problem lies in that when we (this site, schools, etc) often imply that HCE is preferred to be PCE (patient care experience).  


Do you have HCE?  Maybe, probably.  But you don't have PCE which will likely hinder you to some degree when applying.  You should definitely consider shadowing PAs but it is not going to count as HCE or PCE - it counts as shadowing - which is still a favorable quality.

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