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What can I do to get into PA school?


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I am a 22 year old, unfortunately 5th year senior, at New Mexico State University graduating this May with a major in Biology and minor in Mathematics. I originally started out pursuing a degree in engineering but when both of my parents unexpectedly passed away due to medical problems while i've been in college, I realized I really wanted to do something concerning health care and switched to a biology major quite late in my college career. My father was a family practitioner and I only rejected following in his footsteps because of the time medical school takes and the time it takes away from your life afterwards, having to do a residency, and be on call as being very involved with and having a family is important to me.

 

For the past year i've felt getting my MHP in epidemiology would be a better fit as it wouldn't take as long, I could help people, and it would allow me to use a mathematical background i've been strong in. Ive been preparing applications but have been second guessing my decision due to many reasons: i've actually never taken a public health class even though i've done a fair amount of research i'm not sure it is for me, epidemiology does seem a bit too research oriented for me, there are a lot of jobs in public health but very few high paying ones, and for most I have to sell the house I was willed when my parents passed before I leave to continue my education, and need to do a lot of work on it before I do so, meaning it would be a challenge for me to do before this upcoming august when I am applying to go.

 

I have a gut feeling something is holding me back and have recently been doing research on becoming a PA, feeling I would enjoy the job much more than the public health sector. The fact school is shorter, with no residency, and not being on call once you are in the field really makes me feel I could still be the doctor my dad was, as well as balance a family. 

 

I want to know what I would need to do to sort of "catch-up" to all the others applying that have known this is what they want to do, and if I would even be accepted to the program. I have a 3.342 overall GPA and about a 3.52 in-major GPA. On the GRE I got into the 60th percentile for verbal, 63rd for quantitative, and 82nd for analytical writing, but would want to take it again if need be. I had an internship with a veterinary pharmaceutical testing lab this past summer, that hired me to do data entry for them this past fall and continue until I graduate. I volunteered last semester in a molecular physiology vector lab on campus and am continuing to do work for them this semester for credit. I also worked in another lab on campus last semester tracking cytoskeleton proteins on Imaris and Image J during embryonic development. The problem is, I have absolutely no experience relating to healthcare whatsoever. I am applying to volunteer at my local hospital, but Im not sure what else I can do or need to do. It seems like every health care related job required previous healthcare experience or a nursing degree, or some sort of certification. 

 

So, what can I do to make me a viable candidate for PA school? Or am I way over my head and should stick to the MPH route but postpone for a year? 

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Few things:  PA school may be shorter than med school but it's not any shorter than MPH programs.  Also, PAs are on call just as much if not more than physicians.  Not sure where you got that misnomer from but you may have a misperception about what being a PA entails.

 

You might want to shadow a PA.

 

You NEED HCE/PCE.  Preferably a year of full time work's worth.

 

You won't be applying this upcoming cycle (I would recommend against it) so you have plenty of time to do your research on potential career paths and how to get there.  There's no magic bullet.

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Few things:  PA school may be shorter than med school but it's not any shorter than MPH programs.  Also, PAs are on call just as much if not more than physicians.  Not sure where you got that misnomer from but you may have a misperception about what being a PA entails.

 

You might want to shadow a PA.

 

You NEED HCE/PCE.  Preferably a year of full time work's worth.

 

You won't be applying this upcoming cycle (I would recommend against it) so you have plenty of time to do your research on potential career paths and how to get there.  There's no magic bullet.

Thank you for your advice!

 

Yes I understand it is shorter than med school, but not shorter than getting an MPH. I would not mind 2-3 more years of schooling for either the MPH or the PA program. Maybe I am wrong, but If I were a PA for a practitioner not working for a hospital like a OBGYN or family practice, on-call wouldn't still be applicable? I guess I am saying it seems there are ways to get around it?

 

Would volunteer HCE be applicable? Or would I need a full year of paid experience? If it needs to be paid, do you have any suggestions where to look that would take students without any previous experience or certifications? 

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It depends on the specialty if you take call or not. If you stick with family practice/internal medicine, those PAs generally don't take much if any call. 

 

Volunteer HCE counts in some programs, but many programs want paid experience. A place to start is a medical scribe, or a lab tech (many only need a high school diploma and it's easy to go get a phlebotomy certificate).

 

I would do more research on the PA programs you are interested in to see what prereqs and how many HCE/shadowing hours are needed. Volunteering is always nice too, doesn't necessarily need to be healthcare related.

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If you were second guessing yourself on getting a MPH because you have never taken a public health class, then you should be second guessing yourself on becoming a PA since you never had real healthcare exposure. I recommend shadowing a PA or getting more healthcare experience to make sure you want to be a PA. How much you work as a PA will depend on the specialty, where you work, and yourself. If you were to apply to the 2018-2019 cycle and get accepted, it would be 2 years from now before you start PA school, and then PA school itself will take about 2 years. The main things to focus on would be HCE, pre-reqs, volunteering, and shadowing. 

 

Volunteer or paid direct HCE experiences are fine. A common volunteer HCE experience is EMT-B at a firestation. A few schools are more lenient than others and accept hospital volunteering as HCE. However, it's generally recommended to have more direct patient care. You will need to gain a lot of HCE before applying, especially with a slightly below average GPA. A year of HCE will give you about 2k hours, which is a good amount. IMO, I would rather do paid HCE, but one pro of volunteer HCE is that you can usually volunteer as much as you want to rack up those hours. 

 

There may be some jobs that will train you on the job, such as medical assisting (which is what I did). Connections may help you get a job without a lot of previous HCE. There are some direct HCE jobs that require relatively little training like CNA or EMT-B. 

 

Besides HCE, volunteering in general is recommended. Volunteering at the hospital is a good start. You can make connections and may be able to talk to the PAs there and see what different healthcare professionals do. 

 

You may need to take additional classes to fulfill pre-reqs. Your school may have a pre-health website that explains common PA pre-reqs. You can google PA schools and look at their pre-reqs as well. Your major likely covers most of them but not all. You should also calculate your CASPA GPA, which may be different from your transcript GPA. Also note that different PA schools have different pre-reqs, so if you're missing one or two non-essential ones, you still have school options. 

 

Most PA schools strongly recommend shadowing PAs/doctors but usually there is no minimum required. You can google PAs/doctors in the area and call/email them to see if you could shadow them. Sometimes the pre-health advising has a list of available PAs/doctors that are willing to allow shadowing. If you know any healthcare professionals, you can contact them and ask if they know of any PAs/doctors to shadow.  

 

Your GRE scores are fine and you do not need to retake them.  

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