On My Way to PA School: Surprises I Encountered
One Pre-PA Shares Unexpected Roadblocks
November 15, 2018
by Amelia Maurer
Becoming a PA has always been a dream of mine since high school, and I’m currently a senior in college majoring in public health. I want to make a difference in the field of medicine. I believe the key to this is promoting health and wellness on a more personal level, and I’ve decided the PA career is for me.
As I prepared to apply to PA school, I did not have guidance from any academic institution or counselor about the necessary steps to prepare for PA school. So I took it upon myself to research for hours on end different PA schools, patient contact hours, their prerequisite courses, shadowing experience, and much more. I hope sharing my experience with you will provide insight into the roadblocks you may encounter.
My first substantial roadblock was patient contact experience (PCE). I wasn’t sure what constituted “patient contact hours” and was confused why it differed from school to school. I began working at a private practice in my hometown as a front desk receptionist. I knew I had to start somewhere and this seemed like a good opportunity, especially since I was still in high school.
I was really lucky. A new physician joined the practice while I was working there and he really understood how serious I was about going to PA school. He offered me a golden opportunity: to be his medical scribe. I jumped at the offer and gained extensive experience as his right hand. I was soon comfortable charting in electronic medical records and was able to familiarize myself with the workings of that particular practice and specialty.
After three years working together, my mentor opened his own pain management practice, and I moved with him. I’ve been exposed to a new specialty and now fully understand how important networking and mentorship is to professional development. Even when I was away at school, I stayed in touch with the practice and worked over winter and summer breaks. It’s really worked out for me – I have a job offer for after I graduate! I’ll work at the clinic while I begin my PA school applications.
I didn’t just work as a medical scribe on school breaks; I have also worked as a medical assistant at various practices. I was fortunate because I did not have to spend an additional 12 months to become a certified medical assistant (CMA) to get these jobs. I did, however, have to scour job board after job board looking for medical assistant opportunities. I finally found an unpaid position near school, where I could gain experience at a new type of practice and expand my professional network.
Since I’ve known I want to be a PA since high school, I’ve understood the need for patient contact hours longer, perhaps, than other future PAs. I’ve been able to seek out these opportunities for myself, but it has all come down to me asking questions, putting myself out there, and talking to anyone and everyone who will listen. You never know who might be able to help you on your career path. Who you know plays a major role in opportunities.
Once I knew I’d have enough patient contact hours, I then hit another surprise: the application timeline. Wow, is it confusing! First, I compiled a document of all the schools I was interested in applying to and their necessary prerequisite courses and additional requirements. I’d originally planned to apply to PA school in the summer between my junior and senior year, interview in the fall of my senior year, and start PA school in 2019. I was totally caught off guard when I realized all of my prerequisite courses had to be completed before applying to the majority of schools. I had assumed I’d have until PA school started to complete all of the coursework, and never even considered the possibility that I couldn’t start until the classes were completed! This threw me off my timeline completely; I’ll now be applying after graduation for the 2019-2020 cycle. If I’d understood the application timeline, and the need to complete the prerequisites beforehand, I could have prepared myself for this.
I’ve talked to a lot of PA students and other pre-PAs and now know the best time to apply is “in the J’s:” June and July. Applications aren’t usually due until September or October, but most of the PA students I’ve talked to recommend applying as early as possible. Most schools admit on a rolling basis, so there’s no harm in getting your application in.
I’m closer than ever to PA school, and I couldn’t be more excited! But I hope sharing some of my experiences and roadblocks helps another future PA with their patient contact hours, networking skills, or application timeline. We’re all in the same boat together!
Amelia Maurer is a senior at American University in Washington, D.C and an intern in AAPA’s Governance department. She can be reached at [email protected].