In high school you enjoyed your science classes so you decided to choose a science major in college. You’re now two years in and looking at your final years of college and still have no idea what you want to do when you’re done. You don’t want to work in a lab or get your PHD so you start checking out different options. As you’ve looked at different options the idea of doing something in medicine sounds intriguing. You’ve heard of PAs but don’t know exactly where to go from here and are wondering what the next steps are to become a PA.
The best thing you could do is shadow a PA. Most likely at your doctor’s office there is a PA that works there and that is a good place to start or you could possibly check out the student health center on your college campus. Ask if they are open to having a student shadow them so you can learn more about the profession. Some PA schools require a certain amount of shadowing hours for the application, but even if they don’t it is still a great way to make sure it is something you want to do.
The average cost of PA school is over $100,000, not a small investment. Too often students pursue education without understanding what those student loans are going to look like after they are done, so be sure that it is something you really want to do before applying.
The next thing you should do is work on getting the best grades you can. There is a misconception that PA school can be a fall back if you don’t get into medical school. For multiple reasons this is a fallacy. At the university that I went to the average incoming GPA for our PA class was higher compared to the med school.
It is important to know that if you’ve always wanted to be called “doctor”. You’ll never be happy with a career as a PA. If you’re interested in diagnosing and treating patients, want flexibility in changing specialties or don’t want to spend seven or more years in training than a career as a PA might be for you.
I once worked with an NP who always wanted to be a doctor but she ended up going to NP school. She was unhappy with her career choice and continued to desire being a doctor and it was mostly because she felt like she needed the title to be validated.
If you’re still interested in pursuing a career as a PA after you have shadowed a PA and have a great GPA you should start looking at PA schools. There are a few public schools that have PA programs and if you’re a resident of those states your tuition will be much less. I highly recommend checking out those schools and put them higher on your list of schools of interest.
Each school has different requirements for hours of experience, shadowing hours, prerequisite classes, GRE score, etc. If you can figure out what you need before you’re done with undergrad you’ll be in a better position to apply to PA school.
You’ve done your research and have it planned out for what is required for your top schools the next thing is experience. One thing that makes PA school unique is that you are required to have patient care experience prior to applying. Usually, they want around 1000 hours but it is typically better to have more than the minimum.
There are a variety of ways you can get patient care hours, work as an EMT, medical assistant, athletic trainer, scribe, nurse, etc. There are a lot of different ways you can get the patient hours and every PA school has different requirements for what they accept; some schools will take scribe hours, some will not. Just like the prerequisite course requirements it is important that you check with the schools you’re interested in to see what they will accept for patient care experience.
If you’re thinking about PA school the best thing you can do is start preparing early. Check out different PA schools near you and find the specific requirements for each school. Continue to work hard to maintain a great GPA and get good experience with patient care hours. If you do everything that is required from the school you’re applying to there is a great chance you’ll be offered an interview.
TJ is author at PA-Cents a personal finance blog for PAs and PA students that covers a variety of topics such as PA salary, financial aid and student loans; and has been featured in Doximity. For more information and to sign up to receive future posts by email from PA-Cents please visit www.pacents.com
Image Credit: Amy