Many pre-PA students are overwhelmed with the process of getting into PA school–and it’s no wonder given that prerequisite courses, health care experience and essay prompts vary from school to school. Applying to PA school can feel like a full time job that is daunting for both traditional students tackling a full academic load, and non-traditional students who are already juggling a busy career with preparing for a new one.
Many pre-PA students who have shadowed me have asked how me how I became a PA, so I wanted to share my path here. As you will see, it was a several year process– but with a worthwhile ending!
2004- In my senior year of high school, I did a 100 hour internship at my local hospital in the Labor, Delivery, Recovery and Postpartum department, shadowing the nurses. It was an incredible experience and as a 17 year old, I walked away thinking “wow, this could be cool”. I left for college full of ambition for all the cool things I could do in life and kept medicine in my back pocket as an option.
2004-2008 Undergrad at the University of Notre Dame. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, so I chose psychology as my major because it sounded interesting (and, it seemed like I could safely avoid calculus forever–solid win). I was also in the Air Force ROTC program which kept me busy.
2005- As part of my AFROTC program, I had the chance to spend a week shadowing active duty Air Force medical officers, dental officers, and lab technicians. It ended up being 40 hours of medical shadowing total–there were no PAs to shadow, though. But I did get to shadow pilots, air craft maintenance personal, security forces- all sorts of other Air Force jobs. I loved all of them.
2007– I became more and more interested in medicine but was not quite sure how to pursue that interest. With graduation fast approaching, I did what any sharp student with senioritis would do– I ignored it that interest entirely!
2008-2013– Active duty Air Force officer. I spent most of my time doing behavioral science research. I did some clinical work early on but quickly transitioned to an entirely research based position. I published one article with others in my group during this time and spent a lot of time doing other technical writing for internal publications. I also managed a team and spent a good bit of time writing recommendation letters and progress reviews for my team.
2009-I decided I wanted a career in medicine and it was time to jump in and go after it. I had only completed one prerequisite in undergrad (Biology), and by then that class was 5 years old. So I had a lot of ground to make up. I registered for classes at night at a local college and over the next 2.5 years I completed a full year in Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics and Anatomy and Physiology. I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy. It was during this time that my crushing coffee addiction began!
2011-2012- I finished my prerequisites just in time to deploy to Afghanistan. I was in a completely non-clinical, non-science role. I did, however, volunteer at the field hospital while over there, which really opened my eyes to the “real world” of medicine. It was also my first real, raw, uncensored look into the reality of profound human suffering. It was through this experience that I knew there was no other career for me than medicine. At that point, I was full steam ahead, Physician Assistant or bust.
2012– The stress begins! I applied to several programs, but my lack of significant clinical experience did work against me. The interviews I went on did consistently mention that they were interested in meeting me based on my diverse military experience and because of the strength of my essay. Your essay is so, SO important!
Just before thanksgiving, I was elated to be accepted to my top choice school– Marquette University’s PA program! It is a 3 year program that prepared me exceptionally well life as a PA and laid the groundwork for an incredible career that is just getting started!
So there we have it– this is just my journey but there are many other ways into this incredible profession. Where are you in your journey?