So you want to be a PA?

Congrats, you’re interested in joining one of the fastest growing career fields in the US.  According to the US Department of Labor, physician assistant jobs are projected to grow by a whopping 31% is the next 10 years. With a median salary of $108K annually (as of 2018), job security and a six figure income is really nothing to sneeze at. If you’re interested in science, medicine, and helping others, the PA path is a great, rewarding option. Screen Shot 2019-12-09 at 7.43.49 PM

Now that you’ve decided you want to pursue PA school… the work begins. It can take years to prepare your application, and potentially several years until you successfully gain admission. Over the next few weeks I’ll be doing a series on the various aspects of the PA school application and keys for success. Stay tuned!


My PA Life

So now you know how I got to PA school, but what has life looked like since then?

My first job out of PA school was in Emergency Medicine. It was a specialty I LOVED in school– the fast pace and variety had me hooked from the beginning. I loved procedures and wanted to suture every laceration, I&D every abscess, and reduce every fracture. But something was missing. After a few months I realized that I really missed developing that personal patient relationship that makes medicine so special.

So, what’s a girl to do? One of the best things about the PA field is the ability to change specialties and be flexible. I thought surgery would be a great option for me because it was also a fast paced, procedure driven field, but had the potential to grow relationships and care for patients long term.

I decided to dive headfirst and take the plunge into this career change by pursuing a post graduate fellowship in plastic surgery at the Cleveland Clinic. Let me tell you, completing a post graduate PA fellowship was the best professional choice I’ve ever made (okay 2nd best choice, after deciding to become a PA).  I trained at the Cleveland Clinic for one year and have found my professional passion in plastic surgery and reconstruction of all types- whether that be after cancer, trauma, infection, or congenital malformation.

When patients are confronted with a disfiguring or life threatening condition, they place their hope in a well-trained care team ready to restore them back to health, form, and function. As a plastic surgery PA, I not only help facilitate healing after illness or injury, but also have the unique privilege of giving patients back the body they recognize in the mirror. I enjoy walking with patients down this tremendously special road to recovery of body and soul.

My job consists of assisting in the operating room, consults and pre/post operative visits in the clinic, cosmetic injectables, and seeing patients in the hospital. Being a PA is an incredible honor and one that I’m excited to share with all of you!

My path to PA life

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!

I couldn’t resist the chance for a shameless shout out to my Alma Mater!

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?



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