Life as a PA
What did you do to prepare for PA school?
First, there were some academic things that I needed to take care of before I could apply. I went back to school at night to take the required courses for most PA schools that I had not yet taken. I also took the GRE which most programs require. They also all have some sort of entry medical terminology test during the first few days of starting the program that you have to pass to continue on. I didn’t take a specific medical terminology course, but was given a book to study from by my specific program that I had to work through in the months before school started.
Aside from the classroom stuff schools also require that you have patient contact hours. My specific program did not require as many hours as most programs do, and I was able to use my hours volunteering at a summer camp for kids with cancer as my hours. Most of my friends that I met in school were ER scribes, CNAs or EMTs before coming in order to obtain the hours.
Lastly, I would say I spent a lot of my energy into writing the personal statement piece of the application simply because it holds a lot of weight. I invested a lot of time going back and forth with good proofreaders and friends who know me well and we’re able to offer extra thoughts and edits.
Describe your day-to-day life in PA school?
During my first year of school I was in the classroom full time and all classes were mandatory attendance. This meant being in class on average from 8am-5pm with exams usually 2-3 times a week. Each day we had different classes broken up differently, but in each class we would be talking about the same overall topic (i.e. in clinical medicine we would learn cardiology pathologies, in diagnostics class we would learn about electrocardiograms). My program started in may and we took 18 credits the first semester and 25 each for the fall and spring semesters. A typical day meant waking up at 5am to study before class, going to class for the day and then coming home getting in some exercise and then studying until about 11pm.
The second part of the program is all clinical work where we would rotate through various specialties and medical settings. Each rotation would have a comprehensive exam that was mandatory to pass for graduation. My program was set up so each clinical rotation was 4 weeks and we had 11 of them, including 3 electives. During the second year our schedule varied depending on the rotation, but we would return to school every 3 months to take the exams. Mandatory rotations for all accredited PA programs are: Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Women's Health, Emergency Medicine, General Surgery, Behavioral Health, and Pediatrics.
Describe your day-to-day life as a PA?
Today I work as a PA in a Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. My day starts with sign-out of patient events from the person that was there overnight. Then I "pre-round" which really means just doing some data collection on each of our patients (overnight labs, vital signs, and critical events). Then we will round as a team with the attending and write our notes for each of the patients. The rest of the day is spent talking to families about care plans, doing procedures, checking in on patients and adjusting medical care as patients progress.
Is there anything that you wish you would have known before entering PA school?
This is a tough question because I'm not sure anything quite prepares you for PA school, so I don't know what I could have known that would have made it any different. However, I do wish I had known how I studied best beforehand. The first few months are a lot of figuring out what works best for you before you fall into a routine.
Is there anything that you’d go back and do differently?
I believe my experiences prepared me well for PA school and that everyone's various backgrounds adds to your overall education, but with that said I do wish I had more clinical experience before I went off to school. My friends who were CNAs or EMTs just had a wealth of knowledge about basic nursing and triaging skills which I had to learn. But no one was particularly ahead of the game in all fields, so if your experience differs from most of your classmates don't worry! -- we were always learning from each other as part of our education.