Frequently Asked Questions
I've had a number of aspiring PA students ask me questions throughout the process and especially more so after revealing my acceptances. Like I always tell them, everyone has their own path and story, my experiences and application is unique and so is theirs. By no means am I a blueprint to a successful application-- I've had my fair share of rejections and I've learned and grown from them. I think learning from trailblazers definitely is a good starting point but again, have your own vision and goals-- work hard towards them and do what you have to do to become successful! I appreciate the questions and don't mind answering them. However, I think this streamlines some things so we can dive into deeper questions and concerns. Thank you for reading and investing in my story!
1) Why PA school over Medical School?
My blog entitled "But, I thought you wanted to become a doctor?" shares the self-conflict and my journey to making my decision. But here's my TL;DR answer to the age-old question "Why PA over Medical School?": I want to practice competent, evidence-based medicine sooner rather than later, I have interests in multiple specialties (thank you lateral mobility) which I attribute to my experience and exposure to various fields of medicine (i.e. peds, ortho, emergency medicine, occ. med and cardiolgy) Finally, I want to be able to take care of my family (my mom and little brother) sooner rather than later as well. I think I was chasing that MD/DO title, prestige, and just plain status-- to the point of losing sight of what I really wanted to do. Once I decided PA was the route for me, it all clicked for me. I realized at the end of the day, I'll be practicing medicine; I'll be curing, treating and comforting my future patients... and that's what I was put on this Earth to do, not necessarily as a specific healthcare professional but as a humanitarian and citizen of mankind.
2) What did you do to improve your application?
I continued to work as a medical assistant/scribe in occupational health and as a scribe in orthopedics during the first application cycle. I think I was sitting on about 5,000 hours (rough estimation) and a mediocre/noncompetitive/below average GPA. I was unhappy with a lot of things with my life while playing the dreaded waiting game. I made drastic changes during the cycle and especially after the cycle. I broke up with my then girlfriend, moved back to Southern California, bummed for about 2 months working a couple of hours a week at my dad's clinic, got all my rejections and just really hit rock bottom.
(Don't worry I'm getting to my answer). I improved my mental and physical health by changing my mindset and of course cutting out the junk/fast foods (except the occasional In-N-Out). "There is no other option, I'm getting into PA school this next cycle!" With this, I truly believe it allowed me to improve my application. I was a man on a mission! I found a job as a behavioral interventionist working with kids with autism spectrum disorder, I also got a job as a medical scribe at Hoag pediatrics and I found classes to take at night, online, and on the weekends. I basically went from 0-100, real quick! I worked about 50+ hours a week, I continued volunteering my time on the weekends, I played co-ed beach flag football (as a stress relief, physical exercise and outlet) and I connected with PA mentors and sources of inspiration. I wrote a way better personal statement than my first time applying and I got new letters of recommendation (see below).
I took 8 more classes, addressed pre-requisite deficiencies, increased my shadowing, PCE, HCE hours dramatically and improved my well-being. "You can't take care of anyone unless you take care of yourself." I was taught that there's always room for improvement, and for me, that room was enormous! I just kept grinding and kept putting in the work, and as I've told some people, I'm a strong believer that "The universe will reward you as long as it sees you working hard."
3) What did you do different for your application?
PCE/HCE: As mentioned above, I worked in different specialties to gain exposure into other specialties and fields of medicine. After all, as PA's we have that option in the future and are "trained as generalists".
Personal Statement: I changed up my personal statement... a lot. I basically tossed my old personal statement and started from scratch. I got a new set of critics and helpers and with their help and input, I definitely loved my personal statement this cycle way more than my last one (see my personal statement here).
Letters of Recommendation: PA Coach Dave DuBose once said, "You're applying to PA school, why wouldn't you get a letter from a PA?" Duh Aaron, duh! Although I did get a LOR from a PA my first cycle, he was my 5th letter writer. I don't think I planned it out well enough my first time and although I asked some programs which ones they read or if they'd get to the 5th letter writer, I doubt they'd want to sift through the other ones first. I had 2 NP's, 1 science letter from my post-bacc program director,1 letter from my Women's Studies professor, then 1 from a PA. I changed it up by only having 4 and by putting the PA as my first letter writer (not sure if it really made a difference but hey, makes sense right?). Next I had an MD and continued with a letter from my post-bacc program director and also my Women's Studies professor. I sent them my updated resume, and a small addendum mentioning my improvements. I owe so much to these individuals and am forever grateful for their contribution to my success. (I got the PA a customized Pittsburgh Steelers jersey!)
Timeline: I submitted my application around the same time as the first cycle (UC Davis deadline was mid July again). But I submitted to the schools with rolling admissions much earlier and applied to more schools. (See below).
More Schools: My list of schools I applied to doubled because I was able to apply to more and because again, "There is no other option, I'm getting into PA school this next cycle!" I took the GRE (scored a 311), I improved my sGPA and cGPAs and also took more pre-reqs specific to some schools (life-span development, a different microbio class, medical terminology, etc.) Which brings me to my next FAQ!
4) What classes did you take after your first cycle?
5) How did you get your scribe jobs?
Microbiology: I had a discrepancy regarding the microbiology course I took. It was a microbiology lecture + lab combo but was only 3 quarter units. Some schools rejected me right off the bat during that first cycle because I was short essentially 1-2 units. #WhompWhomp! Maybe it was a blessing in disguise because I earned only a B- in it that first time around, so I retook it and got an A in both lecture and lab. (Units issue resolved). Final grades: Lecture-- A + Lab-- A
General Psychology: I had to retake this class because I earned a C back at UCR (during my less than motivated days). This class was seriously tougher than I anticipated and silly me and my crazy schedule forgot a discussion and/or assignment that dropped my grade significantly. Final grade: B (what...? I know I know)
Medical Terminology: A pre-requisite for some schools and definitely a useful class to take for anyone applying to PA school and anyone in medicine for that matter. Final grade: A
Pathophysiology: A science course that was not really required by anyone but I felt was a good foundation for didactics and again, definitely a useful class to take for anyone applying to PA school. Final grade: A
Pharmacology: Same as the above, a science course that was not required by anyone but I felt was a good foundation for didactics and again, definitely a useful class to take for anyone applying to PA school. Final grade: A
Human Function & Form: Almost like a mini physiology course that served as a refresher. And again, as stated above, a science course that was not required by anyone but I felt was a good foundation for didactics. Final grade: A
Life Span Development Psychology: A course that was a pre-req for some schools but also interesting to me. Final grade: A
My first healthcare experience was working as my dad's assistant. Growing up on computers, I type much faster than he does, so I started typing his notes as he would dictate them right over my shoulders. I learned how to do S.O.A.P. notes with him and my exposure and skills grew. I bounced over to Riverside and Hayward doing the same thing for the NP's there but I still felt that there was much more to know and learn. I got the great opportunity to scribe in orthopedics through a student in my post-bacc program but boy was that a rude awakening. The pace was much faster than the occupational medicine clinics, the notes were much more comprehensive and detailed and the demand was much greater. I was only there part-time and was thrown into the swing of things literally within the first couple of weeks and to be honest, I was overwhelmed. However, that exposure to orthopedics and more detailed notes definitely matured me and humbled me. After moving back home, I was contacted by a temp agency asking if I was interested in being a contractor scribe for Hoag Medical Group in pediatrics. I had exposure to pediatrics from volunteering and shadowing but this was going to be a different experience. The learning curve was steep but I definitely got good at taking comprehensive notes, accurate histories and was more and more familiar with treatments for common diagnoses. I intended on quitting Hoag in April in order to travel in May but I came across this opportunity I couldn't pass up. I found this job via Craigslist and emailed them but totally forgot about it and was essentially sought after for this cardiology practice. Man did I come a long way from basic notes and my n00b status in orthopedics! I was essentially being groomed to be this Cardiac EP's PA! I was doing inpatient and outpatient notes at a high volume and fast pace. In my opinion, a great learning experience and great preparation for PA school.
6) How did you decide which schools to apply for?
My grades dictated which schools I was able to apply for. I did not meet some GPA requirements for a lot of schools but that didn't discourage me from still applying this year. I looked at schools that also took into account an "upward trend" in GPA-- my last 60 units were much higher than my overall and science GPA. I also looked at programs that had the mission of helping underserved communities and training PA's to practice in primary care or at least in those underserved communities. Another criteria was the programs' PANCE rate of established programs or the reputation of the faculty and program director for newer programs. There were some big names in the PA world as program directors and/or faculty members so that definitely attracted me to some schools. Also, the way that their curriculum was set up played a role. Finally, I was ready to move far and away for PA school but I wanted to stay in CA and definitely in Southern California with family so I mainly applied for local schools.
7) What specialty do you want to go into?
Definitely open minded but I love the operating room so being able to assist in surgery would be awesome. I do enjoy working in pediatrics but it's definitely a challenge. I'm definitely looking forward to learning more about the specialties I haven't been exposed to and excited for rotations but everyone has favorites, likes and dislikes. IF I HAD to rank my top five, it'd be:
(Maybe pediatric orthopedics?)
3. Cardiac Electrophysiology
4. General Surgery