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How to Become a PA

You have a great career ahead of you.

The US healthcare system desperately needs PA’s to fill the growing need for primary care healthcare providers.  Future PA’s will work in medical specialties to improve the efficiency of care delivery and manage healthcare costs.  Deciding to become a PA is a great career choice; however, the journey may not be as straightforward as most people think.  So how do you become a PA?  The short answer is, get into PA school, pass your boards and you can practice as a PA-C.  The longer and better answer is, select the right schools, to apply to and focus the bulk of your efforts on formulating a compelling case for why your targeted PA programs should select you.  Be a diligent student and pass the PANCE test the first time!

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Find Your Match

Make sure you’re a match for the PA programs you are considering

This seems very obvious, but if you’ve applied in previous cycles and haven’t been accepted perhaps it’s worth reevaluating your strategy.  There is a lot more to this process than just making sure your GPA is acceptable, that you’ve taken the prerequisite courses outlined by each program and that you have enough clinical hours.

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Prerequisite Coursework Requirements

The following suggestions regarding coursework are based on our analysis of more than 260 PA programs.  Some programs have more stringent requirements than what we have outlined in our suggestions, and some PA programs do not require the complete set of coursework contained in our suggestions.

Science

In general, there is a baseline of science coursework that will improve your chances of appealing to a broad range of PA programs.  The following courses should be accompanied by labs and should be taken in a classroom setting, not online.  You will strengthen your PA candidacy if you take more upper division coursework. Strive to take coursework that is numbered 200/2000 or higher.  PA Schools like coursework that is taken in sequence from the same institution because it tells them you have the foundational knowledge to succeed in a more intensive version of this coursework during PA school.

 

Behavioral Sciences

A significant number of PA schools require some form of behavioral science coursework.  Increasingly they are looking for coursework to be a mix of introductory psychology courses and upper division psychology courses.  If you look at the accreditation requirements for PA programs, you will gain some insights into the motivations behind some of these behavioral requirements.  Consider taking an upper division psychology course in Lifespan Development.    Ideally, you should have the equivalent of 9-12 semester hours in behavioral sciences.

 

Other Coursework

English

Invest some time in learning how to write well.  Consider taking multiple writing intensive courses.

Math

The majority of programs have these two minimal requirements.  More math in the form of calculus is helpful.

Nonscience Coursework

We are noticing a trend in some PA schools that suggests they are looking for PA candidates that have a more diversified background in nonsciences.  It is difficult to make suggestions in the area of coursework because PA schools that are looking for these attributes have wide ranging requirements.  Ask yourself what courses you can take to make yourself appear more well-rounded.

Prerequisite Match

Matching transcripts to the prerequisite requirements of a program is a time-consuming and challenging task for both the applicant and PA program admissions team; however the PA school admissions team has an advantage.  PA schools use their rubric to match candidates to their scoring guide. PA school’s detailed prerequisite matching algorithms screen out application that don’t meet their requirements.  For the applicant, trying to assess how well you match with every potential program is not feasible without the help of some serious computing power or a team of your own!  We know because we’ve looked at the prerequisite requirements for more than 260 PA schools individually and here is what we discovered.

There are at least 15 potential prerequisite requirements for each course that a PA program requires, not counting the optional courses for some required prerequisites.  If you consider that a PA program has an average of 12 prerequisites, that’s 46,800 possible data points to evaluate just for prerequisite coursework!  There are more than 600 data points about you that we factor into our matching rules – this is not something you can do with a spreadsheet.  We have documented each prerequisite requirement for more than 260 PA programs.  My PA Path’s SmartCompareTM performs a matching analysis on all of your prerequisite coursework, your experience, and your personal preferences.  This allows you to pick your targeted list of PA programs from the entire universe of available schools, which is the single most crucial part of your strategy!  If you are trying to do this on your own, you are wasting your time and very likely your money, which is why My PA Path is here to help.

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30 Seconds on Time Management

70% of your time

Crafting a personal statement and writing compelling essays are a vital part of your effort to get into PA school, and you should be spending the majority of your time on these activities. You’re not the first person to start this journey, which means there is a lot of great advice from people that have gone before you and are now practicing PA-Cs.  If you need help crafting your personal statement or writing compelling essays, there are several good sources of information online or try reaching out to a practicing PA-C. Remember, these are essential steps and should account for at least 70% of your time!

20% of your time

Researching PA schools that you want to apply to can be a massive time sink.  We think you should limit this effort to 20% or less of the time you have allocated to get into PA school.  There are almost twice as many PA schools as there were several years ago, it’s simply not practical to look at more than 260 PA schools and make an informed decision about which ones to apply to.  It also not a good strategy to arbitrarily select 10-20 schools, narrow the field to a smaller number, and crank out your applications.  A more appropriate strategy is to identify all of the PA programs that are an optimal match for you based on your academic records, experience, and preferences.  Use the information that makes you a unique candidate to start narrowing down the list of schools based on the things that are the most important to you. It is not inexpensive to apply to PA school.  On average, your effort to apply to each school could require an investment of about $500 per application.

 

10% of your time

Keep track of the schools you’ve applied to and organize your essays in one place so you can leverage your work as you apply to multiple programs.  Set goals for when you are going to have each application completed.  Be mindful of schools with rolling admission requirements and get your applications in early.  Understand the difference between application deadlines and when you need to have your applications submitted to CASPA, as there is often a difference.  Get prepared for interviews and have your interview prep documents all organized in the same place so that you can prep on your lunch breaks or when you have some downtime.

 

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