Figured it would be easier to have all of these in one post. As always, shoot me an email if you have any additional questions about the whole process or PA school in general!
Questions about PA school:
1. Have you worked at a hospital or clinic for all the required shadowing hours?
Yes, upon graduating I took a CNA course. I got a job at a hospital as a float PCA. This stands for patient care assistant and is essentially a nurse’s aid, performing tasks like vital signs, blood sugars, and EKG’s, and helping with daily living activities like ambulation, getting dressed / washed up, and assisting with meals / going to the bathroom. I liked being in the float pool because it allowed me a vast array of experience. Each day I was sent to one of seven floors: telemetry, oncology, ICU, geriatrics, orthopedics, general surgery, or pediatrics. I had approximately 2200-2500 hours at the time of application.
2. What are key aspects that you look for in PA school that make you want to go there?
Ideally, I want an emphasis on preventive medicine or something beyond traditional western medicine. Tufts offers a class in Nutrition, BU offers a class in preventive medicine, PCOM is a PA program in a DO school, which focuses on osteopathy and a more holistic view of healthcare, OHSU offers classes called Gut and Metabolism and Hormonal Regulation and Reproduction, and Duke is associated with an Integrative medicine facility. These were my top 5 schools. I also looked for more than one elective, as this allows a broader and more personalized rotation experience.
3. Why not MD or NP?
I am collaborative rather than competitive and always have been (I used to tickle soccer players to get the ball away from them. That’s when my parents thought oh perhaps she would excel more in a dance class). For this reason, I don’t think I would enjoy the climate of med school – so cutthroat, competitive and high stakes. Most PA schools genuinely want all students to pass and learn the material, and hence there is no ranking or valedictorian system. I also wanted more time to spend honing different specialties that will supplement my knowledge a healthcare provider – NUTRITION! Med school is both time and financially more consuming, and would prevent me from spending as much time on my nutrition studies and having them contribute to a medical background. Furthermore, I think there is so much I could do with a nutrition background, be that in dermatology, gastroenterology or just family practice. Choosing to go the PA route means I can easily switch between these disciplines, rather than having to commit to one / doing an entirely new residency.
Regarding NP, I didn’t want to have to commit to a speciality before starting school because I had so many interests. I also didn’t know either the population or setting I wanted to work in. With PA, you can switch many times throughout your career and there’s a very broad scope of practice. I still love GI and maybe could see myself doing that somewhere down the line! It was also a longer training for me because I didn’t have my RN. I’d have to do an accelerated nursing program (1 year) followed by an NP program (2 years) vs the PA 2 years. However, with an NP you have total autonomy and don’t have to work under a physician with your license. So if opening your own practice is something you’d like to have the flexibility to do (without having an MD sign off on it), then this could be a good option for you!
4. What were your statistics before applying?
I had 2200-2500 hands on patient care hours. I worked as a PCA in the float pool at a nearby hospital. I also had about 200 hours volunteer work (through Cooking Matters as a nutrition instructor / classroom assistant). My overall GPA was a 3.79 and my science GPA was a 3.85. At the time of my application I was about half way through my Master’s in Nutrition and Functional Medicine. I was offered seats at Tufts University and Northeastern University, and received interviews at 5 schools, though didn’t take all of them after gaining acceptance to programs I liked.
5. Do you feel PA school is worth it?
100%. A resounding roar of yes. I was actually not excited to start when August rolled around. I kind of went into it knowing if I didn’t like it, that was okay because I had other options and I had another Master’s degree already. And my expectations were exceeded in every realm. My classmates are like-minded, curious, kind, hilarious, and just so wonderful, and being alongside them every day is so motivating to represent the PA field. My professors are inspiring and open to alternative treatments and ways of thought. It’s 2 years, a fraction of the cost of med school, pays well, you have autonomy when practicing, can easily switch between disciplines without having to do another residency or rotation, and is just a badass profession.
6. What’s your plan for next semester? How to keep the stress and anxiety at bay?
At the time of writing this, I just finished my first semester of school. Admittedly it was hell on earth, and is the hardest thing I’ve ever taken on. Being in a classroom for 9 hours a day, followed by 2-5 hours of studying afterwards is just downright draining. I wish I had stayed on top of things better during the week during first semester, rather than cramming 16 hours of studying in on the weekends. So my goal is to stay on campus and review the material THAT DAY, rather than waiting and telling myself I’ll do it the following day, and then pushing it off until the exam was coming up. I also wasn’t very efficient with my studying – rewriting all PowerPoints, studying while not very focused, and not taking breaks. Group study actually ended up being really effective for me, and I’ll try to do this earlier on in my studying this next semester. I also want to prioritize my important mediators: journaling, making time to do some breathing exercises, exercise, seeing friends, and cleaning my room. I cannot function when my study space is a disastrous mess. For a list of more 2018 resolutions, check out this post.
5. What’s been the hardest part of going back to school?
The sitting all day – feeling restless and cooped up in a classroom, whereas my days used to be filled with more movement. Because of back injury in high school, I have pain whenever I’m sitting for too long. I try to remedy this by seeing a chiropractor every few weeks. And also taking a 20-30 minute walk on my lunch break and stretching in between classes when we have a brief 5 minutes (for more tips on easy movement during the day, check out this post). I also really, really miss blogging. I have so many ideas for new content, and very unfortunately I’m limited to doing this on weekends. I strive to singularly focus on school during week days, otherwise my studying isn’t very efficient. Multitasking never really works in my favor. But I just have to remember that school is brief and temporary, and I’ll have time over breaks and when I finish. As of now, I’m taking time to invest in my future.
6. Do you regret enrolling in your program?
NO. Even in moments of absolute despair and when really really cool opportunities present themselves, I feel like I made the right decision and I am on my path. Keeping this in mind when I have NO motivation to study is really helpful.
7. Did you apply to PA school during undergrad?
No. I got my undergrad in psychology. When I graduated I took the necessary pre-reqs at community colleges / state schools, got my CNA, and worked at a hospital while taking courses. In total, I took 3 years off in between undergrad and PA school. I’m so glad I did this!!! Truthfully, PA school tends to be an older crowd, and it’s not uncommon to take some time and get experience before starting. In fact, everyone I’ve talked to in the program is glad they’re doing it when a bit older (not to say that 26 is by any means old). You need a bit of maturity to face the workload in my opinion.
8. How do you know if you’ll be allowed to integrate nutrition in your PA practice?
Point blank, I don’t. I will have to find and choose to align with a physician who has a similar mentality. Or work in an integrative medicine office. Truthfully, I don’t think this will be too difficult. Most patients come to their physicians and providers with questions from self-research. I haven’t faced any backlash yet re: talking about nutrition or probiotics with patients, and it makes you stand out. It also gives you an opportunity to educate the physician you choose to be alongside. For a bit more info about how I incorporated nutrition into rotations, check out this post. I was also recently accepted to a nutrition fellowship specifically for PAs, which I begin in August, 2020.
10. When you graduate and finish your PA program, what are your goals? Are you planning on working under a MD or starting your own practice?
My goals are to integrate nutrition in a medical practice. Truthfully I’m not entirely sure how this will be enacted because I’m really just trying to focus on immersing myself fully into rotations without being too, too concerned or anxious about the future. But I see things really changing in the field and having the additional nutrition background just makes me more marketable to future employers. To clarify, as a PA, I cannot have my own practice; I must operate under / alongside a physician. I will definitely look to align with others in the field who share my beliefs, so that will be a must when I start interviewing for jobs next year.
addendum: I have now graduated and was just accepted to my first job as a primary care PA in a community health setting. Read all about that here!
Yes, I took somewhere around 7-8 classes per semester. Sometimes 3-4 exams per week, usually 2. Here is a screenshot from our calendar to give you an idea of what things are like:
(happy birthday Amy and Maureen!!!)
13. What made you decide on being a PA?
I’ve always been drawn to medicine, knew I didn’t want to be a physician or surgeon because healthcare is changing and doesn’t make sense financially to go to med school and go into primary care. I also wanted more time to spend honing different specialties that will supplement my knowledge as a healthcare provider, so I got my master’s in nutrition before going to PA school. I wouldn’t have had the financial capacity to do that if I went to med school. PLUS if you do emergency medicine for a few years then decide oh maybe I’d like dermatology, you can easily switch between these disciplines, rather than having to commit to one / doing an entirely new residency if you’re an MD.
I am graduating in May from undergrad and I have been “pre-pa” for a year now, but I want to go down a more holistic path incorporating nutrition. How did you decide on PA school with your interest in nutrition and holistic medicine? Were you able to study under conventional teachers with your interest in more non-conventional methods?
In contrast, if my true passion is in nutrition, do you feel the PA career would frustrate me? I sometimes worry I would feel limited by the RD route and would want “more” in terms of how I would be working with patients and treating them.