Learn how real students navigate their way through the graduate school admissions process and grad school itself with our What is Graduate School Really Like? series.
Meet Macy, a student in a uniquely flexible, Ivy League PA program
Macy, thank you for sharing your story with us!
Was there a particular person or experience that inspired your interest in medicine?
Macy: When I was 6 years old, I was involved in a car accident that left me with multiple traumatic injuries, the worst being a fractured skull. I was told the chances of me walking again were slim and went through weeks of physical and psychological therapy. It was scarier for my family than it was for me, as I was sleeping during the wreck and don’t remember anything except for the recovery process.
It was even harder for them to recall details of the accident or my injury as it would bring back painful memories, so when I was 18 I asked the Children’s Hospital for my medical records so I could learn about my case myself. I actually ended up contacting my surgeon, meeting him, and shadowing him in the OR. I’ll now be working with him and his team as a PA student at the end of this year!
I was always drawn to medicine – the need and desire to take care of people who couldn’t take care of themselves really was my calling. It wasn’t until after I graduated undergrad that I realized that the PA role was best suited for me and my career goals.
Why a PA, as opposed to another type of medical professional?
Macy: I remember after graduating college being so stressed out about my future. The idea of medical school wasn’t exciting to me anymore, even though I’d worked so hard and prepared myself for a career in medicine. The thought of choosing one specialty, having to match into it, and risk not getting matched and settling for something else terrified me. I also didn’t want to be 35 and finally starting my career. I didn’t want to be miles deep in debt. It just all around wasn’t what I wanted.
It wasn’t until my aunt was visiting from out of town and caught me during one of my breakdowns that I realized that the MD route wasn’t the only one out there. For months, I pondered about being a physical or speech therapist or applying to nursing school, until finally I narrowed down that the PA route was best for me.
As a PA, I could still help people and fulfill my goal of taking care of others, while being able to appreciate the lateral mobility of the profession (I didn’t have to specialize and could choose another specialty to practice in, whenever I wanted to), as well as start my career within a few years, rather than 10+ years.
I understand you applied to PA school twice. How did you strengthen your application for the second time around?
Macy: The first time I applied, my calculated GPA was lower than I anticipated. Since your GPA is calculated after you submit the CASPA application, it was too late for me to make any changes and I was stuck with my subpar GPA.
From that time until the second time I applied, I took nearly a ton of classes at a community college while working full-time. These classes included pharmacology, pathophysiology, A&P 1 and 2 (I retook these), sociology, Spanish 1 and 2, and genetics. Getting all A’s in these courses boosted my GPA – not by a ton, but enough to make a difference!
I also retook the GRE – the first time I scored a 296, and this time I scored a 306, with all 3 sections above the 50th percentile. I also continued to work as a medical assistant, rewrote my personal statement, and got new letters of recommendation!
After being accepted to several programs, how did you decide between your multiple acceptances (a wonderful problem to have)?
Macy: I basically chose based on location. My husband was applying for MBA programs at the same time that I was applying to PA school. He got waitlisted at schools in cities I got acceptances in and we really didn’t want to spend our first few years of marriage apart.
How many clinical experience hours did you have at the time you applied to PA school? How were these hours accumulated?
Macy: I probably had 4-5000 hours (can’t remember the exact value now). During undergrad, I worked part-time as a medical scribe which is where I accumulated most of my hours (though these counted as healthcare experience, not patient care). From 2015 to the beginning of 2018, I worked full-time as a medical assistant which is where I got my direct patient care hours.
Where do you currently live? How do you manage the commute for courses and rotations? (From what I can see, I’m guessing that you are a student in Yale’s Online PA Program – is that right?)
Macy: I am indeed in the Yale Online PA program! I started the program in Houston and was able to be home with my husband for the first year. Then when he got accepted into MIT, I was able to move to Boston with him and complete clinical rotations there! Moving during the program is not typical, but without the Yale program, we would have been long distance for almost 3 years.
I went to a large public university for undergrad and truly dreaded going to class each day because commuting was so unproductive for me. I really appreciate not having to worry about driving to campus, parking, walking in the heat, getting distracted by friends or other social activities, etc.
For rotations, my commutes have ranged from 5 minutes to 2 hours. Just depends!
PA school is intense! How do you juggle outside interests and important relationships?
Macy: I’ve never been the type of student that lets myself get so stressed and bogged down by school that I forget to take care of myself. It’s important to know when to take breaks, when to relax, and when to just let go and do something fun over the weekend. You have to make the time for yourself!
Of course, there are times where you are hanging by a thread just trying to make it to the next day. Some days you can’t take care of yourself fully – some days are just dedicated to school and studying. But I’ve found it’s really important to have a strong support system.
Luckily I had my husband to help with meals, cleaning, laundry, etc. I got a puppy during the start of didactic year and she has been amazing at keeping me company and a great stress relief.
What are your favorite study tips? Any books or websites you’ve found particularly helpful?
Macy: For didactic year, read the lecture before class. Take notes during class. Then rewrite the lecture notes in your own words. Print it out and study your own notes.
Before an exam, make sure you can either recite the material out loud or be able to teach it to someone else without looking at your notes. Repetition and the ability to recall information is super important when trying to ace tests.
I think it goes without saying that Pance Prep Pearls is the PA school bible. I also used Rosh Review, SmartyPance, and OnlineMedEd! I didn’t really use the required textbooks during didactic year but found myself using UptoDate a lot during clinical year.
What have you enjoyed about the rotations you’ve experienced so far?
Macy: Every rotation has been unique – some I share with other students, others it’s just me. I’ve only done one in the hospital and that was really intense and challenging, so it’s safe to say that I prefer outpatient medicine, LOL.
Preceptors can really make or break your experiences in clinicals and I’ve been lucky in the sense that all of my preceptors have made an effort to foster learning and provide an environment where I can be challenged, be given constructive criticism, and practice hands-on skills.
What specialty do you see yourself practicing after graduation?
Macy: I hope to end up in outpatient pediatrics or dermatology! I have always loved working with kids, and I was a derm medical assistant before PA school, so either option would be really great.
If you could offer one piece of advice to new PA school applicants, what would it be?
Macy: Don’t rush to send in your applications. If it’s not perfect; if there’s anything on there that could knock you down; if there’s anything you’re unsure about – just wait! Wait until you feel confident with all aspects of your application. Applying to PA school is not only time consuming and exhausting, it’s expensive! It’s okay to take a year off to perfect your application. It’s okay to even take 2 years off! During that time, make sure you’re doing something productive. Take upper-level science classes at a community college. Do volunteer work. Make sure you’re working and getting direct patient care hours. Just take your time and when you’re ready to apply, apply early (May/June/Early July).
Do you have questions for Macy? Questions for us? Do you want to be featured in our next What is Graduate School Really Like? post? Know someone else who you’d love to see featured? Are there questions you’d like us to ask our students in this series? LET US KNOW!
You can learn more about Macy by following her on Instagram.
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• The Ultimate Guide to Becoming a Physician Assistant, a free guide
• Is an Online Ivy League PA Program Too Good to Be True? a podcast episode
• Why Should You Consider Becoming a PA?