CASPA, the Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants, is the primary application service for graduate physician assistant (PA) programs. The CASPA application has four primary categories within it: Personal Information, Academic History, Supporting Information, and Program Materials. There are lots of documents you will need to gather, prepare, and write to complete the application, but the Experiences section within the Supporting Information category might arguably be one of the most important.
If you have worked tirelessly to gain experiences in patient care, healthcare, leadership, shadowing, and volunteering, the Experiences section offers you the opportunity to categorize, quantify, and describe these elements of your background.
What follows are descriptions of each type of Experience category on the application, examples of roles that fulfill each Experience type, and suggestions of the qualities, skills, and abilities demonstrated by each Experience type.
Patient Care Experience
- This is often referred to as “direct patient care.” PA schools will typically state their school-specific requirement regarding a minimum number of completed hours. These minimums will vary, averaging from 250 to 3,000 hours.
- Examples include EMT, phlebotomist, nurse, and CNA.
- Qualities/skills/abilities: interpersonal communication, teamwork, clinical reasoning.
- This is defined as experience working in a healthcare environment but not directly responsible for patient care.
- Examples include medical assistant, clerical work, and cleaning patient rooms.
- Qualities/skills/abilities: customer service, flexibility, attention to detail.
- This involves officially spending time watching, listening, and learning from a medical professional, ideally a PA.
- Examples include shadowing a surgical PA, an internal medicine PA, and/or a urology PA.
- Qualities/skills/abilities: active listening, critical thinking, networking.
- This refers to any type of paid employment that was not done within the healthcare field.
- Examples include retail, food service, and childcare.
- Qualities/skills/abilities: responsibility, time management, organization.
- This encompasses any demonstrated role(s) in which management, guidance, direction, and/or leadership was evident.
- Examples include president of a club, restaurant/retail manager, and captain of an athletic team.
- Qualities/skills/abilities: self-confidence, motivation, decision-making.
- These include participation and membership in clubs, teams, and organizations.
- Examples include pre-PA club member, collegiate sport team member, and band/choir member.
- Qualities/skills/abilities: creativity, teamwork, time management.
- This includes any type of research project; both academically credited and non-credited research counts!
- Examples include student research assistant, research technician, and graduate research student.
- Qualities/skills/abilities: attention to detail, analytic abilities, data synthesis.
- This relates to any role in which you provided instruction to others, either one-on-one, in small groups, or in a classroom setting.
- Examples include teaching assistant, lab instructor, and tutor.
- Qualities/skills/abilities: creativity, communication, adaptability.
- These experiences do not have to be clinically or medically related.
- Examples include volunteering at your church/synagogue, donating time to an organization (e.g., Habitat for Humanity), and participating in a fundraiser.
- Qualities/skills/abilities: collaboration, project management, problem solving.
In summary, approach the Experiences section of CASPA by viewing it as the portion of your application in which you can offer the admissions committee a full sense of both the breadth and depth of your work. A strong Experiences section will add strength to a holistic and competitive CASPA application!
For more information on CASPA and PA program admissions, listen to Accepted’s Admissions Straight Talk podcast, Episode 515, “How to Get into Physician Assistant Programs.”
Dr. Valerie Wherely. Former assistant dean of student affairs and career development at the William Beaumont School of Medicine; worked directly with the dean of the School of Medicine, the associate dean of student affairs, the associate dean of clinical curriculum, and the assistant dean of admissions, as well as with Year 4 students on both residency application review/critique and mock interview preparation.