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 Sarah, a new PA
Sarah, thank you for sharing your story with us!
Congratulations on recently becoming a PA! Where did you go to PA school, and when did you graduate? Did you have a favorite class or rotation?
Sarah: Thank you so much! I went to MCPHS Worcester and graduated in December 2018. My favorite rotation by far was my orthopedics elective. I loved the team dynamic and how everyone was treated with respect, regardless of rank. My responsibilities ranged from first-assisting in the OR to administering joint injections in clinic. Additionally, it was an excellent learning environment which I believe is essential for a new grad PA.
What made you decide to pursue a career as a physician assistant? Was there a particular person or event that helped you to solidify your decision?
Sarah: I first learned about the profession during my junior year of college from my best friend. I was intrigued by how PAs are able to practice in such a wide scope of medicine and have the flexibility to change between different specialties. I worked as an Andrologist at an IVF clinic and during that time, I shadowed an orthopedic PA and absolutely loved it. I knew that I could see myself doing this for the rest of my life.
How did you decide which schools to apply to? What resources were most helpful to you during the application process?
Sarah: Since I applied so late in the cycle (I applied in January), I was only able to apply to 5 schools. Basically they were the only ones that I had the prerequisite courses completed for and they were still accepting applications. To be honest, I applied not having any expectations in return which honestly is probably the best thing I could have done because that way, I wouldn’t be disappointed in myself if I didn’t get accepted. The worst thing you can do is not try. Funny thing is that I almost didn’t apply, simply out of fear of rejection and potentially the fear of failing out of PA school. But then I realized if I kept holding myself back with all the “What ifs” I had formulated in my mind, I would look back and regret not having tried.
Having already worked for a few years, I wanted to complete my training and start working again as soon as possible, so two-year programs appealed to me. I used DoseofPA and ThePAlife as resources and Physician Assistant Forum was helpful for me to connect with students and applicants for questions that I had. In terms of how I prepared for interviews, I always made sure to thoroughly research the school so that I had a list of questions I could ask them. After all, they’re not only interviewing you but you’re also interviewing the program to see if they’re a good fit for you.
The reason why I started my Instagram page was because I found that there were no accounts of students sharing their experience from MCPHS and that made me very anxious. I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences throughout PA school so that others may get a better idea of what day-to-day life of a student is like and just to motivate myself as well as others.
How much time did you take off between undergrad and PA school? Do you feel your time away from school helped you to be a stronger applicant? Did you have a hard time readjusting to student life?
Sarah: I worked for almost three years before PA school – two years as an Andrologist and one year as an Embryologist. I definitely felt that these jobs helped me grow as a professional as well as better understand what the role of a PA is. My occupations also counted towards HCE hours which was nice. However, it was definitely challenging since I was working full-time while attending night classes four days a week to fulfill my anatomy lecture and lab prerequisites. I also studied for the GRE for a month prior to the exam, every day after work. I didn’t want to spend more money to take more courses, such as Genetics, to fulfill prerequisites, so I was unable to apply to certain schools. Nonetheless, these experiences definitely helped me be more prepared for studying in a limited amount of time and challenged me to be more focused and to push my limits.
Additionally, working prior to PA school helped me save up enough money to be able to pay for the first year of PA school by myself, so that’s definitely something to consider. It was certainly challenging being out of school for so long and then being expected to sit in lecture all day, study and take exams. However, after the first semester, I got used to it and it wasn’t that bad anymore. Studying just became routine and I figured out how to dedicate more time to relaxing.
How many clinical experience hours did you have at the time you applied to PA school?
Sarah: 3,000. I worked as an Andrologist on Long Island at an IVF practice and subsequently as an Embryologist in NYC, also at an IVF practice.
What do you wish you had known about your program before starting out?
Sarah: I didn’t realize how little time you had in one day to attend lecture, study and prepare for exams all while trying to maintain your sanity. Honestly though, you get used to it. However, I wished our program provided us with more OSCEs (objective structured clinical examinations) and clinical training because I found them to be extremely helpful.
Are there any specific character traits that you think a person considering PA school should have?
Sarah: Applicants should be self-motivated, diligent, responsible and professional. You’ll learn very quickly that despite having professors lecturing to you every day, it is your responsibility to learn the material on your own. Regardless of whether the topic was covered in lecture, you are still required to know the material.
Our program required us to wear a white coat and professional attire every day to lecture (yes, we sat in formal clothes for 8-9 hours a day) in order to prepare us for the real world. As inconvenient as it was, I could see why they wanted us to be accustomed to it. When you’re out in the real-world practicing medicine, everything you do is under a microscope so you want to make sure that others perceive you the way you would like to be viewed.
PA school is intense! As a student, how did you find time to pursue hobbies/interests and to maintain important relationships?
Sarah: I made sure I was organized as to what I wanted to accomplish for the day. I bought this HUGE calendar from Target for $3 and wrote down everything that was due for the month and checked off each task as I completed them. After a long day of class, I would study with my BFF Corinne. We always planned out what we should study each night for the week. Afterwards, I would watch Netflix and work out a little in my room.
Honestly, it’s the first semester that really got to me because I had been out of school for a few years. I needed to learn how to adjust and time manage well. After that, you get used to studying for 2-3 exams a week and are able to spend more time hanging out with your friends, working out or just relaxing. Clinical year was so much more relaxed because you’re focused on one specialty and no longer have to attend lecture. I ended up joining a gym and that was a great way to de-stress after a long day.
If you had a 25th hour in the day, how would you spend it?
Sarah: I would probably spend it watching Netflix, eating ice cream, hanging out with my family, friends, my dog Rocky or just doing something fun.
How did you prep for boards?
Sarah: I studied for roughly 2.5 weeks using Osmosismed, Medcomic, RoshReview, Kaplan qbank, Pance Prep Pearls and the PANCE/PANRE question book. For about a week, my friend and I went through almost all the topics together from Pance Prep Pearls. Then, one week before my exam, I focused on doing only practice questions from RoshReview, the PANCE/PANRE question book and the Kaplan qbank. I made sure I timed myself for 60 minute intervals and I also did two mock PANCE exams by waking up the same time I would on the day of the exam, timing myself, having set breaks and eating the same snacks that I would bring on the test day. I also had a list of topics I was struggling with while studying, which I reviewed before test day.
What have you been up to since graduation? How did you find your current job?
Sarah: I studied for my board exam for 2.5 weeks and started applying to jobs. I found Glassdoor to be most successful in terms of getting callbacks or emails from recruiters. Once you pass your boards, that’s when recruiters really start reaching out to you. I found my current job from LinkedIn after a recruiter added me.
How was your experience with getting licensed after graduation?
Sarah: I applied for licenses in a couple of states. Some have online applications so it’s super easy to obtain licensure, whereas others are paper applications and require you to get fingerprinted – those take at least a month.
Many PAs mention being excited about their profession’s flexibility. How important has the flexibility to enter different specialties been to you?
Sarah: Flexibility is what drew me to this profession. I’ve always been interested in several fields of medicine and couldn’t see myself completely tied down to one. I wanted the ability to explore other specialties. You never truly know if you like something until you’re fully immersed in it so if you accept a job and realize it’s not the right field for you, at least you know you can go into a different specialty.
What advice do you have for college students considering PA school?
Sarah: My advice would be:
- Research schools you want to apply to ahead of time so that you know exactly what prerequisite courses you need to take.
- Additionally, check if that program requires a GRE so that you can prepare for the exam. Aim for at least a 150 in each section and at least a 4 on your essay to be a competitive applicant. I have a post on my Instagram of all the resources I used to prepare for the GRE.
- Make sure that you’re also performing well in school. Many programs will say that the minimum GPA requirement is a 3.0 but the average will typically be 3.5 and above.
- Extracurricular activities are a plus, and research will always make you stand out. While I was at Stony Brook University, I conducted research dealing with cerebrovascular aneurysms in the neurosurgery department, which not only helped me get into PA school but also helped me land my current position as a Neurosurgery PA.
- You should also shadow PAs in different specialties if you can, to determine if this is the field you want to go into. I reached out to a bunch of people online and went around to practices nearby and handed my resume to them.
Your diligence and determination will get you far in life. Best of luck and have faith in yourself! Always feel free to reach out to me for any questions or advice!
Do you have questions for Sarah? 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!
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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
• 5 Tips for Acceptance to a Physician Assistant Program