It's been a wild year in the medical field to say the least, but I think I'm finally ready to get back to blogging again! That's all I'll say for now. To be continued.
How do I make my application stand out?
Full disclosure on this post: I did NONE of the following things I'm about to talk about and still got accepted into PA school. Let me reiterate. You can also do absolutely NONE of these things and still get into PA school. I have some strong opinions for and against some of these ideas also, so keep that in mind while reading along. This is for the student with a little extra time on their hands. This is for the student with a little extra cash in their wallet. This is for the student who wants to add some positive "fluff" to their application. I say the word "positive" because yes, there is definitely a distinction between positive fluff and negative fluff. This is for the student who feels their application is lacking that one extra little thing that will help tip their application into the next pile or give them something special to talk about in their interview. Here are five ways to make your application stand out from the rest:
Pre-PA clerkships are a great way to strengthen your application. Excell Education is the clerkship I am most familiar with (based out of NJ), but I'm sure there are others out there wherever you may be geographically. My pre-PA club organized a lot of events with this particular group because they were knowledgeable and a strong resource for our members to have. The president of our club actually went through the clerkship program himself and raved about it. Excell offers their students a ton of added benefits that are often hard to organize on your own: direct patient care contact, mentor pairing with a practicing PA, shadowing experience, mock interviews, one-on-one personal statement tips etc. It sounds like something I definitely would have applied to if it I knew it was even a thing when I first started college. That being said, I have a bit of an outsiders perspective on clerkships, considering I didn't do one and still got accepted. If I'm being completely blunt with you all, they sort of take away the effort required of a regular pre-PA. I'd refer to clerkships as "pre-PA hand holding". By now (if you've read all of my posts that have shamelessly included every last mental breakdown/roadblock/tear), you can deduce that I am a proponent of people achieving greatness through hard work and dedication alone. No shortcuts. No discounts. No cutting corners. I'm not about being handed things on a silver platter. Being a PA is hard, and if you want to get there you should be willing to do the work on your own. That's the grit that will get you through school and make you a strong practicing PA. Your caring mom can't help you. Your wealthy dad can't help you. Your big-wig relative can't help you. You have to do it yourself. Some probably think this is a bit of a harsh opinion, but the angst is mainly coming from adults trying to make money off of desperate students. People are making businesses off already stressed and struggling students, and I just don't know if I'm okay with that. Clerkships are expensive. Too expensive. Like a big scam expensive. I just personally don't think anyone should have to spend large quantities of money to get into PA school. You're achievements should speak for themselves. Something to also keep in mind is that you can't just sign-up for these clerkships. They make you apply. That being said, the criteria to get "accepted" into a clerkship is often the exact same criteria that ultimately gets you accepted into PA school: strong GPA, solid GRE score, volunteer experience etc. And they won't accept you into their clerkship unless they think you already have a high chance of being accepted with your current standing stats. They know you don't technically need their help to get in. The clerkship can now ensure that they can claim online: "100% of our pre-PA students enrolled in our clerkship got accepted to PA school!". Now that's a money making line, if I've ever heard one! At the end of the day, you don't NEED to complete one to get accepted. If you need the extra hand holding I think they're a great option. If you're more of an independent go-getter, I'm not sure it's necessary. Regardless, here is the link to their website for a sample curriculum or for more information for those in NJ: https://excelleducation.com/
One of my classmates Kristen is from South Jersey and had a very positive experience with the Valley Hospital Shadowing Program. This program allows students to figure out what PAs actually do at work. I strongly believe the best way to explore the role of a PA in a healthcare setting is to shadow one. Students in this program are able to observe clinical procedures in both a surgical and non-surgical setting. This provides students with exposure to many different specialties of medicine that PAs can practice in. And that's something that's hard to set up on your own separately with several different individual PAs. Students as young as freshmen in high school are able to apply to shadow PAs through this program, so it's a great option for my younger readers to get a head start. They offer summer programs for students so it won't interfere with your school work. You must be able to commit to 3 days a week. And it's free! This is also a great option for someone having a really hard time coordinating shadowing hours. Again, I'm sure there are additional shadowing programs out there wherever you may be located. Here is the link to their website for additional information on the program mentioned above: http://www.valleyhealth.com/volunteers/college-volunteers
Academic Visitor Programs
This was something that I didn't even know existed until I started working at Hospital for Special Surgery. At HSS, they offer an Academic Visitor Program to students interested in pursuing a career in medicine/orthopedics in particular. Through this "observership", students are able to observe in both a surgical and a clinical care setting. In addition, it's a great opportunity to network with top-tier professionals, observe state-of-the-art operating room technologies, and attend a variety of educational seminars through grand rounds and journal clubs. Topics at the conferences and lectures that students are able to attend include: Adult Reconstruction & Joint Replacement, Anesthesiology, Foot & Ankle, Hand & Upper Extremity, Limb Lengthening & Complex Reconstruction, Metabolic Bone, Neurology, Bone Pathology, Pediatric Orthopedics, Perioperative Medicine, Physiatry, Radiology, Rheumatology, Spine, and Surgical Arthritis. This program is not only fun and up-close and personal with real life cases, but also educational. The program can last anywhere from just one day to two months depending on your host's availability. The only catch here is you must personally know someone that works at HSS to be your host. I believe you also have to have already graduated college to apply which isn't great for someone trying to plan ahead application wise, but an option for someone taking a gap year for sure! Again, I'm sure my hospital is not the only hospital that offers something similar to this wherever you may be located, so do your own research. Here is the link to their website for more information: https://www.hss.edu/academic-visitors-international-program-education.asp
Medical mission trips are actually a slightly controversial topic in the realm of global health. In the high school/ early college student world, trips like these are almost seen as a fun instagram-able moment in scrubs with native children, when the reality of the situation is much greater and much more complex. Permanently staffed clinics and acute surgical interventions for people in need are wonderful ways we can help underprivileged areas; however, providing interventions for chronic illnesses and then taking them away or not blending in well with cultural norms can actually be quite harmful in the long term. One medical resident blogger I enjoy reading up on Mary Ella speaks very eloquently on global health and its many facets, so I encourage you to go to her site for more detailed information on this topic: www.modmedblog.com. All the controversy aside, medical mission trips are an excellent way to get hands on experience doing things you may not be legally qualified to help out with in this country. Given that I have never been on a medial mission trip, I don't have a specific company to recommend so again do your own research, ask around, and take recommendations from friends. Sorry! This is just one area I'm simply not an expert in. Not even going to attempt to shine line on something I've never done. That's what PA school is all about honestly. Being good at recognizing the things that you know well and the things that you do not. You'll have to look into this one yourself. So unhelpful, LOL. OK next topic.
This is the only one I actually did do a tiny bit of, but it wasn't anything extensive. I took a 1 credit course about optical illusion psychology simply because I needed the extra credit and it sounded some-what fun compared to my other courses. The class ended up being extremely small, compared to my usual Rutgers-size 200+ person lecture hall. My professor of the course was actually one of the only professors that knew my name in college. Because it was such a small class, I had the opportunity to partner with him on his current research on 3D face optical illusions. I was even able to be published in the process, which was pretty cool. It ended up being really interesting and it was a great addition to my resume as well. It was low key (only once a week), so it wasn't taking away my focus on my core science classes. That's one thing I think a lot of students unfortunately fall victim to is trying to boost your resume and as a result grades suffering. Your studies should always be your number one priority because a good GPA can stand on it's own a lot of the time. Good resume boosters on the other hand cannot. My advice to pre-PA students is build strong relationships with any professor you can because you never know when a research opportunity may present itself. Get involved. Ask around. I'm sure there is some type of research opportunity available for you on campus. Or if you've already graduated, there are a ton of company's looking for research assistants! Pick a project that interests you and run with it.
To reiterate, minus the tiny bit of research I got involved in, I did NONE of these and still got accepted to PA school. Remember, your application needs to be strong beneath the fluff first. Pick one or two things and do them well. Don't be the kid with his/her hand in every single cookie jar. Schools are good at calling your bullshit. Give yourself an edge. Give yourself a bonus point. One of these additives could just be the difference between you and another applicant. They want people who are well-rounded outside of good test scores. Pick things you're passionate about, and allow those passions to shine through in an interview, which happens to be exactly what my next post is about: The Interview.
Other Helpful Application Resources:
Since I applied only to Rutgers as a 3+3 student (more on this topic to come, I promise), I did not have to fill out the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA). Since I never had to go through the CASPA application process myself, I'd be lying if I told you that I was an expert on the topic. However, I do have a bunch of application resources that I've heard a lot of positive feedback on that I think I would have found super helpful myself. And I would love to spread that knowledge here. Below is the link for the CASPA application website so that you can get started whenever the time is right for you:
How to Ace the Physician Assistant School Interview by Andrew Rodican
Physician Assistant School Interview Guide: Tips, Tricks, and Techniques to Impress Your Interviewers by Savannah Perry, PA-C
The Applicant's Manual of Physician Assistant Programs by Mark Volpe, PA-C and Brittany Hogan, PA-C
Applying to PA school just got so much easier. The tool of all tools was just recently released called my PA Box. It helps you get everything organized in one spot when applying. I heard about this through @lorae.the.PA. You can check out @myPAbox for more information.
The Pre-PA Club is really the only one that I have found is realistic, helpful, and up to date. Some of the other PA podcasts out there haven't had any new episodes since 2017, and a lot has changed in the PA world since then. It's hosted by @thePAplatform.
PA-C Influencers to Follow:
For all the content, career inspiration, tips, tricks, & all the day-to-day nonsense in between. There are tons more but these are just a few of my favorites…
@erinjensen_pa/ @thetreatment (Erin Jensen Dermatology PA-C )
@withashleykay (Ashley Kay Vascular Surgery PA-C)
@thepaplatform (Savannah Perry Pre-PA Coach & Dermatology PA-C)
@lorae.the.pa (Lorae Cardiology PA-C)
@itskendralynne (Kendra Lynne Cosmetic Dermatology PA-C)
@destination_whitecoat (Demi Dermatology PA-C)
@pagethepa (Stephen Benton Pulmonary Critical Care PA-C)
@jamienicole_pa (Jamie Emergency Medicine PA-C)
@themedicalmind (Chloe Cosmetic Dermatology PA-C)
@theandreabenedict/ @medthusiast (Andrea Benedict PICU PA-C)