This is by far the most popular topic I get asked about, so here's my best attempt at addressing it. It took a little extra love and research, so I hope you enjoy!
What is patient care experience and why do I need it?
Patient care experience is exactly what it sounds like, experience taking care of patients directly. PA programs all across the US require a certain number of hours of patient care experience, if you are looking to be a competitive applicant. Unlike medical school, PA school only provides students with one year in a clinical setting. Medical schools love to see patient care experience as well, but it's not as much of a requirement as it is when applying to PA school. Patient care experience reassures PA programs that you know what you are getting yourself into. The healthcare field across all specialties is not an easy thing to handle day in and day out, and it certainly isn't all butterflies and rainbows. They want to make sure your image of medicine isn't something you've crafted in your mind from a lifetime of Grey's Anatomy episodes. They want to know you've experienced the good days as well as the bad. They want you to pick up on medical lingo. They want you to gain an understanding of the different roles on a medical team. They want you to grow from the bottom of the totem pole, so your appreciation for being a PA is ultimately greater than it would have been. And most importantly, they want you to get your hands dirty. Patient care experience is a crucial part of the process, and it plays a large role during your application process, so choose how you earn your hours wisely!
How did you gain your patient care experience prior to PA school?
I chose to become a certified phlebotomy technician (CPT) during the summer between my freshman and sophomore year. I decided I wanted to become a PA at the end of my freshman year of college. As a 3+3 student I had to submit my application during the spring semester of my sophomore year. This left me with ONE summer to complete any kind of patient care hours. Keep in mind, because I was applying as a 3+3 student, the standards were much less than your average applicant in terms of number of hours.
Length of Training: I went through 1 month of daily training through AIMS Education in Piscataway. They also offer a 2 month option which includes EKG Tech training or a 3 month option (weekends only) for students with weekday obligations.
Class Size: My class was small with only about 15 students, some of which had plans of attending further schooling in the medical field and some whose final destination was to become a certified phlebotomist.
Curriculum: We went through textbook material during our morning sessions and had practical training in the afternoons. We had exams on our textbook material every week or so which was not too challenging if you read through the material once or twice. During practical training, we practiced venipuncture on each other almost daily until our arms couldn't take it anymore. We then started bringing in volunteers! Just a tip, bring in your strong guy friends with overly protruding veins for a guaranteed easy stick! My boyfriend's friends were kind enough to volunteer their arms to me. My sister also unwillingly accepted a butterfly needle with a little coercing. To this day, she tells people she still has a tiny bruise from where I stuck her.
Certification: After the course was over, I took a certifying exam through the National Healthcareer Association (NHA), which is valid for 2 years before requiring a renewal examination.
Cost: As far as cost goes, courses range from $700-$1,400 and the certifying exam is around $115.
Employment Opportunities: A certified phlebotomy technician can work in a wide variety of clinical setting from outpatient clinics to hospitals to mobile/non-mobile blood donation banks to nursing homes to clinical labs, just to name a few.
Clinical Skills: I was actually trained to do more than just blood draws, which I thought was awesome. The more comprehensive the clinical experience, the better. I learned how to evaluate patients prior to blood draws, hot to explain and answer questions about the blood drawing procedure, how to perform other basic point of care testing (blood glucose levels, urinalysis etc.), how to verify patient identity, how to ensure quality control, how to use proper medical terminology, how to follow infection protocol, how to take necessary safety precautions, how to be a professional in a healthcare setting, how to maintain lab equipment up to regulatory standards (needles, test tubes, blood vials), how to prepare and label specimens, and how to choose the proper test tube color. And of course I learned how to draw blood via dermal or capillary puncture (finger sticks), butterfly needles, and vacutainers.
Pros: The length of training is short and not too strenuous to handle as a college student over the summer. Being a CPT provides you with a great perspective as a lower level healthcare clinician. You are physically touching real life patients and their bodily fluids, which is a HUGE talking point in an interview. I would definitely recommend this route to a friend.
Cons: I found it very difficult to find a job that did not require previous work experience as a phlebotomist already, so this was a big con in choosing to become a CPT. My best advice is not to let the job ad's that say "Requires experience." deter you from applying. You just never know how desperate a company is to hire. You may get lucky. I think my friends who became EMTs had a much easier time finding a job, so I wish someone would have told me that when I was deciding.
How else can I gain patient care experience as a pre-PA student?
A lot of people express their difficulties "finding" ways to gain patient care experience. It's all about taking initiative. Patient care experience takes work. If you put in the effort, you can make it happen, but it's not just going to land in your lap. Now, I can't speak from experience on this next part, but here are 40 additional ways you can gain your patient care hours, so there are no more excuses that you can't find anything. I have tons of PA friends who explored the following options:
**Some side notes before reading this list: **
#1 The ideas toward the top of the list are a little more typical/ ideal paths than the lower numbered options simply because it is quicker to get started earning your hours.
#2 You can get an official certification in a lot of the "assistant" or "tech" careers that I mention, but it sometimes is NOT a requirement. Certifications are great if you have the time to get them and will make you more appealing to employers but a lot of time places will just hire you and train as you go. Therefore, I have the "length of training" for these positions labeled as "on-the-job" because that is the quickest and cheapest way.
#3 The length of training and cost references are estimates from what I researched, so don't hate me if they are not exact!
#4 Comment on this post if you know any additional ways to gain patient care experience that I missed and you think would be beneficial to my readers.
1. Certified Phlebotomy Tech (CPT): See above for a description.
2. Medical Scribe: Medical scribes are trained to type-up medical encounters into the electronic medical records system for physicians, PAs and NPs in the emergency department. They transcribe histories as reported by the provider and often times are directly available to scribe during actual patient encounters. This is a popular option among pre-PAs because you get first-hand experience writing out chief complaints, history of present illness, past medical/ surgical/ family/ social history, current medications, allergies, review of systems, physical examinations, appropriate labs/ diagnostic tests, assessments, and plans, which is a skill that must be obtained during PA school. I know the scribes in my class felt much more comfortable writing medical notes than I did. One con of medical scribing is that many PA programs would prefer something a little more hands on with patients, like a CNA for example. My advice to you is to make sure the programs you want to apply to accept scribing as valid patient care hours. Ultimately, scribing could give you an "in" at a hospital to gain your hours a different way, so it's still not a bad option. Some popular scribe companies to look into if becoming a medical scribe interests you are Scribe America, PhysAssist Scribes, I Am Scribe, DocAssist, ProScribe, Emergency Scribes Consultants, Med-Scribe Inc., Physicians Angels, and Scribe Connect. Examination for certification is administered by the American College of Medical Scribe Specialists (ACMSS). Length of Training: 120 hours (classroom, examinations, clinical setting) Cost: Free, many programs provide training for free, students make a reduced salary and receive a pay upgrade once training is complete, $165 (exam)
3. Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA): A CNA is trained to take vitals, assist patients from bed to chair, help with feeding time and personal hygiene, assist with dressing changes/ wound debridement, provide catheter care, or even assist nurses/medical providers with minor bedside procedures. They can work in almost any field of medicine alongside a nurse, so chose something that interests you if possible. In my opinion this is one of the best and strongest ways to gain patient care hours because your hands are definitely going to be the dirtiest with this one! You learn a ton about patient care and really get the full experience. CNAs mainly work in hospitals or nursing homes. Examination for certification is administered by the American Red Cross.
Length of Training: 6-12 weeks Cost: $1,300 (course), $110 (exam)
4. Patient Care Tech (PCT): A PCT has many of the same responsibilities as a CNA. I tend to think of CNAs on the floors and PCT in the ED, but they are interchangeable. If you hear the term ER/ED tech, it's referring to the same thing. One difference is PCTs tend to be trained on the job rather than through a training program, so this route is for the student pressed for time training wise. Examination for certification is administered by the NHA. Length of Training: 1 week Cost: $155 (exam)
5. Certified Medical Assistant (CMA): A CMA takes a CNA role one step further allowing for administration of injections, medical record documentation, medical procedure instrumentation prep, venipuncture, direct specimen collection, EKG administration, and sometimes even limited x-ray capabilities with the appropriate licensure. But with greater responsibilities in the clinical setting comes greater lengths of training. This route is for the student who is planning on taking multiple years off before PA school or was a CMA previously. Examination for certification is administered by the American Association of Medical Assistants (AAMA) or the NHA. Length of Training: 10-12 months, 635 classroom hours, 200 clinical hours Cost: $1,200-$4,200 (course), $700 (exam)
6. Emergency Medical Tech (EMT)/ Paramedic: An EMT is a trained first responder (riding on/ driving an ambulance to 911 scenes) to attend to medical emergencies rapidly. EMTs are trained in IV lines, basic trauma surveys, interpreting EKGs, fluid resuscitation, medication administration and more. This is an excellent choice and I had several EMTs in my class. What's great about becoming an EMT is if you have trouble finding a job after certification, you can also apply to CNA, ED Tech, or urgent care tech positions with your certification. The training is relatively short and you can learn a ton about assessing and treating medical emergencies prior to PA school. The depth of clinical knowledge and the experience making on-the-spot decisions under pressure through being an EMT is invaluable to PA programs. You can also consider getting additional certifications (EKG, ACLS, AMLS, PHTLS, PALS, NRP, ABLS, WUMP) to make you more competitive when searching for an EMT position. On your CASPA application, be sure to specify that the hours you recorded are only the "non-wait" hours (hours spent actually taking care of patients). EMTs can also work in the military. This is one of the best options if you are wishing to become an Emergency Medicine PA someday. There's also a lot of room for growth in the field from a basic EMT (bleeding control, positive pressure ventilation, oropharyngeal/ nasopharyngeal airways, splinting) to an intermediate EMT (IV therapy, intubation) to an advanced EMT (advanced cardiac monitoring, medication administration) to a paramedic. Examination for certification is administered by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). Length of Training: 2-3 months Cost: $1200-4200 (course), $80 (cognitive exam), $80 (application fee)
7. Physical Therapy Assistant/ Physical Therapist: A PT assistant works under the supervision of a PT to help treat patients through exercise, massage, gait and balance training, and other therapeutic interventions. This is a great option for students who want to pursue a career in orthopedics. Most programs will count this as quality patient care hours. Just be cautious with this option, given that some programs may start to think you really wanted to become a PT and PA school is just an alternative. I have seen this first hand when sitting in on interviews. The applicant had PT shadowing hours in addition and my program questioned her intentions which is the last thing you want during your interview. If you chose this option be sure to reassure your interviewers that you are committed to the PA profession. This is one of those examples I was talking about where you technically don't need certification, but you can apply for it if you so choose. Take note, becoming a PT "aide" does not require certification because you are only involved with patients indirectly (welcoming patients, assisting patients into a certain area, clerical duties, cleaning patient rooms etc.). And of course if you were a physical therapist in the past (It happens. People are allowed to change their mind. I know one from my program!) those hours you worked as a PT count. Examination for certification is administered by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). Length of Training: Associates Cost: $8,000
8. Occupational Therapy Assistant/ Occupational Therapist: An OT assistant works under the supervision of an OT to help rehabilitate patients with mental, physical, emotional, or developmental impairment and assist in their activities of daily living. This is another great option working directly with patients, but I would reiterate the points made under #7. And again, if you were a working OT, those hours do count. Length of Training: Associates Cost: $8,000
9. Surgical Tech: Is the OR your thing? A surgical tech (scrub tech) is trained in sterile and aseptic techniques A seasoned scrub tech can anticipate a surgeon's next move. You will have a front row seat at the operating table which is great experience, especially if surgery is of interest to you in the future. The downside is a lengthy training process and a hefty price tag. Length of Training: 9 months- 2 years Cost: $1,800-$2,500 (course at a public university), $5,000-$10,000 (course at a trade school)
10. Sterile Processor: A sterile processor is responsible for sterilizing surgical equipment of any biological fluids. This does not give you direct contact with patients, so it is not an ideal choice for PA school.
11. Medical Interpreter: Do you speak more than one language? Your talents are certainly needed (and greatly appreciated by medical providers worldwide). A medical interpreter works in the emergency department or at an interpreting agency translating patient encounters from one language to another. If you're working through an agency via phone line, this probably won't count as patient care experience, but in an ED setting where you are directly in a patients' rooms, PA programs may count this as valid patient contact hours. Certification to become a medical interpreter is required. Examination for certification is administered by the National Board of Certification for Medical Interpreters (NBCMI). Length of Training: 40 hours (course) or one 3 credit medical interpreting course at your university Cost: $1,080 (course), $485 (exam)
12. Patient Transporter: A transporter takes patients from one floor of the hospital to another. A patient may need to be brought down to get an x-ray or a CT Scan, or they may need to change floors depending on their acuity level. This gives you direct contact with patients, however you aren't gaining very much medical knowledge rolling people in and out of elevators. Length of Training: On-the-job Cost: $0
13. Radiology (X-Ray/ MRI) Tech: A radiology tech performs diagnostic imaging such as x-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. This one sounds really awesome to me. If you work the C-Arm X-Ray machine in the OR you are be able to observe cases! Examination for certification is administered by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). Length of Training: Associates + 1-2 years Cost: $2,500+
14. EKG Tech: An EKG tech performs electrocardiograms on patients with suspected heart abnormalities such as arrhythmias, acute myocardial infarctions, congestive heart failure etc. Examination for certification is administered by the NHA. Length of Training: 3-6months Cost: $690 (course), $115 (exam)
15. EEG Tech: An EEG tech performs electroencephalograms to monitor brain activity and detect abnormalities such as seizures or sleep disorders. Examination for certification is administered by the American Board of Registration of Electroencephalogram and Evoked Potential Technologists (ABRET). Length of Training: Associates Cost: $variable
16. Ultrasound Tech: An ultrasound tech or diagnostic medical sonographer operates an ultrasound machine which uses high-frequency sound waves to take diagnostic images of patient's vital organs. Training can be lengthy, but it would certainly give you a leg up in the clinical setting. Examination for certification is administered by the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers (ARDMS). Length of Training: 18-24 months Cost: $12,000-$24,000
17. Optometry Tech: The eye is an organ too ya know! An optometry tech can assist with diagnostic tests, recording and measuring vision, test eye function, educating on proper contact lens usage, and preparing examination rooms. Examination for certification is administered by the American Optometric Association (AOA). Length of Training: On-the-job Cost: $0
18. Pacemaker/ ICD Tech: Is technology your thing? A pacemaker tech works directly with patients who need a pacemaker, an ICD, or an implantable loop recorder. They also follow-up with patients enrolled in cardiac device therapy research or clinical trials. This may or may not count as patient care experience depending on how much actual contact you are getting. Examination for certification is administered by the Cardiovascular Credentialing International (CCI). Length of Training: 8 months Cost: $26,000
19. Respiratory Therapist: A respiratory therapist is an advanced practice clinician responsible for establishing and maintaining a patient's airway, playing a significant role during traumas or in the ICU. This is a good option for someone who previously worked as a respiratory therapist given the long length of training. Examination for certification is administered by the National Board for Respiratory Care (NBRC). Length of Training: Associates Cost: $$$LOTS
20. Endoscopy Tech: Do you have an interest in GI? An endoscopy tech assists a gastroenterologist when performing procedures, prepares the room and equipment, handles specimens collected, and helps sterilize endoscopic tools. Examination for certification is administered by the Certification Board for Sterile Processing and Distribution (CBSPD), the Society of Gastroenterology Nurses and Associates (SGNA), or the International Association of Healthcare Central Service Material Management (IAHCSMM). Length of Training: 8 months Cost: $variable
21. Dialysis Tech: A dialysis tech operates the machine that filters the blood of a patient with chronic kidney disease and monitors them for any complications during the procedure. This is not the shortest nor the cheapest option, but is certainly unique and certainly direct contact worthy. Examination for certification is administered by the Nephrology Nursing Certification Commission. Length of Training: 1.5 years Cost: $20,000
22. Podiatry Tech: Do you have a foot fetish? A podiatry tech can provide wound care, take vitals, provide patient education, and even assist in surgery. Examination for certification is administered by the American Society of Podiatric Medical Assistants (ASPMA). Length of Training: On-the-job Cost: $0
23. Home Health Aide: A home health aide is similar to a CNA, but in a home setting. A home health aide assists with personal care, hygiene, and feedings etc. Examination for certification is administered by the National Association for Home Care and Hospice (NAHC). Length of Training: 75 hours Cost: $649
24. Hospice Helper: Do you have a lot of love to give? A hospice helper provides compassionate support to the families touched by the end-of-life care process. Although not the most uplifting of ways to gain patient care experience, I think programs would really appreciate your experiences with the not-so-glamourous side of medicine. It may even make your personal statement or your interview conversations a bit more impactful than most applicants. Length of Training: On-the-job Cost: $0
25. Combat Medic: Are you in the military? A combat medic or hospital corpsman administers emergency medical treatment during combat. A combat medic has similar responsibilities to an EMT and undergoes similar training. Once assigned to an army unit, combat medics can learn more advanced treatments including hemorrhage control, trauma assessment, advanced airway resuscitation, and chest tube placements. Length of Training: 16 weeks Cost: $0
26. Chiropractic Assistant: A chiropractic assistant works alongside a chiropractor and helps perform electrical stimulation, massage, and ultrasound therapy. This often does not require a specific certification, so this is a good option to get your foot in the door working directly with patients, however make sure your duties will consist of more than just answering phones and medical billing/coding. Length of Training: On-the-job Cost: $0
27. Anesthesia Tech: Do you like your patients better when they're sleeping? An anesthesia tech assists an anesthesiologist by restocking medications, cleaning laryngoscope blades, changing tanks and tubing, refilling gas, laying out intubation or lumbar puncture equipment. Examination for certification is administered by the American Society of Anesthesia Technologists and Technicians (ASATT). Length of Training: 2 years Cost: $$$LOTS
28. Registered Nurse: A registered nurse (RN) monitors and cares for patients in all types of medical settings, administers medications, performs venipuncture, places IV lines, performs catheter care/insertion, and follows medical orders as prescribed by other medical providers caring for the patient. Again, this is a good option for someone who has already worked as a nurse in the past. In this instance, most nurses choose to continue their education and become a NP over a PA. Length of Training: Bachelors Cost: $$$LOTS
29. Registered Dietician: Are you a clean eater? A registered dietician evaluates a patients' medical conditions (such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, diabetes, coronary artery disease, chronic kidney disease etc.) and counsels them on proper nutrition and dietary planning in order to help conservatively manage those conditions. Examination for certification is administered by the Commission on Dietetics Registration (CDR). Length of Training: Bachelors + 1 year dietetic internship Cost: $$$LOTS
30. Speech Language Pathologist: A speech pathologist evaluates and treats communication and swallowing disorders. They see all their own patients in the hospital and write their own notes as a doctor would. They are specifically needed in an ICU setting for patients who were on mechanical ventilation or patients who are post-stroke. This requires years of training and is a good option for someone who already worked as a speech language pathologist previously. Examination for certification is administered by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Length of Training: Masters +400 clinical hours Cost: $$$LOTS
31. Mental Health Counselor: Do you have a passion for mental health? Psychiatry is a field of medicine too, don't leave it out! A mental health counselor conducts mental health assessments, develops treatment plans, applies restraints, provides suicide screenings, leads individual/group therapy sessions, runs preventative mental wellness classes, and makes referrals to a psychiatrist. The length of training is very extensive, so this is a good option for someone who was a mental health counselor previously. Length of Training: Doctoral degree (7 years) Cost: $$$ LOTS
32. Athletic Trainer: Are sports your thing? An athletic trainer works directly with athletes under the supervision of a physician. They provide preventative services, emergency care, clinical diagnosis, therapeutic intervention, and rehabilitation of injuries/ chronic medical conditions that affect game play. This should not be confused with a personal trainer, which most likely won't count toward your patient care hours. Personal trainers work with clients in a gym setting, whereas athletic trainers work with patients in a physical therapy setting or in a cardiac rehabilitation setting. Examination for certification is administered by the National Athletic Trainers' Association (NATA). Length of Training: Masters Cost: $$$LOTS
33. Child life specialist: Is pediatrics your thing? A child life specialist works with children in a medical setting serving as emotional support, helping families with coping strategies, helping to explain medical jargon to children, and keeping children calm and occupied during medical procedures. You can become a certified child life specialist by the Association of Child Life Professionals after graduating college with a degree in child development, psychology, or other life sciences. Length of Training: Bachelors Cost: $450 (exam)
34. Dental Hygienist: A dental hygienist removes plaque and polishes patient's teeth during routine check-ups, performs oral cancer screenings, educates patient's on proper dental hygiene technique, and assists dentists during dental procedures. Again, this is probably a good route for someone who was already a dental hygienist previously and is looking for a change in career vs. a recent college graduate. Length of Training: 2 years Cost: $$$LOTS
35. Vet Tech: Are you an animal lover? A vet tech works under the supervision of a veterinarian assisting with medical diagnosis and treatment of animals. CASPA does not specify what species the patient has to be, but I think it goes without saying that you need human health care hours. They want to know you weren't just a vet school reject applying to PA school as the next best thing. This would be one of my last choices, personally. You can become a certified vet tech through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB), or you can simply start working and learn as you go. Length of Training: On-the-job Cost: $0
36. Pharmacy Tech: A pharmacy tech works under the supervision of a pharmacist at a community or hospital pharmacy to dispense prescription medications. Although you do come in contact with patients on a daily basis, there's no skin-to-skin contact being made. Put it on your application if you have the experience, but I would explore other options for patient care hours. Examination for certification is administered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board or the NHA. Length of Training: 10 months Cost: $variable (course), $129 (exam)
37. Clinical Lab Tech: A clinical lab tech performs hematologic, chemical, immunologic, microscopic, and bacteriologic analyses on body fluids. You would learn a ton in terms of interpreting lab results, but this would not count as patient care experience because you aren't coming in contact with any patients down in the lab. Examination for certification is administered by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). Length of Training: Bachelors (4 years) Cost: $$$ LOTS
38. Clinical Research Assistant: Is research your thing? A clinical research assistant that is directly involved with clinical trials may count towards your hours if you're coming in contact with the actual patients in some way. Most of the time assistants are working more behind the scenes. Research is an awesome thing to add to your resume, don't get me wrong, but for whatever reason it's a little more "med schooly" than "PA schooly". Length of Training: On-the-job Cost: $0
39. Patient Safety Aide: A patient safety aide provides 1:1 attention to "high-risk behavior" patients. They observe patients to make sure they either don’t get out of bed unattended or don't pull on lines, tubes, or dressings. You probably won't gain much medical knowledge from simply baby-sitting a high risk patient for hours, so many programs will not count this as valid hours. This should not be your go-to 1st choice, but is a great thing to add on your resume in addition to other hours. Length of Training: On-the-job Cost: $0
40. Acupuncturist: Are you interested in alternative medicine? An acupuncturist uses thin needles placed through the skin at strategic points on the body to relieve pain through traditional Chinese practices. Many acupuncture patients have low back pain or fibromyalgia. The training is as long if not longer than PA school, so again this is a good option if you've previously worked as an acupuncturist. Examination is administered by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). Length of Training: Masters (3 years) Cost: $$$ LOTS
41. Hospital Volunteer: Contrary to popular belief it's definitely possible to get direct patient care experience by being a hospital volunteer. It may not be ideal pay wise, but the major plus is that there's no certification required to volunteer your time! It's fairly simple to sign-up, but does take some time so be patient. You can enroll in things like aqua therapy in the pool with patients or patient cuddling in the NICU. Both allow for direct patient contact. In my next blog post, I will go into greater detail about my experience as a Patient Cuddler and a Special Olympics volunteer. Length of Training: On-the-job Cost: $0
How many hours of patient care experience do I need to apply to PA school?
As a rule of thumb, you certainly do not need millions of years of patient care experience to apply to PA school, but certainly do not apply with zero. Some students find it possible to manage patient care hours during the semester or on the weekends. Other students use summers off to gain their hours. But a majority of students take a year or more off after graduation to rack up their hours. Patient care hours should not negatively interfere with your grades, so however you feel you can best fit the hours into your personal schedule, the better. In terms of exact numbers, most programs are looking for 300-500+ hours minimum of patient care in addition to your hours of volunteer work, shadowing, and research etc. It goes without saying that different programs have different requirements, however, so be sure to double check. If you want to excel your application to the forefront, you should aim for 1,000-2,000+ hours to be amongst the most competitive applicants. This is equivalent to approximately one year of full time employment or several years of part time employment, so be sure not to waste any time hoping something just lands in your lap. Be a go getter. It won't be the last time you have to put in extra effort in this field, I promise.
What kinds of patient care experience do PA schools prefer?
Like I mentioned before, PA programs want to see you get your hands DIRTY. The more bodily fluids you're coming in contact with the better, to be honest. They want to know that you aren't going to graduate their program and be grossed out by blood or urine or pus or vomit. We truly see it all. All the fluids. All the smells. All the patient personalities. That being said, patient care experience that is the most "hands on" with real live patients is strongly preferred by PA programs. For example, being a medical scribe is wonderful. You learn a lot of medical lingo and you even get to step in patient rooms to transcribe patient encounters at times. Now compare that to a CNA who is changing bed pans on the floors or a PCT who is debriding a dirty wound before the PA goes in to see the patient in the ED. My program specifically prefers applicants who have already experienced the healthcare industry in all of its messy glory. I saw it first-hand sitting in on interviews. They also want a little more from you if you were a PT aide, for example. Why were you a PT aide? Did you really want to go to PT school and this is some type of alternative route? They want you to have a clear sense of direction and if that direction was not always PA school, they want to know why you changed your mind and how you've made steps towards the PA path. Rightfully so, they want PA school to be your first choice. My best advice to any pre-PA students out there would be to get your hands dirty in as many patient care experiences as possible.
Do you have any last minute tips regarding patient care experience for pre-PAs?
First and foremost, keep track of you hours. Stay organized and be sure to write down any contact information from your previous employers down so you have it come application time. Remember that you can only record patient care hours on the CASPA that you have already completed, not hours that you plan to complete in the future, so get started as early as you possibly can. Don't let your certifications expire or you can't put them down on the CASPA. Get paid for your hours if you can. This seems like a no brainer, but you'd be surprised. You'll have plenty of unpaid work experience during your year on clinical rotations, so bring in the dollars while you still can. All patient care experience takes a lot of planning, and preparation, and paperwork, so be proactive! Seriously, get started yesterday. Be unique. This could be the one component of your application that sets you apart from the rest if you're feeling like the rest of your application may be a little on the bland side. And lastly, pick something that you're passionate about. There's a good fit for everyone, you just have to find yours.