Let's talk letters and numbers. Kindergarten had its fair share of ABC's and so will college. Here's an encouraging story for all of the college students out there who have been told "you can't". It's a story for those of you who were told to give up on your dreams of becoming a PA all because of one bad letter grade in a science course. Towards the tail end of my freshman year, I went to the Rutgers Health Professions Office (HPO) to meet with a counselor. I wanted to proactively go over the next courses and steps I should be taking in order stay on track for applying to the Rutgers accelerated 3+3 program. The counselor looked at my transcript and scanned through my course grades briefly. For the most part, I was a straight A student with an occasional B here and there. But nobody's perfect. General chemistry 2 was a really rough course for me, to say the least. The exams were high intensity, fast-paced, and very complex after hours of poor instruction in the classroom and self-taught studying in the library. Everyone has that one course and this just happened to be mine.
A quick interruption to present a sneak-peak into the nightmare that was chemistry:
To this day, I still have nightmares. I simply did not have good chemistry with chemistry, if you will. My chem 2 final exam was ridiculously, stupidly hard. That's the only way I can describe it in words. It was the type of hard where your stomach just sinks as soon as the professor says "pencils down". The chemistry department made us hand in our scantrons at the end, but would allow us to take home our answer booklets so that we could grade our work at home. The professor would post the answers up on our school site about 30 minutes after every exam. I pulled up the answer key and started to grade my test in my dorm room. As I went through the first two pages of my exam, every single answer was wrong. Every. Single. Answer. I stopped. I couldn't even continue grading knowing I probably failed the final exam and therefore the course. I went into full panic mode at this point. I called my mom sobbing because what else is a stressed out student to do. As any good mother should, she started coming up with 300+ plan B's for my future. I looked intently at the answer key in disbelief as my mom rambled on in comfort and my eyes linked with the year "2012" on the top of the pdf.
Me: "Mom, it is 2012 right?"
Mom: "No, it's 2013."
Me: "Wrong answer key."
It turns out I started grading my exam with the wrong answer key. This is a great way to give a parent a heart attack in case anyone was wondering! I did end up passing my final exam, but I certainly did not perform well enough to maintain that grade in the B range. At that point I was honestly just glad I didn't have to retake the course. I mentally don't think I could have handled taking it twice, so I'm thankful it never came down to that. But just like that, my transcript got the dreaded C+ stamped on it for good.
What were my stats?
As a pre-PA student, I was always curious about what other PA students "stats" were like when they applied and how my stats compared to theirs. It's really an impossible thing to do. You can't just compare stats because there's an actual person behind those stats and that matters equally as much if not more. Remember, I am just one example of a student from my program and every year the standards are raised that much higher. Regardless, here were my stats upon applying to PA school:
Undergrad GPA: 3.65
Science GPA: 3.41
Volunteer hours: 1,000+ hours
Patient care hours: 250+ hours. PA Programs are a little more lenient on patient care hours for 3+3 students considering we are coming directly from undergrad with limited time to work minus weekends or summers. Most programs expect close to 2,000 hours.
Shadowing hours: 300+ hours
Stay tuned for my blog posts on how I acquired my volunteer, patient care, and shadowing hours!
Anyways, back to the HPO counselor meeting, she took one look at that C+ and told me very bluntly that I should not even bother applying to PA school because of it. Did I listen to her? No. But what if I had? This just goes to show you that one professor, one course, one advisor should never be the end all be all of your future. Is PA school extremely competitive to get into? Absolutely. My classes average undergrad GPA upon their acceptance into the program was a 3.75. Many of us had one poor letter grade, but we also all took harder science courses after that and performed better to redeem ourselves. Organic chemistry1&2, for example, is one of the hardest courses at Rutgers and our exams were comparable with the Ivy leagues. I took three science courses at once during my orgo years and still managed to pull through with A's and B's. One thing I will say about your grades in undergrad is that thick skin and grit are two things most programs rank above actual letter grades. If you do poorly in a course take two harder courses and prove you can do better. Take more than one science course at a time. Anyone can pass just one, so try handling two or three per semester. You have to keep in mind that if you're accepted into PA school someday, you'll be juggling 9 core sciences at a time, and they need to know you can handle their rigor; so it's your job as a pre-PA student to show them you can.
Don't let anyone ever tell you "you can't". Never give up on a dream, no matter how big or small. Try again, fail again, fail better.