Before PA School
Considering PA school? You are embarking on a challenging and exciting journey! There is a lot you can do to research the profession, the educational system, and the application process. This is the time to prepare yourself mentally, physically and financially for this incredible endeavor. Check out some resources below:
Applying to PA School
The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants is a full service, web-based application system that allows students to apply to multiple participating PA educational programs with a single application, as well as facilitate a streamlined admissions process for programs. It allows you to fill out a single application to send to multiple schools. Many schools require a program-specific supplemental application after receiving your CASPA application to ensure you meet the requirements for their program.
Getting Hands On Experience
Most PA programs require applicants to have health care experience, meaning hands-on patient care. Volunteer at a local hospital or clinic, get your CNA, EMT, or become a phlebotomist. The goal is to get yourself in front of patients and have healthcare experience to make yourself a better candidate. Consider trying to locate a PA to shadow for a day or conduct an interview with. Be sure to check with programs on what type of experience they require some require all experience to be paid while on the job or a professional certification. Meeting with an Admissions Director is a good way to understand what type of experiences they are looking for.
PA School Guide Book:
Many many students utilize “The Ultimate Guide to Getting Into PA School” by Andrew J. Rodican. This book encompasses all you need to know for getting into PA school and beyond. It is the most comprehensive PA school preparation book we’ve come across. We highly recommend looking into purchasing and reading this book. It can be found online, in a bookstore, or (likely) from a friend.
LINKS: Amazon.com Link
Throughout the didactic and clinical years you will have plenty of time to read dense text books. We recommend you avoid most academic material in the months leading up to the start of PA school. However, some books can contribute to your outlook and perspective on medicine and patient care. These books, often focusing on the “humanity” side of medicine, are worth a read if you find a few extra hours before school begins.
- Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande
- Every Patient Tells a Story by Lisa Sanders
- The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
- How Doctors Think by Jerome Groopman
- Survival of the Sickest by Sharon Moalem
- Stiff by Mary Roach
- Seeing Patients, Augustus A. White
- White Coat Wisdom, Stephen J. Busalacchi
- The Upside of Stress, Kelly McGonigal, PhD
- Cutting Stone and/or Being Mortal, Abraham Vergeshese
PA Schools and Costs
Stephen Pasquini, PA-C (Blogger: The PA Life website) compiled a comparison table of PA program tuition and costs. Please be aware that his chart does not include variables, such as fees and textbook costs. http://ow.ly/hZsYi
Students have several opportunities to obtain additional funds before and during PA school. These sources should be carefully considered as many have special prerequisites or require a service commitment upon graduation. This list is not comprehensive and interested students should continue to seek financial assistance if needed.
1. Professional Organization Scholarships
National Level: Physician Assistant Foundation Scholarship
State Level: Check with your state physician assistant society to see if they offer scholarship assistance.
Physician Assistant Specialty Organizations: Many specialty associations offer scholarships for students with strong interest in a particular field.
Association of Family Practice Physician Assistants
American Association of Surgical Physician Assistants
Association of Physician Assistants in Oncology
Society of Emergency Medicine Physician Assistants
2. Physician Assistant schools and related institutions
Ask your admissions or financial aid office about additional financial aid. Some schools provide need-based or merit-based scholarships and grants.
3. Military Service
The United States Army, Navy and Air Force offer financial incentives, including full scholarships and living stipends, for a commitment to active duty. These typically require a minimum of three years of active duty followed by a period of inactive reserve. Contact a medical services recruiter for the most current opportunities and requirements.
What are the options within each branch:
- Active duty – Active duty means the military if your full-time job for at least 3 years followed by several years of inactive reserve to total an 8 year commitment . Typically, active duty offers sign-on bonuses and/or money to either pay for school upfront or repay loans later.
- Reserve duty – Reservists dedicate part of their time to a military unit (typically one weekend a month and two weeks a year after training) while maintaining a civilian sector job. They may be called into active duty if needed. There are still sign-on bonuses and loan repayment options but they are ever changing – contact a recruiter for the latest info.
Marines and Coast Guard
Additional opportunities are available in the Reserves of the above branches and in the National Guard.
4. National Health Service Corps – Scholarship or Loan Repayment
The National Health Service Corp (NHSC) offers scholarships and loan repayment options for students who wish to serve in high-need areas after graduation. These incentives require students repay a number of years at an NHSC-approved site.
- The Scholarship: Students apply before school. If selected, the scholarship covers all of your tuition in addition to a stipend for living expenses. In return, students serve 2 years as a PA-C in an underserved environment of their choice.
- The Loan Repayment: New PAs apply after graduation and accepting a job in a qualifying underserved site (less strict criteria than for the scholarship). The NHSC will repay $60,000 in loans over two years of full time work at sites that qualify. Reduced rates of loan repayment are available for sites with lower Health Professional Shortage Scores and for half-time work in these settings.
Webinar about the Loan Repayment Program – by NHSC
5. U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps
The U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps is one of the uniformed services and provides medical support to the Department of Health and Human Services as well as other select government agencies. They provide financial opportunities for students in return for a commitment after graduation.
Students can apply for various types of government-supported loans by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
7. Employer Loan Repayment
Loan repayment is sometimes offered as part of an incentive package by employers. Attempt to negotiate this in your contract when you apply for jobs after graduation.
There are many approaches and viewpoints on how to spend your time before PA school starts. Your decision on how to spend these pre-PA months should depend on your personality and individual needs.
Know the best way you relax: Resetting and recharging yourself will be crucial to your success in PA school. Finding your escape from the stress of school will get you away from school so you can get back to it with a level head. Everybody is different, but some common ways people relax are: exercise, yoga, meditation, books, cooking, walks, spending time with a pet, and 20-minute power naps. Follow Socrates’ advice and “know thyself” so you can get back to productive studying!
Take your undergraduate courses seriously: The more you learn in your undergraduate classes, the less you will have to relearn when it comes to PA school. Creating a solid foundation for yourself is of the utmost importance. It will allow you to springboard into grad school and help you tackle the large amounts of information you will be processing. Courses such as Anatomy, Physiology, Pathophysiology, Pharmacology, and even Medical Terminology are crucial to building your knowledge base.
- Albert Schweitzer Fellowship Program – Each U.S. Schweitzer Fellow partners with a community-based organization to identify an unmet health need, design a yearlong, 200-hour service project with a demonstrable impact on that need, and bring that project from idea to implementation and impact—all on top of his or her usual academic responsibilities. Simultaneously, Fellows undergo a mentored, reflective, and multidisciplinary leadership development program that enhances their ability to successfully carry out interventions that improve the health status of underserved people. (Check website, as this Fellowship has limited locations)
- Paul Ambrose Scholars Program – Exposes health professions students to influential public health professionals and prepares them to be leaders in addressing population health challenges at the national and community level. Scholarships are awarded to students to attend a four-day symposium in Washington, DC and conduct a community-based health education project at their institution. Since 2002, more than 460 students from over 160 academic institutions have become Paul Ambrose Scholars, equipped with leadership and organizational skills in public health education that can only be found outside of the classroom.
Become a member! Many PA professional organizations have Pre-PA, discounted memberships. They all provide invaluable information about the PA profession. If you can take the opportunity to attend a state-society sponsored event to meet & understand the life of PA students and certified PAs.