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Preparing for an Opportunity of a Lifetime – Physician Assistant School

January 21, 2012 in PA Pals, Prospective PAs

Preparing yourself to become a candidate for Physician Assistant school is a two-step process:

  1. 1) Preparing the application to land the interview to a program.
  2. 2) Once you are invited, preparing to knock everybody’s socks off at the interview!

Competition is stiff right now. Success is going to require sacrifice, commitment, and an unwavering eye on the prize. This is an opportunity of a lifetime.  The chance to do what you love while making a difference in people’s lives is definitely worth fighting for. I know that it was countless hours of preparation and support from those around me that helped me get accepted to the PA school of my choice.

It can be overwhelming at times thinking of what you need to do to get accepted. Because of this, I would like to share with you what I used for my own personal success. Since there is so much information on what I studied, where I got my information, and what I did, I am going to make a list with notes. This is exactly what I used and what I did to get accepted into my program.

Great Physician Assistant Resources for Prospective PAs

Do I have to say any more? This website is an excellent source for all things PA. When preparing for my interview I read the blogs, used the LIVE CHAT room, and participated in forums and groups. I have to say that this website was actually the first resource I turned to when I started my journey towards becoming a PA.

I first found the PA Coach on YouTube. I followed a link to his website and discovered his free video course on the top 7 mistakes PA applicants make and how to avoid them. His website also has interesting discussions, message boards, interviewing tips, and helpful articles. I enjoyed reading the comment of one PA-S who wrote that while she was interviewing she kept telling herself how her interviewers were trying to impress her as much as she was trying to impress them. I don’t know why that little sentence gave me so much confidence, but it did. Maybe it gave me confidence because it reminded me that my interviewers are human as well? I too said that same phrase to myself while at my own interview. is a very useful website. What I really liked about this site was that there were forums for practically every PA program out there. I used this website to talk to other PA hopefuls who were applying to the same program as me.

So You Want to Be a Physician Assistant: Your Guide to a New Career by Beth Grivett, PA-C

This book was phenomenal in explaining what being a Physician Assistant is really about and what a typical day for a PA will be like. During my interview I felt that this prepared me to keep from appearing naïve about what I could expect as a practicing PA.

An Applicant’s Guide to Physician Assistant School and Practice by Erin L. Sherer, MPAS, PA-C, RD

Lots and lots of useful tips from start to finish on becoming a PA!

The Ultimate Guide to Getting into Physician Assistant School 3rd ed. by Andrew J. Rodican, PA-C

I don’t even know where to begin with how useful this book was. This book was actually what helped me the most in evaluating what I needed to do to make myself a strong candidate.

How to “Ace” the Physician Assistant School Interview by Andrew J. Rodican, PA-C

Read my first blog post here on why you would do so well with this little beauty in your arsenal.

Cliffs Quick Review Anatomy and Physiology by Phillip E. Pack, Ph.D.

I wanted to be ready for any unexpected questions thrown my way. Even though I am a nurse, I was surprised to find how much of my A&P I needed to brush up on. I read one chapter a day (anywhere from 7-14 pages) with a total of 20 chapters. The material was very easy to pick up as a refresher course. Although I loved the content of the chapters, I felt the quizzes at the end were pointless. They would only ask about 4 questions which doesn’t even nearly cover the amount of subject matter you read for the chapter. To better quiz myself, I went to this website:

Mosby’s Guide to Physical Examination, 6th ed. by Henry M. Seidel, MD; Jane W. Ball, RN, DrPH, CPNP, NAP; Joyce E. Dains, DrPH, JD, RN, FNP, BC, NAP; G. William Benedict, MD, PhD

This was actually the book I studied while shadowing a Physician Assistant. What I loved about this book was that it made me think like a care provider. I will share with you a few little tidbits out of this great resource:

  • Art and skill essential to history taking and physical examination. These are the bedrock of care.
  • Technologic resources are compliments
  • History and physical examination are inseparable, they are one
  • You are presumed an authority - this means you are in a position of strength while patients are in a state of vulnerability.
  • You must then understand their needs and their suffering. Not an easy task. (competence and compassion)
  • Must recognize subtle clues
  • Nonverbal attitude compliments words
  • Communication first means listening
  • Be an empathetic listener, and at the end an accurate recorder
  • Ethics does not provide answers; rather, it offers a disciplined approach to understanding and determining ultimate behavior

Actions I Took to Prepare

Based off of the resources above, I evaluated myself and determined what I need to work on and what I needed to do. These are the things I accomplished in no particular order:

  • Shadowed a PA
  • Maintained a competitive GPA
  • Gained volunteer experience
  • Completed needed school courses
  • Gained extensive, paid, hands-on patient care experience
  • Bought a suit for the interview
  • Became an affiliate member of AAPA
  • Kept up to date with PA profession by reading the magazines PA Professional and JAAPA
  • Researched the program I wanted to attend
  • Researched the history of the PA profession
  • Researched current events facing the PA profession today
  • Heavily participated on the website:
  • Determined my goals as a PA
  • Determined my strengths and weaknesses
  • Practiced interview style questions
  • Completed a 1 hour mock interview
  • Made sure I could list why I wanted to be a PA forwards and backwards!

It was a lot of work, but it was worth it. I still remember as I walked away from my last interview how calm I felt. I knew that I had done everything I could do to prepare myself, and if I didn’t get in, it wasn’t because I didn’t do my best.

Preparation is key in a profession where the "Best" is expected. Good luck to each of you as you discover the "Best" within yourself!

5 responses to Preparing for an Opportunity of a Lifetime – Physician Assistant School

  1. Great post!!! Love all the very useful information as I am begining my journey to becoming a PA student. Thank you truly! :)

  2. Those sure are a lot of things to do in preparation. Just in curiosity, but were you accepted to the majority of all the programs you applied for?

    • I only applied to one school, and I was accepted on my first application. If you are looking to compare how competative my preparation made me… I can tell you that there were 827 applicants to my program and only 44 students were accepted.

  3. My name is Jessica Savoy and this has been so helpful! Thank you for this information. I am beginning anew and I plan to follow these pieces of advice carefully. I am currently looking for opportunities to shadow PAs and volunteer work. Do you have any advice or suggestions?

  4. This is incredibly helpful! Thank you so much!

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