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Book Review – “An Applicant’s Guide to Physician Assistant School and Practice 2nd Ed.” by Erin Sherer, PA-C

May 17, 2012 in Clinical PAs, Current PAs, PA Pals, PA Students, Prospective PAs

If you’re looking for advice on a subject, you know the best source to ask is someone who has personal experience on the topic. In this case, our topic is not only how do I get into physician assistant school? But also how do I become a successful PA satisfied with my career?

Once a prospective PA, now a practicing PA and educator, Erin Sherer, PA-C is just the person to turn to. Her book: An Applicant’s Guide to Physician Assistant School and Practice 2nd ed. is a valuable resource for prospective PAs, student PAs, and practicing PAs alike.

What I really liked about this book was her easy to read, down-to-earth writing style.  While reading, I kept envisioning the author as a big sister who I could keep in my pocket or as a best friend who shared with me all the nitty-gritty about how it really is in the PA world: the things to avoid, the things to deal with, the great opportunities to take advantage of, etc. Because her advice is directed to people in the different stages of their PA journey (prospective PAs, students, new grads, practicing clinicians) I will format my review to match. Refer to the portion(s) that is/are relevant to you or that you are curious about. I think that you too will concur that that there is something for everybody!

Prospective Physician Assistants

I have to compliment Sherer on her skill to explain what a Physician Assistant is and how the PA differs from other care providers. If you had uncertainties about what a PA is or what they do, I am sure her explanation will answer most, if not all, of your questions. This will help you set your resolution to become, or not to become, a PA.

Physician Assistant School: Aside from deciding you will pursue the PA profession for your career, you must also decide on which PA school is right for you. According to the author, some of the criteria an applicant should consider are: program reputation, location, cost, type of degree offered, program curriculum, acceptance rates, pre-requisite requirements, and the PANCE pass rate. Sherer explains these different qualities in much greater detail and how these items will pertain to you as a future student. Her advice on evaluating a school is very insightful.

Application: I believe that if you read this book before you begin your application process you will find that there will be few surprises for you. As you know, the biggest hurdle that stands in your way at this time is getting accepted into a PA school. To help you, Sherer lists the statistics of the competition so you can gauge yourself against them. She also shares tips on how to prepare yourself so that your application can make a strong impression.  There are essay examples, advice for your letters of recommendation, and words of caution to the applicant regarding how long it can really take to fill out the CASPA application. (Most, but not all, PA schools have applicants apply through the CASPA website.) She also provides several checklists like the “Pre-PA School Checklist” and “The CASPA Checklist” that are helpful in confirming that you have completed everything as forgetting something could be fatal to your application.

School Interviews: If you have been invited for an interview, Sherer writes about what you can expect, what topics you should be comfortable with, what kind of questions may be asked (including examples of appropriate answers), questions you should ask the interviewers, and many other numerous interview tips.

Current Physician Assistant Students

I love how she titles her portion dedicated to the students- “Surviving PA School” (isn’t that the truth?!). Here are the topics that she covers:

Finances: School is going to be expensive. Provided in the book is information about student loans, PA organizations that offer scholarships, and programs that reimburse or pay for your schooling. Budgeting is also explored and an example of a student budget is listed.

Didactic Phase Pearls: Need ideas to help you pay better attention in class, use your study time more effectively, or find a way to manage your stress? Sherer weighs in on how to do just that and more.

Clinical Phase Pearls: Again this is where the advice of experience proves to be so vital. Some of my favorite Pearls listed describe not only what to prepare for but how to deal with those you will be working with.

New Physician Assistant Graduates

I felt like this portion of the book was the strongest in the amount of valuable information.

PANCE: Sherer lists many resources to turn to when studying for the PANCE exam. As the reader, you will learn what to complete before taking the exam and what you can expect at the testing center. After passing PANCE, Sherer lists what will need to be completed for completing licensure.

Erin Sherer, PA-C

Starting a New Career:  There are so many things to consider when beginning a new career as a PA. What specialty will you practice? What setting will you work in? Are you interested in contract work or per diem? Or would you rather be full time with benefits? Should you do a residency or fellowship? Where do you even begin to find a job? And what qualities should you look for in a supervising physician? All of these questions are answered in detail.

What I thought was very unique and helpful was that the author listed the benefits and cons of different work settings; there was also a questionnaire where your answer would list what environment you may want to consider working in.

Resume: Clear advice on creating cover letters, curriculum vitae, and resumes is appreciated in this section of the book.

Job Interviews: Tailored advice unique to the PA job interview is listed. While you are receiving your interview, Sherer warns that you should be interviewing the job as well: look for certain attributes in the prospective employer. If you do receive a job offer, be sure to go over your contract.

Job Expectations: Hopefully Sherer can calm any anxiety you may have over your new job by informing you about starting salary, how to get over first day jitters, billing, and what to understand about malpractice claims and insurance.

Clinically Practicing Physician Assistants

Finding satisfaction with your career is key to your success, and success is key to finding satisfaction with your career. Each PA’s definition of success will be unique to his or her circumstances, but Sherer describes in detail what one can do to continue to have satisfaction with his or her career. These topics include: continuing education, knowing when to ask for a raise, being able to identify when it is time to move on and acting upon it, learning how to work with difficult co-workers or deal with difficult situations, promoting yourself as a PA, and continuing to build lasting relationships.

Final Thoughts

This book is rich in resources, self-evaluation tools, information, and valuable advice. During my review, I felt inadequate in listing all of the material available as there is so much to write about. I hope I was able to at least give you a taste of the feast of knowledge that Sherer has to offer about the PA profession. If you decide to read :  An Applicant’s Guide to Physician Assistant School and Practice 2nd ed. you will not be disappointed.

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