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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.

*Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for

Physician Assistant Admissions Book Reviews: Introduction

February 5, 2011 in PA Pals, Prospective PAs

It's very exciting to think about the Physician Assistant profession!  According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physician assistants is expected to grow by 39 percent from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. Furthermore, ranks PA as the second best job in America and projects it to be the third hottest (fastest growing) occupation over the next decade.

With so many individuals learning about this exciting profession, there has never been more applicants. I can attest to this first hand as I recently screened through candidate after candidate. The program where I work received over 700 applications for only 34 seats this past year. This is roughly a 20:1 ratio. The ratio for other programs can be even higher. We have dedicated much of this website to facilitating the process for Prospective PA Students as they work through researching, applying, and preparing for PA school. We hope that you find the information and tools we provide invaluable. That being said, we want to make sure you're aware of other resources that are available as well! With this series of posts, we give you our thoughts on three popular PA Admissions Books!

Before we get started, I would like to share with you our approach to reviewing these titles.  We asked a few important questions to help us work through the thought process of how to best present this series of posts:

Who would be able to provide the best review for these kinds of books? It didn't take long to answer this question.  We felt that those reading these reviews would relate best with other Prospective PA Students, especially those who were currently in the process of applying to PA School.  We also felt that a Current PA Student would be able to provide some great insight.  Introducing our three reviewers:

What would the Prospective PA Student want out of a PA Admissions book? This one took a little more thought than the first question.  Before diving in to analyze these titles, we put our heads together and came up with a list of review topics that we thought would be extremely helpful for the reader.  With each book, our reviewers explored the following:

  • Personal Statement/Narrative: Does the book help the reader understand how to approach the narrative and provide helpful examples?
  • Interview Process: Does the book discuss the purpose of the interview, how to think about it cognitively, and how to prepare?  Does it provide examples of questions?
  • Desired Candidate Qualities: Does the book explain what PA schools really look for in an applicant?
  • PA Profession Description: How well does the book explain the PA Profession?
  • Application Process: Does the book help the reader to understand the entire application process including components and timelines?
  • Readability: Is it a good read or will it bore the reader to tears?
  • Choosing a Program: Does it highlight differences that exist amongst PA Programs and what the reader should look for?
  • Goal Setting: Does it help the reader to establish a game plan?
  • Overall Impression: How did the reviewer feel overall about what the book has to offer?

So let's get started!  Click on the link of the PA Admissions Review Book you'd like to read about:

Applying through CASPA… the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants

November 25, 2010 in PA Educators, PA Pals, Prospective PAs

CASPA stands for "Centralized Application Service for Physician Assistants." CASPA is an online application service that facilitates the process of applying to participating PA Programs. At the time of this writing (11.24.10), approximately 80% of all PA programs nationally utilize CASPA as part of their admissions process.  By creating an account and completing one application, Prospective PA Students can apply to multiple programs.  Furthermore, and this is something only recently implemented, your application will remain on file even if not selected for seat in a PA program, thereby easing the process of applying during the following cycle!  The following capsulized summary was extracted from a general information page for new applicants on CASPA's website

Once you create an account with CASPA, you can access your application frequently in order to complete the required portion of the application. Specific instructions are available within each section of the application. There is also a Frequently Asked Questions section (FAQs) if you have specific questions about entering your information into the application. After you have created and completed your application, you can e-submit it to CASPA for processing. Once the application is processed, it will be sent to your designated programs. The CASPA application will provide your designated programs with your complete biographical information and a detailed description of your academic history.

It's important to remember that not all PA Programs participate in CASPA.  There are two ways to find out whether a program of interest participates:

-Our PA Program Profiles have a table on the left hand side entitled "Entrance Requirements."  Towards the bottom of the table you will find information relative to whether or not that particular program participates in CASPA.  Also note that below this row you'll find information about whether or not the program requires a supplemental application.

-The other way to find out if the program participates is through the CASPA website.  CASPA has a great page on their website that includes a table highlighting participating programs.  This also details each program's state location, application deadline, supplemental application information, and entrance exam information!

As alluded to above, Prospective PA Students need to know that participation in CASPA does not necessarily preclude the requirement for additional application materials to be submitted. In other words, many programs that require students to apply through CASPA also require a supplemental application to be submitted directly to the program. This supplemental application may be required at the same time CASPA is submitted, or may be required only after the program has received information from CASPA validating a student's qualifications for admission. For any school of interest, please note carefully the details regarding supplemental application requirements when applicable.

CASPA – the Friendly Online Physician Assistant Application Service

July 29, 2010 in Prospective PAs

Physician Assistant ED Image - CASPA ApplicationFor those of you who are unaware, CASPA stands for Central Application Service for Physician Assistants. It is an extremely user friendly online application service for prospective PA students.  Complete with instructions for each section, CASPA provides a straightforward and convenient way to fill out ONE central application that can be sent to any number of PA schools.  While it is designed to be a friendly tool, CASPA can certainly be intimidating! My goal for this blog is to ease you into a comfortable friendship with this web-based service so that you won’t feel overwhelmed when it comes time for you log-in and make an account. I’m a few hours away from clicking “submit” and let me tell you, I’m very anxious! I’ve spent a lot of time the past few months filling out the application, re-reading the instructions, and writing and re-writing my personal statement.  I  feel physically drained, as if I literally poured my heart onto paper and now, like thousands of other applicants,  I can only  hope and pray that through my application the admissions board can somehow feel my passion, see my motivation, and recognize my accomplishments as someone who will make a great PA.  In order to present yourself on paper to your fullest potential I recommend the following:

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