July 28, 2012 in Prospective PAs
The video below highlights the relationship that can be formed between a physician and physician assistant in caring for patients as a team. Great video!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 PhysicianAssistantED.com
December 2, 2011 in Prospective PAs
As a registered nurse (RN), pursuing a degree as a PA, I knew I would get different forms of this same question time and time again. To answer that question effectively, I’ve always first listed similarities between the PA profession and the nurse practitioner (NP) profession:
1) Both get to work with patients.
2) Both can order diagnostic tests and treatments.
3) Both provide patient education and can do referrals as needed.
4) Both have prescription rights (within state guidelines).
5) Both can assist in surgery.
6) Both are rewarding careers.
7) And just as a laugh… I’m sure they both have lots of paperwork to do.
From what I understand, there are only a few differences between the way that an NP practices and the way that a PA practices; and for me as a personal decision- it’s the small differences that make PA the better “fit” for me.
1) PAs are dependent practitioners. NPs are capable of being independent practitioners.
Being independent or dependent upon a physician’s license are different approaches to achieving the same goal: affordable, quality care for patients. I have always envisioned myself as working as part of a team and so the PA path resonated with me as teamwork is a fundamental facet of being a PA. I don’t view being “dependent” as demeaning in any sense. PAs have a specific amount of autonomy and are able to provide competent care with good patient outcomes.
As an interesting side note, according to The Permanente Journal, patient satisfaction does not depend on the type of provider, but rather on communication and style. Click here to read the article.
2) PAs are able to work in different specialties without additional schooling. NPs must be certified for each chosen specialty they work in.
I have to admit that being able to work in different areas in healthcare is part of what attracted me to being an RN to begin with. When I was in nursing school I had clinical rotations in geriatrics, pediatrics, maternity, psychiatric, newborn, wound care, operating room, emergency room, post-anesthesia care units, intensive care units, cardiac units, medical/surgical, catheterization laboratory, dialysis, physical therapy rehabilitation, and more. It was exciting for me to know that if I wanted to take my career in a new direction, I could specialize in a different area of nursing.
Now that I’ve decided that I want to be capable of doing more for my patients, the PA route allows me the freedom of changing between specialties as long as my supervising physician is in the same area of expertise. (For example, if a PA was interested in working in dermatology, his or her supervising physician would need to be a dermatologist.) Of course I’m not intending to say that I plan on bouncing around from specialty to specialty every couple of years, but I do like to keep my options open. My current goal is to work in primary care after I complete PA school. I feel like there is a real need in this area. Besides the high demand for primary care providers, primary care is such a vital component to patient well-being. It is here where preventative measures can make all the difference in a patient’s quality of life.
3) PAs practice the medical model. NPs practice the nursing model.
As a nurse, I have been trained in the nursing model. This method is considered a holistic approach to treating the patient, not just the disease process. I feel very comfortable with this model and would now like to expand my understanding into the medical model. I believe I will be able to take concepts from both models to give my patients the best care possible.
These are my own personal reasons for choosing to be a PA rather than an NP. For others, they will find that the NP route is the better choice for them. And there will be some that will decide ultimately they could not be happy unless they were physicians. That is for each to decide, and only you will know why only one of these professions speak to you. I would invite each of you to really research each of these respectable professions and find the best “fit” for you!
There are many occupations where you see the rewards of your labors immediately. Medicine is oftentimes not one of them. Don’t ge me wrong. It’s rather rewarding to help a child with asthma breathe better or to relieve a young woman’s severe migraine pain, even before she’s left the office However, in several areas where we can have some of our greatest impact on society, the rewards are often imperceptible. What do I mean? Well, ours is the business of not wanting a lot of business.
Much of what we do, and what we should be doing better I might add, is… THERE’S MORE! Read the rest of this post for FREE! Register for a FREE account by clicking here. If you already have an account, log in by clicking here.
Dealing with Patients Who May Be Drug Seekers
The so-called “drug seeker” is that patient who presents to you, feigning a medical condition, in order to obtain as a reward a prescription for a controlled substance. Usually the goal is to obtain a narcotic such as oxycodone or hydrocodone. In the medical industry, these highly addictive medications are justly used in specific circumstances to treat severe pain. We must all be thankful that we have such powerful pharmaceutical agents to help those who are suffering profoundly. A common side effect of these medications is euphoria, a highly… THERE’S MORE! Read the rest of this post for FREE! Register for a FREE account by clicking here. If you already have an account, log in by clicking here.
Dealing with Insurance Companies and Third Party Payors
Health care costs are staggering! With the anticipation that our elderly population will double over the next 15 years, the financial strain will only be heightened. The healthcare resource pie is only so large. Yet, there’s no end in site to patrons arriving at the door, who feel entitled to sit down to a buffet, but expect a Tuesday night discount. There have been multiple efforts to… THERE’S MORE! Read the rest of this post for FREE! Register for a FREE account by clicking here. If you already have an account, log in by clicking here.
Paperwork, Paperwork, Paperwork
You cannot avoid it. Documentation is an absolute must. And it will take a huge chunk of your time. Oftentimes when we have a dream in our minds, we seem only to envision the spectacular moments. That’s what makes it a dream! I think of my three daughters and their dreams of being princesses. These daughters will become teenagers and they will dream of being swept away by Prince Charming. In their dream, they will have the most glorious wedding, and will live happily ever after, in continuous joy, laughter, and love for the rest of their lives. Never once in their dreams will they envision… THERE’S MORE! Read the rest of this post for FREE! Register for a FREE account by clicking here. If you already have an account, log in by clicking here.
Loving Your Patients Regardless of Their Pasts, Personalities, and Perspectives
One of the remarkable opportunities you’ll have as a physician assistant is to meet thousands of patients, who come from all different walks of life, and carry with them unique backgrounds, personalities, philosophies, perspectives, and opinions. Several of your patients will manifest idiosyncrasies of behavior or thought that may annoy you. Several will have done things, or currently do things, in their life, that you disagree strongly with. Some may have even committed serious crimes. You will encounter patients… THERE’S MORE! Read the rest of this post for FREE! Register for a FREE account by clicking here. If you already have an account, log in by clicking here.
This is the fourth post of a series to help you learn more about the physician assistant profession. My goal? Not to merely echo what you’ve already heard, but to delve deeper, so you can truly get a taste of what it means to be a physician assistant! If you’d like to start from the beginning, you can read the introductory post by clicking here.
Respecting the Freedom of the Patient to Choose
Patients are not perfect. In fact, just like you and I, they are far from it. Patients will choose to do things that are harmful to their health. This may be why they are coming to see you in the first place. You will have patients who suffer with diabetes, cirrhosis, heart disease, even cancer, primarily because they failed to take care of themselves. Many of these patients will continue to practice the same harmful habits that resulted in their diseased condition. You may be tempted to say, “Why are you even coming to see me if you’re not going to change?” Don’t say it. Don’t even think it.
The freedom to choose is sacred! It’s the ultimate gift each of us has received from God. Unless you have walked in that person’s shoes and shared the same genetics, you are not qualified to pass judgment. You will never be able to understand the vice of alcoholism unless you have suffered from it yourself, nor will you be able to comprehend the overwhelming addictiveness of using tobacco and other drugs unless you’ve fallen into the same trap. And even if you can say, “I used to smoke, and I quit.” Well that’s you, not another person, who’s made of different DNA and who’s social and psychological world is entirely different than yours. Perhaps the world your patient lives in makes it much more difficult to quit smoking. Maybe you’ll think to yourself, “Well my patients should have never started smoking or drinking in the first place.” Truly a naive perspective when you consider the lack of knowledge about how harmful these habits were (oftentimes there were even significant perceived health benefits) and the social acceptance of such behaviors through the greater part of the 20th century.
In order to be a physician assistant, you have to refrain from judgment, and respect the sacredness of choice. You must care as much about the patient who progresses at a snail’s pace as you do about the patient who makes significant changes rapidly. You must be ever patient, supportive, and encouraging. Failing to do so will result in the dissolution of the relationship you have built with the patient in the first place, and sadly, for many patients, the generalization that all healthcare providers feel the same way, thus deterring these patients from even seeking care. Move on to the next post: Being a Physician Assistant #5: Loving Your Patients Regardless of Their Pasts, Personalities, and Perspectives.
This is the third post of a series to help you learn more about the physician assistant profession. My goal? Not to merely echo what you’ve already heard, but to delve deeper, so you can truly get a taste of what it means to be a physician assistant! You can read the introduction by clicking here or post #2: Being Comfortable with the Human Body, by clicking here.
Genuinely Caring About and Having Compassion for Patients
If you want to be a physician assistant, you have to genuinely care about and have compassion for your patients. Now why do I bring this up, isn’t it obvious that you would need these traits? It should be. It’s not. Sad to say, there are many individuals who become healthcare providers primarily for reasons other than providing outstanding care to patients. Perhaps they seek money or prestige. Whatever it may be, the focus is not on the patient, which proves to be a great disservice, not only to the patient, but to society. What do I mean? Imagine a healthcare provider, who’s primary focus is on money, working in a health care system which rewards him for seeing as many patients as possible? Do you think the care of his patients will be compromised? Absolutely! The patient should come first. Always!
Genuine care and compassion will ultimately prove to make you a better provider than all the education in the world. Why? Because you care enough to stop at nothing until you find a way to help your patient. Your attitude, thoughts, and actions center around the well being of your patient, not your pocketbook. Therefore, you’ll do whatever it takes. If you find yourself scratching your head about a diagnosis or the best approach to management, you’ll search and search until you can figure out what’s best, whether through evidence-based medicine resources, consulting with your supervising physician, or by contacting the local expert to discuss the case. You’ll take time with your patients, the time needed to really figure out what’s going on. You’ll develop powerful relationships with your patients, sufficient to twinge their hearts to that comfort level required to open up to you. Real communication and understanding will follow, and true healing will result. It’s the ultimate safeguard to ensuring that you become and remain an excellent provider. It’s also what makes this profession so rewarding! If you know you’re heading into this profession for the right reasons, because you truly care about and want to compassionately help patients, move on to the next post: Being a Physician Assistant #4: Respecting the Freedom of the Patient to Choose.
This is the second post of a series to help you learn more about the physician assistant profession. My goal? Not to merely echo what you’ve already heard, but to delve deeper, so you can truly get a taste of what it means to be a physician assistant! You can read the introduction by clicking here.
Personal feelings about Being a PA
I want to begin by expressing my feelings about being a Physician Assistant. I will soon discuss several topics that challenge the glamour of working as a healthcare practitioner. Therefore, it’s important for you to understand that I love being a PA! In spite of the discomforts and frustrations, there’s nothing as wonderful and rewarding as connecting with and helping other human beings in such a meaningful way. There are few occupations that are so challenging, that require such a broad set of skills, and I’ll emphasize, few that are able to bring to surface such an array of emotions. It is indeed a marvelous occupation, one which I am proud to be a part of!
Being Comfortable with the Human Body
If you want to be a physician assistant, you have to be comfortable with bodies and all the parts that come with them. You have to be comfortable with touching and manipulating body parts of both males and females. And not just young, healthy, and attractive bodies, but aged, unhealthy, and diseased bodies as well. You have to be comfortable with carefully examining and working with deep ulcers, oozing sores, bleeding lacerations, genitalia with herpetic lesions, abscesses that express foul smelling exudate, and thick yellow fungus-filled toenails that easily slough. You have to be comfortable placing your fingers in anuses and vaginas, handling testicles, as well as lifting and displacing pendulous breasts. You also have to be comfortable with performing maneuvers that may cause patients discomfort or pain. And you MUST do all of these things with the utmost professionalism and sensitivity, fully recognizing that it’s usually much more uncomfortable for the patient than it is for you. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying you have to enjoy all of these things, but you must be comfortable enough with and willing to properly perform an adequate exam for what each case demands. The potential repercussions of failing to do so are too enormous. So ask yourself, am I capable of doing these things? Frequently I am asked why most PA Programs require admission candidates to have hands-on patient care experience. One of the most important reasons includes making sure you know you’re comfortable with the human body, in all shapes, sizes, and conditions! For those of you who can never see yourself being able to do these things, no need to read on. For those of you who can, move on to Post #3: Genuinely Caring About and Having Compassion for Patients, by clicking here.
I’ve written this series of blog posts to help you learn more about the Physician Assistant profession. But I must warn you… my goal is not to merely echo what you’ve heard before! No, that kind of information can already be found in multiple other places, like here and here. You know what I’m talking about. It usually states something along the lines of the following:
Physician Assistants are highly skilled medical practitioners who work under the supervision of a physician. They are able to carry out many of the same tasks of physicians including taking patient histories, performing physical exams, diagnosing conditions, and treating patients. Physician assistants are able to prescribe medications and perform procedures. Although legally they require supervision, they exercise a high level of autonomy in patient care and medical decision-making. Physician assistants generally have a significant degree of health care experience prior to training and earn a Master’s degree upon fulfilling graduation requirements.
The above, although helpful to the person who has never heard of the physician assistant career, does not suffice. No, it’s superficial and generic, especially for those researching the career to determine if it’s something they want to invest years of time and thousands of dollars to pursue. It’s akin to being introduced to algebra, then asked if you would like to become a mathematician. Many enjoy basic algebra, but when faced with trigonometry or calculus the mood shifts significantly. The same applies with this profession. Many will read the description in the above paragraph and immediately fall in love with the possibility of becoming a Physician Assistant, yet not have a clue what the profession is all about!
My goal is to delve much deeper. I want those reading these words to truly get a taste of what it means to be a physician assistant! My suggestion for you? Use this as an opportunity to reflect deeply about whether you should continue down the path. If after reading through these posts you’re fired up about becoming a physician assistant, it’s something you should definitely pursue! If, however, you’re really questioning the fit, it’s probably best that you turn your attention elsewhere. One last thing — I will discuss everything from a primary care perspective. Training physician assistants to practice in primary care is the major focus of every PA Program in the country save two, and is the most common practice specialty around. So without further ado… go on to the next post… Being a Physician Assistant #2: Being Comfortable with the Human Body.