Which Extracurricular Activities Do I Need For PA School?

Happy Holidays everyone and congratulations on completing the fall semester!! Wind down and enjoy time with your families but remember, this winter break can be very productive! Along with stellar grades and a sky high GRE score, PA schools also look for and require applicants to put time out on the field. With a full course load, it can get tough to gather experience. That is exactly why this winter break is perfect! Four straight weeks of no studying, no 7am classes and no roommate to keep you up when all you want to do is sleep in. Take advantage of that and use the time to gather all your extracurriculars.


If you visit the CASPA webpage, you’ll see they have a whole list about the different types of experience. When you are applying, there is a section on the application for all the different types. It can be really confusing. Patient Care Experience hours? Healthcare Experience hours? What’s the difference? Wait there’s a volunteering section AND a shadowing section?! Let’s go through all the subsections CASPA offers and talk about what falls under which category.

First off, and the most confusing is the Patient Care Experience hours and Healthcare Experience hours. Sounds the same right? The definitions of each make a world of difference.

Patient Care Experience is “experience in which you are directly responsible for patient’s  care.” What does that actually mean? You, yourself, are responsible for the patient. Common positions are EMS, EMT, CNA or RN. Each of these requires a level of responsibility in the patient’s care.  

Healthcare Experience is “both paid and unpaid work in health or health-related fields where you are not directly responsible for patient’s care.” What does that actually mean? You are in a healthcare field but you do not have a direct responsibility in the patient’s overall medical care. Common positions are volunteering at a hospital, scribe, candy striper or unit secretary.


CASPA also offers a section to highlight your non-healthcare related accomplishments. There are sections for volunteering, shadowing, research, non-healthcare employment, leaderships experience, extracurricular activities and teaching experience . All of which may seem trivial, but the more detailed your application, the more clear picture you paint of your story for PA schools.  

Volunteering, may overlap with healthcare experience hours, however the volunteering section in CASPA refers to volunteering outside the healthcare field. I spent a lot of time volunteering at the local animal shelter, and included it my application. One of my interviewers and I spoke almost entirely about how difficult and rewarding it can be once a rescue dog is able to trust you. This section is great because it allows you to show your passions/interests outside of medicine. Were you a volunteer cub scout leader? Did you raise money to donate to the latest national disaster that struck mankind? All of these are great additions to your application and great talking points during an interview.

Shadowing is any time spent officially following and observing a healthcare professional. This also may seem to overlap with healthcare experience hours, however, this is setting rather than learning medicine, you are learning the role of the provider you are shadowing. This is a great way to see the PA profession in different specialities and in different settings. How is the role of a primary care PA differ from that of an emergency medicine PA?

Research can be any published or on going research you are a part of outside the regular classroom work. Have you been helping a professor with his or her latest research? Even if you are at the beginning stages of the research and unsure if it will be be significance, include it in your application. It may be of interest to someone reviewing your application.


Non-Healthcare Employment is classified as a paid position outside of the health-care field. This could be anything from retail or grocery store clerk to tutoring, babysitting or dog walking. Possibilities are endless! So go ahead, include that summer after freshman year you spent as a camp counselor. It just might be the one thing you and your future interviewer have in common!

Leadership experience is a leadership role you’ve held within any organization. Were you the president of the Pre-PA society at your college? Maybe you were on the board of your Greek life organization or maybe the manager at your job? Maybe you held a position of leadership at your local YMCA. Include examples of your ability to be a leader in your application. Medicine is a team sport afterall.

Extracurricular activities are all those organizations you take part in but don’t hold a leadership position in. If you’re anything like me, your interests are vast. There just isn’t enough time in the day to hold a board position in each and every organization that interests you. But that doesn’t mean you have to leave it off your application entirely. Show those application boards all your interests!

Teaching experience is any format in which you provided education to others. This can be your semester as the biology TA or your summer as an SAT tutor back home!

As you can see, CASPA gives you SO MANY methods to showcase what you have been doing outside of the classroom. If all of these options overwhelms you or you’re in a time crunch, focus on the most important. Focus on accumulating PCE and HCE hours. Take advantage of that and show all the PA schools that there is more to you than just your brains!

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