Enjoy this interview from Wendy! Wendy Ochoa was our client from last year, who had a mock interview with us. She will now be attending PA school this fall and begin her journey of becoming a Physician Assistant. Check out her journey thus far!
1. Tell us about you and your journey to PA School.
Hey all! My name is Wendy Ochoa and my journey to PA school began during my senior year at St. Francis College; where I completed my BA/MA in Psychology with a minor in Biology. Once I graduated, I began taking the science courses that I had left and obtained a position as a Direct Support Professional (DSP), caring for individuals with disabilities. For a year, I went to school during the week and worked doubles on the weekend. After I finished one of the hardest years of study (having taken AP 1&2, Genetics, and Organic Chem 1&2), I began a 5-week phlebotomy course where I soon became certified and began working as a full-time medical assistant and per diem as a DSP.
I thought I was ready to apply to PA school but, upon talking to various of the schools that I was interested in, and several of the awesome PA students on Instagram, I decided to retake both my general biology and chemistry classes. While I was retaking my biology and chemistry classes, I also worked part-time as a medical assistant and per diem as a DSP. At first, I was devastated that I needed to take another year, but when I was done I was so happy I did because I gained so many hours of healthcare/patient care experience and felt A LOT more confident in my application. Now I am so grateful and excited to start this new journey as a PA student!
2. What were your stats applying to PA School?
Healthcare Experience: 2,200+ Hours (DSP)
Patient Care Experience: 1,500+ Hours (Medical Assistant)
GPA: 3.64 Post-Baccalaureate GPA: 3.84
GRE Score: 301 Writing: 3
PA Shadowing Hours: 100+ Hours (SICU = 75hrs, Family Medicine, Internal Medicine)
Volunteering Hours: 150+ Hours
3. What were your strengths and weaknesses on your application cycle. How did you highlight your strengths and how did you put a positive spin on your weaknesses?
I would say my strengths on my application were my diverse (culturally and immersive) experiences, especially working with individuals who have intellectual/developmental disabilities and having the opportunity to shadow critical care PAs in the SICU. For every experience I wrote a paragraph about what they each taught me and how they would help me become a great physician assistant.
My grades freshman year of college were really bad. I got a D in general biology I and Cs in chemistry. Like I said, pretty bad. However, this was a learning experience/my turning point and I definitely included that in my personal statement: only after failing did I learn to persevere and study hard toward making my dream into my reality.
4. Was this your first time applying? If not, what were the things you changed this application cycle?
Yes, I applied August 2018 to 9 PA programs. I interviewed at 3, was waitlisted at 2 and rejected from the other. I was finally accepted June 2019 at my top choice school.
5. In your opinion, which part of the application cycle can 'make or break' your application? Why? How did you tackle this?
The personal statement hands down! It is the only time where you can show the admissions committee who YOU are. I wanted my character and values to really shine through but also highlight some great academic and patient-care experiences I had. I started brainstorming January 2018 and really began writing February 2018. My main resource was thepalife.com (I read all 31 essays). One of the doctors that I worked for told me to just start writing. And that’s what I did. I changed my mind so many times but, whatever idea I had I wrote down. I definitely recommend giving yourself time because you will change your mind about what you want to write as you are writing. To finalize my essay, I read it out loud to myself, had my family read it and I sent it to friends in the medical field to read it. The most important thing is to be true to you and the rest will fall into place.
6. What was something that you found easier than you expected during the application cycle?
I really appreciated how easy it was to input everything into the CASPA application. When I did email them, they got back to me the very next day. My verification was done in less than a week and I was able to apply to all the programs at the same time.
7. What was something you found harder than you expected during the application cycle?
Making sure I was under the word count when describing each of my experiences and for my personal statement. Also, answering the supplemental application questions in a timely manner while at the same time, painting the picture of who I am.
8. What are your general recommendations for those applying to PA School?
Be ready for a lot of self-reflection and make sure to give yourself ample time to write about your experiences and your personal statement. Start brainstorming ASAP! To be honest, just start writing the moment you feel inspired.
Keep track of all your hours(healthcare, patient care, volunteering, shadowing) and ask for your letters of recommendation 3-4 months in advance of your planned deadline. CASPA allows for 5 letters of recommendation.
If you know that you will be applying in the NEXT cycle, help your future self by asking all the schools you have attended for your official transcript. Then manually put in all your classes and grades. Trust me, this saved me SO much time when I was applying.
Remember, you got this!
9. How was ‘The Humerus PA’ utilized throughout your application cycle?
So after all that hard work, the interview invitation arrives! I knew I needed help in this part because I am naturally a shy person. I saw “The Humerus PA” had a discount going on for help with my interview skills and I took full advantage. Aakash advised me every step of the way and critiqued me on things that I can improve on. Not going to lie, it was a tough mock interview and I was glad it was not my only interview. I had a second mock interview with my clinical supervisor from my phlebotomy externship. I felt A LOT more confident and comfortable in answering those tough questions. At my real interview I felt so calm, confident, and ready to show the admissions committee why they should choose me. I don’t think I would have even made it on the waitlist had I not had my mock interview and coaching from ‘The Humerus PAs’. Thank you guys for all your help!
10. What’re your plans for the future. Is there a particular specialty you have in mind?
Working with kids and seniors who have cognitive and/or physical disabilities, I want to be a PA who provides them with the compassionate and knowledgeable care they need and deserve. I have also loved working with the pediatric population in a specialty clinic (cardiology, pulmonology, endocrinology) and I am finding myself inclined to work with the pediatric population but, I am not sure which specialty yet. I know my clinical rotations will help me make my decision and what is awesome about the PA profession is that freedom of lateral mobility until I find my niche.