Hello! I’m Melody, an Urgent Care and Family Medicine PA. I applied to one school during the CASPA cycle & got accepted on my first try. This was a bit of luck and a whole LOT of hard work. In this blog, I recap 8 essential tips for PrePAs. This is by no means an all-inclusive list and as always take as much or as little as you need! A special thank you to Aakash & Rachel for letting me write this for their blog.
1) Network & seek out a mentor (or two!) –Social media makes it a bit easier to connect with others these days, but I’ve found that having a mentorship in person really helps. I spoke with many different people before applying and during the process, but had 3 mentors who really helped me all throughout. Out of the 3, only one was a PA! Having mentors in varying fields (PA, PHD in education, and PHD/Public health RN) really helped me in different aspects of the application process. Each person brought their own expertise and advice as well as a number of connections to the table. I cannot stress how important it is to start building your network in the medical field as a Pre-PA. Who knows, you may even get connected with a potential future employer!
Reminder: Mentors are there to help you, but don’t expect them to do the work for you. There’s so much information on the internet now in the form of blogs, vlogs, podcasts—be sure to utilize this as much as possible. Aakash and Rachel have some awesome info here!
2) Shadowing hours—The common question I get is, “ I don’t personally know a PA, how am I supposed get shadowing hours?” Trust me, I’ve been there. My parents/family members aren’t doctors or medical professionals nor did I have this extensive list of potential people to reach out to. I started from ground zero. So I’m here to tell you it can be done. In every job, volunteer work, or conference, I made it a point to network. It was through networking at a conference where I met a plastic surgeon, who then allowed me to shadow him in the OR. The plastic surgeon then connected me to a nurse practitioner (NP) to shadow. The NP introduced me to a PA, who then became my mentor! Other ways in which I got my shadowing hours: Clinical Care Extender Program & AmeriCorps Health Fellows Corps. Met so many amazing clinicians through both of these programs, all who were willing to help me out in my journey
3) Have as many people read your personal statement—By the end of the CASPA cycle, my colleagues were sick of me asking them to re-read my personal statement (LOL). But, everyone who took the time to read it provided helpful pointers. I told each to be as brutally honest in their reviews— I wanted to know their opinion, not necessarily a pat on the back. I also had my friends not in the medical field read it. Why? You want to be able to get your point across to anyone reading your personal statement. My most valued & harshest critic was my friend—a poet & writer—who said, “your story comes across as cliché & I’m not able to see your true passion. You’re just saying you’d be a great PA, but I don’t have any concrete information that shows me that.” Ouch! Back to my rough draft I went.
4) Read to help you write your personal statement—As a previous scientist and researcher, my thing was numbers, data sheets, and statistical software. You hardly found me writing anything more than abstracts or research design methods. When it came time to write my personal statement, I struggled, procrastinated, and struggled some more. I started reading short stories or novels—simply to see how others convey their message. I started off with non- medical books, but quickly transitioned to medical themed reads. The first medical-related book was “Complications” by Atul Gawande. I was in awe of how Gawande was able to write about patients as if I was standing in the room witnessing a tracheotomy. Reading examples like that, helped me write my own stories. Funny thing is that one of these books was actually a talking point with a professor during my school interview. Win-win! Books I recommend for this & also books I absolutely love:
Being Mortal-Atul Gawande
Black Man in a White Coat-Damon Tweedy
When Breath Becomes Air-Paul Kalanithi
5) Letters of recommendation: A common question I get is, “Who wrote your letters of recommendation?” I had a PA, doctor, and PHD/Public Health RN. This somewhat goes back to numbers 1 and 2 on this list—having different mentors and colleagues are crucial to your success. I established meaningful professional relationships with each person way before I even asked for a letter of recommendation. Because each person knew about my story, passion, and journey, each letter stood out in its own way. Be sure to give them enough time to write it—no last minute requests! I gave each person a month and a half, with kind reminders along the way.
6) Create a spreadsheet for each school’s requirements—this may be more for those super organized people or data nerds (like me), but having a spreadsheet with all the dates & requirements listed for the school I applied to was crucial in keeping me on task! There was still a bit of procrastination on my behalf, but a little less because of this document.
7) You will never have the “perfect application”—just let that sink in. Once you’ve accepted that, it’ll be so much easier to carry on. I worried nonstop about whether my GPA, hours, healthcare experience, etc, etc, etc. was good enough to apply. I often caught myself saying, “Maybe I should just wait until next cycle. Then I’ll have more hours, more experience, more…” More, more, more. Don’t get caught up thinking this way. The perfect time to apply is now. In the end you will either gain acceptance to PA school or gain valuable experience.
8) Forget about what your friend (or frenemy) is doing—“Everyone I know is already in PA/med/dental School and I’m just applying.” Ahh! If I had a nickel for every time I hear this from a Pre-PA, I’d be able to pay off my student loans by now. Jk. But seriously, who cares what your friends are doing. Worrying about how Susan just got accepted to PA school won’t magically get you accepted. Focus on being the best possible version of yourself.
Alright, that’s all! Let us know if you enjoyed the read. Best of luck on CASPA!
Keep a look out on our IG @thehumeruspa and @stethoscopesandyoga for a CASPA Checklist Giveaway!