Preparing for PA school is, often, no different than how you prepare for other aspects of your life. To be successful in both life and as a future PA, you need to identify short- and long-term goals and create a plan with clear steps that move you toward those goals.
And, just as the same tactics that help you in life also help you get ready for PA school, the same traps encountered in other parts of your life can also show up as you work through your pre-PA plan.
One major pitfall that arises when we work towards serious goals is the tendency to create false dichotomies. False dichotomies typically arise during especially stressful situations. You might recognize these from decisions in your past.
Have you (or a friend) ever totaled a car? Assuming everyone gets out unscathed, what's the next thing that happens? You start looking for a new vehicle. But, often, the one that you buy is better (i.e., more expensive) than the one you had. While you may have had your reasons, I'll bet that you based your decision on one of these false dichotomies:
It was either buy this car or quit my job because I wouldn't have a way to get to work.
I didn't want to take on car payments, but I HAD to take them on because I wanted a car that was safe.
I had no choice but to buy a car this week, and it's all I could find.
If we're honest, these self-created "dead ends" are how we deceive ourselves into making choices that are easier in the moment. If we set up a scenario where only one answer can be right, we avoid admitting there is an "option C." While option C might not be as convenient or comfortable, it almost always exists.
For practice, let's look at the excuses from above and break them apart.
It was either buy this car or quit my job because I wouldn't have a way to get to work. (No one could give you a ride for a couple of days? Your job wouldn't give you a single day off without firing you?)
I didn't want to take on car payments, but I HAD to because I wanted a car that was safe. (But, you escaped the crash in your crappy car just fine. Does a car that is more expensive mean it is safer?)
I had no choice but to buy a car this week, and it's all I could find. (There are no car rental companies in your town? How many cars did you pass over that were on par with the one you crashed to opt for the better one?)
False dichotomies come up at every turn when preparing for and going through PA school. There is a lot to do, and working your way through it all can be exhausting.
Setting up situations so that there is only one right answer to choose can make the deciding part easier, but it will severely limit your options.
So, let's look at some of the most common contrivances created around becoming a PA and look at how to find "option C" in each situation.
"I have a low GPA, so it's either take 80 credits to barely affect it or hope PA schools will overlook my academic record and focus on my experience."
Having a low GPA with no academic achievements to mitigate it is unlikely to get you into PA school. But there is a middle ground between doing nothing and taking the equivalent of a full-time college course load for 2-3 years.
First, you might not be able to move your GPA much with just a few credits, but you can impact it positively. And sometimes, all you need is some improvement to be in the running, assuming the rest of your application is solid.
Second, rather than being overly dramatic about "the impossible," if you crunch the numbers, you'll have a realistic view of how many credits it would take to move the needle.
With 120 credits under your belt and an overall GPA of 2.85, you can increase your GPA to 3.0 with 18 credits if you get all As. What equates to a heavy semester course load could make a huge difference in your application and is very manageable.
Lastly, you can make other efforts to show your academic ability outside of GPA. Your strategy may include carefully selecting your target programs, concentrating on the most relevant prerequisite courses, or taking on an extra degree as you prepare. If you hope to begin reigning in that sense of overwhelm that can lead to exaggerated statements like this one, you have first to recognize that stress and pressure contribute to your tunnel vision. There’s almost always more options that those you can see under stress.
Even if the first "option C" you come up with is sub-par, noticing it will help you to break away from the mindset of limitations and open the door to thinking about alternative options.
Even if your third option is something you don't want to do, which is entirely up to you, admitting that it exists can start your wheels turning about other options you haven't yet considered.
If you are working with a GPA on the lower end, check out this prior post on how to create your plan.
"I don't have time to study for the GRE, so it's either apply exclusively to schools that don't require it or wait until so late in the application cycle to submit that I probably won't have a chance of getting in."
Well over half of PA schools require the GRE, so throwing your hands up and deciding you'll never apply to a program because of the requirement will severely limit your options.
Many future PAs end up applying in more than one application cycle. So creating a do-or-die situation where there is only one right choice means you’re missing a longer term strategy.
Instead, choose option C, at least for the current application cycle. Maybe you create a strategy to programs with rolling admission who don't require the GRE so you can apply earlier in the cycle.
Then, find schools that are a good match for you that have pooled (non-rolling) admission. You can safely apply to these programs later in the cycle without decreasing your odds of acceptance. If they happen to require the GRE, you'll have time to study for and take the exam.
The majority of PA applicants don't get into PA school in a given cycle. If you're willing to apply in future cycles, don't rule out ever taking the GRE or achieving other yet-to-be-completed program requirements. Your plan does not need to be rigid and may evolve over time to open up more opportunities for future applications.
"I can't pay for PA school and don't expect to get scholarships, so it's either take out massive student loans or don't go to PA school."
I'm terribly guilty of falling for this one. The truth is, I had other options beyond going into debt. But they would have been more difficult. They would have required more work up front, and it was easier to sign a paper and promise to pay the money later.
As hard as it was for me to admit it at the time, there is an option C to this dilemma. I could have gotten a "real" job with my biology degree and earned decent money for a few years, saved up, and paid for PA school. I could have spent a lot more time and effort looking into scholarship options.
I could have explored PA schools that cost way less.
But I did none of that. I wanted to go to PA school where I wanted to go, when I wanted to go, consequences be damned.
Those massive student loans were future-Ryanne's problem, and future Ryanne would be a PA and would have an easy time paying them off.
Except I didn't. It was an incredibly tough period in my life, and huge debts tend to stay huge for a long time.
If I could do it all over again, I'd be more patient with my pre-PA plan, and I'd admit that I was a bit dramatic about my "limited" options.
You don't have to fall into this same mindset trap. Even if the money part is a little scary or feels out of your depth, you will see all sorts of options if you are willing to admit they exist and go looking for them. I'd suggest starting here.
"I haven't found a good fit for my first PA job, so I can either accept an offer I'm not excited about or not be able to pay my bills."
Finding the better third option here is a bit tough because it means giving up some pride to get to a bigger goal.
After going through PA school, you'll be anxious to land your first job. Your friends and classmates will be getting jobs, and you'll want to know what to expect for your future work life, too.
But, it sometimes takes a while to find a job you are excited about. And it may take longer than you are comfortable with to discover the right fit.
However, finding the right position is so much more important than finding a position.
So, having the patience to find the right position may mean you have a stop-gap job in between school and starting a job you want.
You could work as an MA at a medical office who'd love to have you or take a completely unrelated non-medical job as a temporary measure.
I say this being 100% aware that not taking a PA job as soon as you could would be pretty emotionally difficult.
You'll be proud of the work you've done and proud of becoming a PA. You'll be anxious to live your new professional life and might worry that your classmates or friends will think you can't find a position.
But, your decisions aren't limited to being jobless or taking a position you don't want.
You can wait until you find the right one, and, if you're honest with yourself, you could probably think of plenty of ways to pay the bills in the meantime.
But you'll have to fight the urge to care what people think as you work towards a bigger, more important goal.
We create most false dichotomies in times of pressure. Lack of sleep, lack of time, and lack of money commonly fuel these lies that we tell ourselves.
But in moments of calm, you can bring clarity to a difficult choice you are facing by considering what else is possible. There are nearly always more than just two options. When you feel like you're between a rock and a hard place, remember to look for option C.