There are a lot of moving parts in preparing for PA school. Hitting the prereqs, trying to improve your GPA, gaining clinical experience, and attempting to time it all perfectly for an application cycle can be a bit overwhelming.
It's easy to get caught in the whirlwind of pre-PA prep, and even easier to feel like maybe you aren't doing enough to be competitive. Someone else will always seem to be doing something more significant or just plain cooler than you are.
So, how do you know if you're doing the right things to prepare for PA school?
You can be sure by using the most solid resources out there to ground you. If you've veered a little off course (or are unsure if you have), you can only get back on track by having a clearly defined target.
In this post, you'll learn the four resources that you can rely on over and over again to ensure you are taking the right steps towards PA school.
1. Have target PA programs
You've probably heard this from me before, but I keep saying it because it is essential. Identifying target PA programs is the difference between getting into PA school on your first cycle or applying over multiple cycles.
You need to identify target programs not only to help you create an efficient, complete pre-PA plan but also to get into PA school.
To know what prereqs to take and how many patient experience hours make you a competitive applicant, you must have a plan of where you'll apply. If you are planning to apply to multiple programs, you should identify 5-6 to use as your core guides.
These core target programs should not be a random assortment of schools; they should be your top picks of where you'll eventually apply. It may take a little time for you to find these, but you'll save time (and possibly extra application cycles) in the long run.
Identifying these programs will allow you to get very specific with your plan. You'll no longer be second guessing whether your GPA or experience is good enough, you'll have clear objectives to meet.
You may ultimately apply to more programs than these, but they will be the most important, and you can use them to structure your pre-PA plan of attack.
2. Talk to PAs
You know who probably has a good sense of how to best prepare for PA school? A PA!
Rely on the advice of those who have been through it, successfully. If you've never spoken with a PA, you have a new mission this week: find one.
By becoming a PA, you're making a life-long career choice. You need good intel and, for that, you have to get first-hand information.
If you are sending out emails for shadowing opportunities, build an alternative option into your request. A PA may not be able to take you on as a shadow, but they still may be a great resource for you and be willing to chat or give you some guidance.
Run your plan and timeline by them. A PA may see gaps in your plan that you don't. They may be able to tell you a better or faster way to meet your next goal. Or, maybe they have a connection that can help you.
3. Check in with local PA programs
You can gain tremendous insight into knowing if you are doing the right things to prepare for PA school by spending some time in a PA program information session.
An information session can help you learn what programs offer and help you determine what's most important to you in a PA school, both of which are useful in identifying your ideal target programs.
An information session can also give you the chance to speak with program faculty members and current students, who may be willing to give you feedback on your progress toward PA school.
Even if it's not a PA program that you intend on applying to in the future, if you have one nearby, you should visit. If you have a few nearby, you should go to as many as you can.
Seeing how programs operate and what to expect in PA school can help you know if you are on the right track or if you need to correct course.
4. Attend online program meet & greets
Did you know that you can meet dozens of PA program faculty all at once, from the comfort of your sofa?
Twice a year, the Physician Assistant Educational Association (PAEA) hosts a virtual PA school fair with around 30+ PA schools participating along with a CASPA representative. For two days, programs have online rooms where you can visit, learn more about the program, and ask questions.
Registration is free, so nothing is holding you back from using this great resource. Use this link to check for an upcoming fair. They usually post the event 1-2 months in advance; these have taken place in April and July in the past.
It's easy to question whether or not your efforts will make a difference when applying to PA school. You might get caught up in what others are doing or what may have worked for one other person.
But, the best way to refocus your plan is to utilize the resources that can act as your compass — PA programs and PAs working in the field.
You may be tempted to keep your head down and continue plowing through the plan you have now. But, if you take a break every six months to assess where you are and, if needed, right the ship, you'll be able to clarify your plan and get to the finish line faster.