Getting into PA school is competitive. The profession has never been more popular, and the number of applicants increases every year. While these things are true, most pre-PA students spend far too much time comparing themselves to others.
Thoughts about other applicants having more contact hours, higher GPAs, and being able to write better personal essays often creep in during moments of self-doubt. While you can learn from others who are working towards the same goal, the comparison game is a dangerous one. Continually comparing yourself to others will erode your confidence, affecting everything from your ability to make a strong pre-PA prep plan to your performance in PA school interviews.
So how do you stop? Your competition isn’t going away, but there are two keys that will help you shift your focus away from the comparisons to improve both your confidence and competitiveness.
Let go of what other people are doing
If you spend any time on pre-PA forums, you will recognize these three types of posters: newbies early in their pre-PA prep who are full of hope, rays of sunshine who just got into PA school, and black holes of despair who either didn’t get in during the last application cycle or who feel like they have little to no chance of acceptance (who probably spending vast amounts of time comparing themselves to others).
There are so many other followers of these forums who never ask or answer a question. Many are there for the information, perhaps feeling as if they are too uninformed to participate.
As a result, what you read in these posts is the highlight reel - the best and worst of PA school prep. It is similar to seeing someone’s curated life on social media - you are seeing what they choose to put on display, but certainly not everything.
Even if you know other people (IRL) preparing for PA school, you tend to focus on everything positive that they have going for them, but rarely afford yourself the same courtesy. When comparing yourself to others, you tend to focus on your flaws and weaknesses and downplay your skills and strengths.
It is human nature to be our own worst critics. When you find yourself going down this rabbit hole, understand that there is a dichotomy between what you are feeling and reality, let the thought pass, then move on something that can actually help you with your goal.
Grab hold of a bigger goal
Is your primary goal to get into PA school? It shouldn’t be. Your primary goal should be to become a great PA. PA school is just another step in your journey to get there.
PA programs, likewise, are not in search of candidates they think will make great PA students, they are looking for individuals who will make great PAs. They are not intensively judging whether you took an upper level or basic level nutrition class; they are looking at your application as a whole and evaluating how your experience has prepared you for a career as a PA.
So what do you see your life as a PA looking like in 5 years? Imagine serving patients well. What does that look like? Are you empathizing with someone to whom you just gave a tough diagnosis, educating someone on her treatment, or precepting the next generation of PA students?
If you envisioned yourself educating a patient on treatment, was it because you are already experienced explaining concepts to others? Projecting into the future will help you to see what skills and traits you possess right now that will help you be a great PA.
Shifting from a mindset of getting into PA school to one of being a PA will also help significantly in making choices during your pre-PA prep. It will allow you to focus on gaining the experience you need to help you succeed as a PA, rather than worrying if something might “look good” to a PA program.
If you already have 3000 patient contact hours but no experience educating others, wouldn’t it serve you more to take a volunteer role helping others to read rather than adding “variety” to your PCE experience with a phlebotomy job? Even though it is not medically related, wouldn’t the volunteer role allow you gain experience educating others and contribute to you being a better PA?
Focus on the bigger picture, it will allow you to mature in your pre-PA prep and make you more confident in your choices.
It is completely normal to feel like a bit of a fraud at times, as if your PA school prep is building a facade that might be good enough to trick a program into considering you.
However, when you focus on what you gain from your experiences rather than just the list of your experiences, your confidence will grow, resulting in solid personal statements and PA school interviews.
The skills and knowledge you gain through your experiences cannot be compared to others. They are unique to you, and focusing on this will give you a major advantage in preparing for PA school and in your future as a PA.