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Insider Q&A: The Be a PA Community

Last week, we added our 2000th member to the Be a PA Community. I created the group just over two years ago as a place for aspiring PAs to connect.

Since then, it's grown into a space where future PAs can receive insights and advice nearly as quickly as they can ask a question.

It's where future PAs share their wins and receive the support of their peers as they anxiously wait to hear back from PA schools after submitting their applications.

We now have some early-career PAs and loads of PA students among us who were once wondering how to take their very first steps to become a physician assistant.

To celebrate our milestones, we have live Q&As where members have the opportunity to ask me anything they like about prepping for PA school, working as a PA, or negotiating the PA school application process.

And for this milestone, you're getting a sneak peek at my As to the group members' Qs.

Below, you'll find timestamps for where the questions are covered in the video as well as the links to the resources discussed in my responses.


3:36 Would being a health care coordinator (assistant to a nurse at a day camp) count towards HCE [healthcare experience] hours for a PA school requirement?

Nearly any role in healthcare, from patient transport to administration work, could potentially count as healthcare experience (HCE). Almost any position where you're getting exposure to or learning more about the medical world, whether it's paid or volunteer work, could be considered health care experience.

So, I suspect this question has to do with whether a role would count as direct patient care experience (PCE) or healthcare experience (HCE).

This distinction boils down to the duties and responsibilities in a role, which isn't always apparent by the title of a position.

The article mentioned in my response:
How to Expertly Classify Your Experience as PCE vs. HCE

7:09 What should we avoid wearing to PA school interviews — bright colors, make up, ankle pants, big bags?

Wear a suit or something that could be mistaken for a suit, but wear whatever version that makes you feel the most comfortable.

Beyond that, I've got some personal preferences for PA school (and beyond) interview attire that I share in my response and ideas about the size of bag you might bring.

Article I should have mentioned in my response:
Everything You Need to Know to Navigate PA School Interview Day

10:36 How far over the minimum requirements, GPA, PCE, those sorts of things for PA school should we be aiming for to be competitive if schools don't have their averages posted online?

There's no above-the-minimum-requirements percentage to aim for that works for all PA programs. But, PA programs do know these stats about their cohorts, even if they aren't shared on their websites.

In my response, I cover how these stats can vary by geography, how to try to tap into this information, and what to do if you're still not able to get your paws on it.

The article mentioned in my response:
Just Your Average PA Program, 3.0

14:50 I want to know about the process of sending GRE scores and official transcripts. Is it true that you have to attach a bar code to the transcripts and how exactly do you send them through the post office or electronically?

PIN Q&A.png

Here's one of the many beauties of the Be a PA Community: someone else in the group had already answered this question for the asker before we made it to the live Q&A, which is not an uncommon occurrence.

No matter where you are in your PA school prep, you're a couple of steps ahead of someone else. And just hanging out in the group will allow you to learn a ton through osmosis.

And while I do walk through the answer to this question in my response, my presence for this one is purely ceremonial, as it often is within this group full of incredibly helpful future PAs.

Resource mentioned in my response:
Sending Official Transcripts and Test Scores to CASPA

18:23 Would doctoral level science courses that I completed while obtaining a degree count toward my CASPA science GPA, even though they're not general science courses?

CASPA calculates a ton of different GPAs: overall, undergrad, grad, post-bacc, science, undergrad science, grad science, science by year (freshman science, sophomore science...), BCP (biology, chemistry, physics), cumulative undergrad non-science. And this list is not inclusive.

CASPA provides the breakdowns, but what a program decides to use to assess the science GPA is their call.

Learn how most programs approach the science GPA in my response.

Resource mentioned in my response:
Calculating Your CASPA GPAs



22:00 My reference, who is a PA, agree to write me a letter of recommendation but has not gotten back to me. I'm obviously pressed for time regarding applications. Should I call cold-call hospitals to find a new PA for shadowing opportunities?

Finding people willing to write you letters of recommendation for PA school is tougher for some people than others.

But even if you've got people to ask, the act of asking is almost universally awkward. It's even more uncomfortable if you feel as if you're nagging someone for a letter.

In my response, I make the argument for not giving up on this elusive PA quite yet and share a couple of tactics for revisiting the topic that can make asking less difficult while increasing the odds of securing a letter.

And I share my perfect recipe for choosing three references.

Articles mentioned in my response:
How to Overcome Three Mistakes in Your Shadowing Hunt
How to Score First-Rate Letters of Recommendation

28:57 I'm still waiting to hear back from schools, which is making me anxious. How do you mentally encourage yourself? Just having so many doubts that “maybe I'm not meant to be a PA,” which I know is destructive, but it's hard to slip into these thoughts sometimes.

So many people share this struggle. Not getting into PA school on the first try usually, not always but usually, means you applied prematurely.

It's rarely a matter of not being good enough. Instead, it's almost always the result of not being ready. Or at least the result of not proving to programs that you're ready.

And some of it may boil down to how you approached the prior application and selected which programs to apply to.

The article mentioned in my response:
How to Improve Your PA School Application for Round Two

39:33 How should I spend my time between getting accepted and starting PA school in September? Currently, I'm just waiting for my program to give me the next steps although I'm planning on applying and searching for scholarships soon.

You'll get advice from all over the place on this one—sleeping as much as you can, go on vacation, relax, start studying.

But, I think how you spend your time between being accepted to and starting PA school should be dependent on where you're coming from and your personality.

However, in my response, I dive into the one thing every soon-to-be PA student should do to gear up for PA school, regardless of personality or how you spend your final months before your program.

And once you're ready to get to work, this will help you make the most of it:
How to Supercharge Your Journey to Be a PA

45:02 When should we be applying for scholarships? I've heard of people not applying for the big ones until their second year so that they can get solid letters of recommendations from faculty. I'm not sure how valid that is or if it's a good idea to wait until then.

I'm a huge advocate of planning your PA school finances because mine were such a colossal disaster.

In that spirit, I would not wait to apply to any scholarship that you're eligible for. But when you're eligible may change based on the particular award.

The articles mentioned in my response:
32 Opportunities to Get PA School Scholarships
How to Go to PA School Without Debt


Thank you so much to all of the Be a PA Community members who have and continue to share their worries, wisdom, and wins with the rest of us!

If you want to join a tribe of future PAs ready to provide you guidance and encouragement to help along your journey of becoming a physician assistant, find us at beaphysicianassistant.com/community.