A question often asked by prospective PA student is, "Which classes can I take to help me stand out to PA schools?"
That's a lot of pressure for just a few credits.
The truth is, PA schools will not be impressed that you took biostats over regular stats to fulfill a prerequisite.
There's no course you can take that will make someone stop in their tracks when reviewing your application and demand that you be found for an interview.
There's too much valuable information contained in your application for a class or even a few classes to have a significant impact. (We're talking about the impact of taking the course, not the grade you earned in it.) It's your collective experience that counts.
But, if the question were rephrased to ask what courses help prepare you for PA school, well then I've got some suggestions.
As you may have heard, PA school is jam-packed with work. Finding extra opportunities to build particular skills or concentrate on studying things outside of what you absolutely need to know is a luxury that doesn't often happen.
However, you can lay a solid foundation for PA school by doing some extra work on the front end. Plenty of classes can help prepare you to study medicine, work with people, and develop skills that will serve you both in school and in the professional realm.
Here are my top picks for courses that will help prepare you for PA school.
NON-PREREQ SCIENCES COURSES
If you've checked out the required courses for a few PA programs, you've undoubtedly seen a bit of variability in what they ask of their applicants.
Having target schools identified will help you home in on the exact courses you should be taking. But, when considering what other classes may help give you a good start for PA school, look to the upper-level science prereqs of other programs.
Though your schools may not require genetics or biochemistry, those courses closely align with topics you'll study in medicine. If you want to build your level of understanding before PA school, consider taking the science prereqs that at least some PA schools feel help to prepare you for to study medicine, even if the PA schools are you targeting don't.
These less frequently required upper-level science prereqs include:
- Organic chemistry
CLOSELY ALIGNED COURSES
In addition to the science courses you'll see more commonly as PA school prereqs, some courses closely aligned with what you'll study in PA school or encounter in medicine can also help you to prepare.
These courses rarely show up as program requirements, but they can help you to understand the perspective of patients, better your ability to interact with patients, or prep you for particular aspects of PA school.
These kinds of courses include:
- Psychology (developmental and abnormal)
Psychology courses can be quite helpful in understanding child development and for future general patient interactions.
While we're studying medicine, problems are often presented linearly: Someone presents with a suspected arm fracture, what is the appropriate treatment?
But, cases are often less straightforward in reality. Patients may have anxiety over a recommended treatment plan, lack social support, or have underlying mental health issues that can turn a simple case into a complex one.
Understanding the underlying psychology that may play a role in an encounter will help you navigate the visit, develop an appropriate treatment plan for the individual patient, and to manage the whole patient.
You can get a headstart on developing your patient interaction skills with some baseline psychology.
While you will get some training on nutrition in PA school, it will mostly be centered on nutrition in particular diseases rather than general nutrition. In the real world, your patients will have questions about nutrition, be following fad diets, and need advice on adopting healthier habits.
To be able to better understand the effect of nutrition on disease prevention as well as its role in diseases, it helps first to understand the basics of nutrition.
A nutrition course taken before entering PA school will give you a better fundamental understanding of dietary concepts and better prepare you to educate your future patients.
One of THE most helpful college courses you can take before PA school is an introductory course in counseling. Like psychology courses, learning a little about counseling will help you a lot when working with patients.
While in PA school or early in a PA career, our focus tends to be on fixing problems. In our attempt to be a helpful problem solver, we often neglect other issues a patient may be facing beyond the one presented to us.
A counseling course can help you gain skills that can be a tremendous help when working with patients. You'll be able to ask better questions and learn how to give a patient enough room to answer.
Some basic counseling skills can help you to be a haven for a victim of abuse, manage a bickering couple as you try to perform an exam, or conduct an interview that balances the input of both a patient and a caregiver.
While not often a requirement for applying to PA school, taking a pharmacology course before you start can help give you a better understanding of the basics.
Most PA programs do have a stand-alone pharmacology course. The uses, effects, and modes of action of drugs are crucial to anyone who will one day work in medicine, and teaching these fundamentals is essential to PA programs.
But, pharmacology is a vast topic. There is a lot to absorb, and things move quickly. Taking a basic course in advance of PA school can allow you the time to learn the concepts in a less compressed environment without all of the other demands that come along with PA school.
Having some fundamental knowledge of medications and mechanisms going into a program may help you adjust to the more complex topics that you'll inevitably need to learn as part of your PA training.
THE HEAR-ME-OUT COURSES
So there are the courses that are prerequisites at a few places and others that closely align with studying medicine. Then, there are the courses that are almost never required by PA programs. Ones that, at first, may seem utterly irrelevant to preparing for PA school, but hear me out.
Here are a few courses you might consider and why.
A basic business communications class can be incredibly helpful as you prepare for PA school. A basic business class can help you learn how to craft a resume or CV, write a cover letter, and properly communicate with potential employers (all super helpful if you're searching for shadowing or patient care role opportunities).
Many introductory business courses will also give you the opportunity to create a short presentation (or two) for your classmates, which you probably don't have much experience with if you were a natural science major.
There is a social element to most intro business classes, which can help to prepare you for the small group work and collaborative environment you're likely to encounter in PA school.
Philosophy or ethics
Medicine is not all about discovering the problem and determining the right solution. There are plenty of gray areas.
Many elements go into decision making in the practice of medicine including the wishes of the patient, informed consent, medical ethics, what insurance might allow, and the limitations of modern medicine.
A philosophy course is a great way to use your mind in a new way to do critical thinking. You may even find a "critical thinking" philosophy course. (Not to mention, your ability to think critically is a concern among PA educators.)
Similarly, ethics courses may offer opportunities to explore and examine difficult topics and prepare you for the complexities you'll encounter when working in a medical career.
Medicine, and science in general, tends to attract a disproportionate number of introverts. If you are one, you probably cringed at the mention of a public speaking course.
And that's all the more reason to consider taking one. In PA school, you'll be presenting patient cases to seasoned professionals including your professors, physicians, and PAs. Whether or not you're an introvert, this experience is nerve-wracking. You'll feel like you missed something or embarrassed that you don't know enough.
Additionally, many public speaking skills carry over to performing well in interviews, both for PA school and for your first PA job.
So, why not learn the skills when the stakes are lower? Instead of waiting to speak publicly in front of your PA school instructors or a team of skilled medical providers, why not do it in front of a bunch of your peers that are just as nervous as you are?
A little practice will help to lessen the pressure for future, more important opportunities.
So there you have it. These are the courses that can help you prepare for PA school.
Not the ones that will blow away a PA program, but the ones that will actually help you to become a better prospective PA student.
And, if given the opportunity, you can always tell the programs about your unique strategy for preparing for PA school during your interview. Describing your motivation for taking the courses would, indeed, standout, and it's an approach that would be remembered.