Preparing to apply to graduate school is a whole thing in itself. You need to take exams, fill out applications, attend interviews, and do many other things. It is the beginning of my junior year of undergraduate school and at the end of my spring semester I will be filling out my applications for graduate school. The amount of time and effort I have put in to be where I am currently at is immense and I still feel as if I am not on track to be accepted to graduate programs. Throughout this blog post I will be sharing what I have completed so far, what I am aiming to complete, and the challenges of achieving my goals.
What I Have Done Thus Far
I began doing things for graduate school before I was even in my first semester of college. Months before my first semester, I was taking an EMT course to get my license in New York State. I knew that getting this license would allow me to gain direct patient care hours while attending college, one of the most important and hardest things to do for your Physician Assistant application. Being prepared and knowing what you have to complete for graduate school is the most important thing to do as an undergraduate student. It is important because the rigor of your classes is hard enough, imagine having to complete shadowing positions, volunteer hours, direct patient care hours, and GREs in a short window of time. Luckily, my parents knew this challenge and made me start my journey early.
As I said the first thing I did in preparation for graduate school was get my EMT license. This put me ahead of probably 90% of people my age, if not more! Having a medical license to practice in a state is a huge aid in gaining direct patient care hours. The reason for this is because graduate programs for PA do not accept anything else but direct patient care hours. So, if you shadowed a doctor for 2 years it may be helpful but, it will not be the minimum requirement of most schools. Direct patient care hours are defined as having “Experiences in which you are directly responsible for a patient’s care. For example, prescribing medication, performing procedures, directing a course of treatment, designing a treatment regimen, actively working on patients as a nurse, paramedic, EMT, CNA, phlebotomist, physical therapist, dental hygienist, etc.” This shows that people that are typically older and have full-time medical jobs typically have an advantage in this, very important, category.
As of right now, I have worked as an EMT for 2 years at a summer camp. This summer camp has allowed me to gain nearly 500 direct patient care hours. From this job, I have gained experience, stories, and possible people to write recommendations. The 500 hours I have gained are what I considered to be a pretty average difficulty. Getting the number of hours is one thing, but proving to the graduate school that the hours you obtained were useful to learning and experience is another thing. I would consider people that were licensed nurses and Physical Therapist to be the hardest hours and most impressive. To obtain these hours you must first gain a license that takes years and then the work you do is very interactive. Below that, I would consider a job such as mine to be ranked. The license I have isn’t easy to get and takes months to obtain but, the knowledge you gain is not in the same echelon of Nurses and PTs. The easiest hours and lowest-ranked are professions such as medical scribe. I am not saying being a medical scribe is a bad thing or that the job is easy. But, the experience you gain from being a medical scribe is often lacking the instructiveness of all others I have ranked above it. For this reason, some schools don’t even take medical scribe hours.
Taking The GRE
Taking the GRE is extremely annoying, and yes I mean annoying. As you begin to study for the GRE you might notice that the material being asked on the test has nothing to do with what you have learned from your prerequisite courses. Unlike the MCATs, the GRE focuses on 3 main categories: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. The verbal section tests your grammar and vocabulary skills by asking fill-in-the-blank questions and questions on long-drawn-out passages. The quantitative section will take you back to High School Geometry and ask you to compare different algebraic sequences and shapes. Finally, the analytical writing section is open-ended and provides a one-sentence question or statement that you have to respond to.
If I have one recommendation for taking the GRE, it is to take it as soon as possible when entering your undergraduate. The GRE is basically the SAT and ACT on steroids and if you can build off what you know already, you will be put way ahead of everyone else. Although, I will have to remind you of who is taking this test. When receiving scores for the GRE you might be discouraged when you see that you fell into the 40th-50th percentile. Just because you fall into this category doesn’t mean you are stupid and should not pursue graduate school. Just remember that the people taking the GRE are only people interested in receiving higher education past a bachelor’s degree. The people you are taking the test “against” are extremely smart and to be above the 80th percentile you must be very intelligent.
Prerequisite Courses/ GPA
To even be considered for a Physicians Assistant program it is vital to have a high GPA and have all of your prerequisite classes complete. If you do not have your classes complete your application will not even be evaluated by the college and be thrown away. These classes are not just some hoops that you have to jump through to be accepted. They are required because you need to know previous knowledge for the material to be taught in your master’s program. So, having these courses done before handing in your application, with a high GPA, will only aid in your ranking of applicants.
For me, I have taken almost all of my prerequisite courses which include:
- General Biology I
- General Biology II
- General Chemistry I
- General Chemistry II
- Organic Chemistry
- Comparative Anatomy
- Human Physiology
- Elementary Statistics
- Introduction to Psychology
These classes are the basics of what you will need when applying to graduate school for PA. I have not taken Microbiology or Human Anatomy yet. I plan on taking these during my next semester at Arcadia University. The other thing you should be aware of is that all prerequisite courses need to have a grade greater than a C. If you do not have a grade greater than a C the course does not count and you will have to retake it.
There are many other things that I have completed such as volunteering and making connections but, this information has been talked about in previous blogs or I am planning on talking about them in future blogs.
What I Still Want To Do
There are many things I still want and need to do before applying to Physician Assistant graduate school. I have already mentioned that I need to take Microbiology and Human Anatomy, however, I still want to take medical terminology. This class is not required by most schools but, I feel as if having it can only help me during the application process and help me during graduate school. For this reason, I am planning on taking it either over the summer or during a future semester during my senior year.
I have done a lot of volunteering while at school. I have volunteered at Temple University Hospital in the Emergency room as well as at the customer service desk and Covid-19 clinic. One thing I have not had the opportunity to do is shadow a doctor or Physician Assistant. My plan for this is to do it during the winter break between my current semester and next semester. This will allow me to have the shadowing hours complete before my application as well as not cramming it during school.
Finally, the last thing I am looking to complete is the CASPer examination. Very specific schools require this examination and I feel that a personality and decision-making exam would be in my favor.
Challenges You Will Run Into
Throughout your journey of preparing to apply to graduate school, you will run into numerous roadblocks. The one that I believe to be the biggest is time management. When getting into your undergraduate years you think that you have 3-4 years to complete all of your tasks. Those 3-4 years seem extremely long! THEY ARE NOT! The application for graduate school will sneak up on you faster than you can ever imagine. Pushing things off like shadowing, taking the GRE, and getting direction patient care hours will result in frustration and maybe even taking a gap year to complete everything. So, don’t wait and get it done!
Branching off of getting everything done, another recommendation I have is to not pass up on opportunities. If you have an opportunity to shadow or do something that will aid in your application ranking, do it! These opportunities are extremely rare and with such limited time, it is vital to use all of your resources.
BEST OF LUCK IN YOUR APPLICATIONS!!