#42 What Makes a Great PA Applicant? (SPECIAL GUEST)

My Biology Experience is pleased to have this blog sponsored by the Pre-PA clinic. The Pre-PA clinic is run by Beth and Katie, Physician Assistants and Doctors of Medical Science with over a decade of cumulative experience teaching at physician assistant programs. Their mission is to provide pre-PA students with all the tools they need to be competitive candidates. Things such as outstanding personal statements and incredible interview skills will help you get accepted to PA school!

Katie and Beth

My Biology Experience has been lucky enough to have them write this week’s blog on what they think makes a great applicant! You can check out more of Beth and Katie using the links provided at the end of this blog post!


People ask us all the time, what makes a good physician assistant?

It’s a natural question, since that’s what we do. We help pre-PA students become PA students by giving advice, reviewing PA school (CASPA) applications, helping them prepare for interviews, and editing their essays and CVs.

Since being the number one job in America, ranked by US World & News Report, more students than ever want to go to PA school…but there’s a catch of course. There always is. The competition is fierce!

PA schools require a bachelor’s degree, complete with prerequisite rigorous science courses, medical skills and experience, personal essays, shadowing hours, volunteer experience, and more.

And the requirements only get longer every year. Many schools get thousands of applications for only a few seats and hopeful PA students far outnumber the available seats in these programs.

Hence the question we hear all the time- what makes a good physician assistant?

Students want to know what PA schools are looking for, and rightly so. It’s an exhausting, stressful, and expensive application process. They want to know what characteristics and stats would give them an advantage over the other tens of thousands of candidates.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Some students think it’s grades. They believe they need a certain GPA “number” to get accepted. Others focus on hours of medical experience or GRE test scores.

Still, others go off on medical missions in other countries, thinking this is what schools want to see, or join every single organization in undergrad to gain leadership and volunteer hours.

The truth is…these are all great things. Schools want to see your academic potential, your shadowing experience, your volunteer spirit, and your medical acumen. They are all important to the application process and your success as a pre-PA student depends on a strong application and interview.

But they aren’t the most important thing. Students rack their brains trying to think of exactly what programs want…they visit forums, talk to other pre-PA students, ask their advisors, and read copious books on professionalism.

But the truth is so much easier than that.

The truth is so obvious that people don’t even notice it. It’s the ever-present song playing in the back of your head but you never actually hear. It’s the easy answer on the test that you’re sure is a trick question so you get it wrong. The truth is simple.

It’s not something you study for…or take a class in…or join. It’s more intrinsic than that. So simple, and yet astonishingly complex at the same time.

It’s your compassion. Your commitment to service. Your ability to actually care about your patients makes you a standout PA candidate.

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

I told you it was simple

Hear me out. We can teach you medicine. We’ve done it before. Every year a new cohort of students come to PA school eager to learn, and we help mold them into excellent and competent providers. We teach evidence-based medicine, critical thinking, pharmacodynamics, and surgical skills. And students learn them. Every year they master aspects of medicine through hard work and sacrifice. We know we can teach you medicine.

But how do you teach compassion? How do you instill ethics? Or get students to actually CARE about their patients?

Teaching empathy and compassion is so much harder. We want you to come in with these personality traits that will make you an amazing physician assistant; we’ll teach you the medicine part.

So, if you’re asking yourself what makes a good PA, think back to your patient interactions, take a deep inventory of why you want to serve, and your commitment to making the lives of your future patients just a little bit better.

Because we can teach you medicine. But we can’t teach you compassion. That’s something you need to learn on your own.

The Pre-PA clinic social media links provided below:

#40 Life of A Biology Student

Experience an average day of what Patrick Ensmenger Experiences while studying Biology (Biomedical Studies) in the Honors Program at Arcadia University.

Day in the life of a Pre-PA/ Biology Student

#33 Cooking Up An Honors Project

One of the many attractions of the honors program at Arcadia is the diversity and uniqueness of the classes. Classes such as TEDx Arcadia aim to create a learning experience that is interactive and inspires creativity and leadership. TEDx Arcadia is a class solely dedicated to creating and performing a TEDx event here on campus! Throughout the class, you will bring in speakers that are experts in their field as well as create your own speech to be given to the Arcadia Community. TEDx Arcadia and other honors courses such as Craftivism and Hidden Symbols are just the surface of what the honors school has to offer.

One of the classes that every honors student has to take is called the Honors Project. The Honors Project is almost like your thesis/capstone for the honors school. The objective of the class is to create and conduct a project in any field of interest outside of your major. When I say any interest I mean any! People have created projects with pottery, Dungeons and Dragons, and even new courses. For my project, I teamed up with another student from the honors school to create a cookbook for athletes, called The Athlete’s Kitchen. Since my partner and I are members of the lacrosse and soccer team, we understood how hard it is for some athletes to cook a meal that is within budget, tastes great, and provides all the nutrients needed to stay healthy on the field. We wanted to create a project that can benefit athletes and the entire Arcadia community.

The process of creating an honors project is time-consuming and lengthy. After determining a unique project, you must then reach out to a professional of your field of choice. For my project, we used the director of nutrition, Lisa Kavijan. With our mentor, we then created three target objectives ranging from easily achievable to the most desired goal. Our achievable goals included creating at least six meals with in-depth nutritional background on why and when you should eat that meal, as well as an approximate cost of the meal. We also set a minimum goal of creating an Instagram and tracking our progress. We used an Instagram account to post announcements and some of our recipes such as protein snacks, a healthy Fettucine sauce, and even enchiladas. Our highest goal was to create a printed book with 20 recipes, pictures, and a cover. This goal seemed almost unachievable when we started, but my partner and I were determined to get there.

“Though it was extremely difficult to find new recipes every week that met all of our requirements, we managed to reach our ultimate goal of creating an actual cookbook”

Patrick Ensmenger ’23

Though it was extremely difficult to find new recipes every week that met all of our requirements, we managed to reach our ultimate goal of creating an actual cookbook! One of the hardest things to do during this process was to design and structure the book. Being a biology major where most of the papers I write are very formal and analytical, it was extremely difficult to move out of my comfort zone and develop a colorful and user-friendly book.

One of the things I am most proud of is that the athletic department and other individuals have used our book. Knowing that a project I spent months working on is being used practically and advantageously is more rewarding than actually completing the book. This experience and the result are what make honors classes so valuable, and why I am so excited to take a new honors course every semester.