As a young PA who graduated seven years ago, I still remember what it was like looking for and selecting the right PA program. (For me, it was the one at Western University.) I’ve also learned more than a few things since then on how to better navigate PA studies and the profession. One of them is that finding the right PA program is a HUGE part of getting the job and career that you want, and following the right path to success.
So, if you’ve already made the giant leap of deciding you want to become a PA—you’ve done all the research about the profession and are ready to charge full speed ahead to begin your application process—here’s some time-tested advice.These are the answers that I give to the most frequently asked question that prospective PA students ask me: “How do you pick schools to apply to and decide which one to attend?”
Luckily, you’ve been through this process when choosing which undergraduate program to attend. Guess what? The two are very similar.
1.) First steps. A good starting point is to determine where you would like to be geographically. Do you wish to be near your family and friends? Or maybe you are ready for a change of pace, to pack up and move across the country.
2.) The reconnaissance mission. Browse through the websites of all the programs that you are interested in. For many programs, one of the only means of contact prior to sending in your application is their website. Programs understand this, and spend a great deal of effort making sure all of your questions can be answered through their site.
3.) What’s in a name? Do you want to work with the best and be associated with a prestigious program? Check out rankings of PA programs like the U.S. News & World Report’s annual list of the country’s top PA programs. The list will help give you a jumping-off point for which programs to look into.
4.) Want to obtain training in a specific field? Many PA programs are focused on graduating PAs to enter the field of primary care. If you are interested in surgery and know that is the area you want to work in, it would benefit you to attend a program geared towards that specialty.
5.) Cost … . Program tuition and fees are a general concern for most applying to PA school. If there’s a program that you’re interested in attending, do not let program costs stand in your way. Student loans and scholarships can help make your dream come true. Just remember, financial aid is not free money to buy new clothes and go out for dinner and drinks each night. The less you owe in student loans, the more financial freedom you will have in the future.
6.) The personality match. Finding a program is like finding a best friend: It’s always easier if you both have common interests. Maybe you want to attend a program where you spend time preforming research in a lab? Or you prefer a class size of 20 versus 100? Make a list of your future goals, and while you’re researching programs, check your list to see if you’re a good match.
7.) The shotgun approach. Used by many. This form of Russian roulette for a program can reap big rewards or the worst 2−3 years of your life! Use with caution! (The shotgun approach is when you apply to as many programs as possible and attend the program that accepts you.) This approach can also lead to a very expensive application process.
But, of course, it may not matter as much how you get there, as long as you reach your destination of PA school … and the greater goal of becoming a PA. Best of luck on your journey, and may the road you travel be fast and smooth.
Anthony Gauthier, PA-C, ATC, works in an orthopaedic surgical group in Long Beach, Calif. He graduated in 2008 from Western University’s PA program in Pomona, Calif.