Follow along here for questions that are e-mailed to me. I will anonymously post questions and my responses. Find newest questions at the top of the list! For easier location look for date and topic! (Contact form at bottom of page to contact me with questions!)
7/21/16: Program Specific Questions: University of Pittsburgh
I have an interview with the University of Pittsburgh on this coming Tuesday and I am incredibly excited. Your website has great information, but I had specific questions that I was hoping you could answer.
-For the PA student society, how involved are the students with this group? Other than conferences and Relay for Life, what does the group do?
-I volunteer in Phoenix at a free clinic, so I was researching and I found the Birmingham Free Clinic over there. Are students involved with this clinic or similar clinics? What is the balance with the didactic year, community service, and personal time?
-For rotations in Ohio or West Virginia, is it one student per rotation that goes or is it a group of students? Are these rotations in rural areas? This is definitely a plus for me because I am really interested in getting to be in different areas and working in a variety of settings!
-Do people from the program typically live together? How close is everyone?
-How does the relationship the program has with UPMC play out during the clinical year?
Any help is greatly appreciated!! Also, thank you for taking the time out to put your website together, I hope to pay it forward one day too!
4/4/16: Effective Studying
I am currently a nursing student who has decided to go to PA school for many different reasons but I have really struggled with finding a good study habit and I want to get that down before I (hopefully) get into PA school! I was wondering if you had any tips or what you did? So many people make study guides, write things out, make flashcards and I feel like I’m drowning trying to do all those and I don’t know what works! I need help with pure memorization and also with the disease concepts of things like med-surg or specialties. Thanks for your help!
4/2/16: GRE/Personal Statement
Hi, do you have any pointers on studying for the GRE? Also, I am having a difficult with the personal statement, any pointers would be amazing!
3/18/16: HCE Question
Hi, you replied to my post awhile ago on PA forums. I stated I was finishing up my BS in Psychology. One question I had for you is did you work in psychology and it count towards HCE requirements for PA school? Did they count it as good HCE or did they look down on it? I have a job opportunity as either a school psychologist assistant or working in a troubled teen’s home as a mental health specialist. I’m wondering if those would help with HCE or should I take time for EMT or CNA certification for better hands on experience? Sorry if this was long but I couldn’t find much on psychology counting towards HCE. Thank you for your time.
Hi, I spotted your email on the PA forum and wanted to know if u have any additional tips on what I can do to boost my application. Or what did you apply with? School? Hours volunteer, shadowing and healthcare? My GPA is not high 3.2, been denied last year and trying this year
Let me know what your additional stats are like what is your science GPA, shadowing hours, volunteer, HCE hours etc. Also what have you done in between your application to better yourself. That is a huge question panels ask!
Qualifications on my PA Application:
- Master of Science in Counseling Psychology, Chatham University 2009
- Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, Westminster College 2006
- 1st round applicant acceptance
- There were >1,000 applicants and 40 seats the year I was accepted. That means my chances of being accepted were in fact 4% or less
- Science GPA 3.7
- HCE >3,000 hours as a student & professional counselor & >200 hours volunteer experience
- Completing shadowing experience >100 hours prior to applying
2/25/16: Late undergrad decider for the PA route
Now, I am not sure if my story is one that you have commonly heard of or not as I was a pre-medical student for my undergrad, since I thought medical school is the only way to go to be able to be in the medical field and help those in need and not be a nurse (commonly thought upon women who want to be in the medical field). Now, since I have shadowed an orthopedic doctor and have seen what his PA does and his lifestyle I have started to lean more towards the PA profession and am trying every way shape and form to get the extracurricular, experience, and clinical hours I can get to get into PA school. I graduated from college in 2013 with a Bachelor in Science on Biology Pre-professional and a minor certificate in Health Science. I am currently working as a server in a resort, but have just completed my EMT certification and am currently getting state licensed soon once I take my exam this upcoming month in March. Once, I complete my exam I am looking into applying as an ED tech., or patient care tech. (PCT) in a hospital as I am trying to get my clinical hours through that. I am also trying to get more shadowing hours from other doctors in other specialities, especially from a PA as well, but unfortunately have been having no luck in Orlando, FL. I also do not know what to do for extracurricular activities as most of my extracurricular I did in high school and have heard it does not even count. I even worked as a physical therapist aide in high school, which gave me TONS of hands-on experience, but heard it would not count towards my hours. I recently volunteered in the emergency room department greeting visitors, but never really had any hands-on experience with any patients besides assisting them with blankets and name tags. I am e-mailing you in need of advice on what to do for someone who is 26 years old with a 3.2 overall BS GPA/ 3.7 Minor GPA and about a 3.2 or up science GPA (don’t know how to calculate science GPA), barely any shadowing hours, scarce extracurriculars, studying for GRE, and no direct patient contact hours at all. If possible if you can give me like an estimated time frame of when I should apply and when I should have everything done I would gladly appreciate it.
2/10/16: Letters of Recommendation
Thank you for your quick response, I really appreciate it! I know you must be very busy. And yeah, what you say makes sense.
I’m aware of the different individuals certain programs request for LOR’s–I am planning to request one from a professor, PA, and work supervisor. I will send my CV/resume along with personal statement as you’ve mentioned.
However, in terms of specific topics to discuss about me, should I just tell these references to delve into topics like why I am fit for the PA profession/my character/work ethic/interpersonal skills/ability to perform in rigorous science courses? Just curious because my professor is asking me exactly what I’m looking for in the letter.
2/9/15: CASPA and Letters of Recommendation
I’m a pre-pa student, planning to apply for the 2016-17 cycle.
1) Is there a way for me to calculate my CASPA GPA ahead of time before registering/using the CASPA website? I’ve seen the CASPA GPA site calculation and it is a bit confusing to me. I have a bit of a low GPA and just want to be sure I am hitting the program minimums.
I have a 4 yr university bachelors GPA, and have taken/retaken some prerequisites at a city college. How would I calculate my GPA including the grades from both of these colleges to get a single cumulative GPA and science GPA?
Unfortunately, I don’t think so (at least not that I am aware). I think the whole CASPA calculating your GPA is like actually seeing OZ haha. (If someone out there knows different from CASPA making updates to the website please let me know and I will share that information! 🙂 From my understanding all grades are weighed equally, so if you calculate all of your grades just as you would do the same separately, but do it together—-does that make sense??
2) As for Letter of Recommendations, are there certain components/prompts for what the author of the LOR must include in the LOR? I’ve been looking at PA program websites and don’t seem to find any “prompts,” but just the amount of LOR’s required. If there are no guidelines whatsoever, do you have any recommendations on what kind of things I should request in a LOR? (a professor of mine asked me ‘what exactly do you need’ for my LOR).
In regards to the LOR, different programs have different requirements as to who they want to see letters from. Go based off of the program’s which you are applying. I recommend a current PA, professor and a supervisor from your healthcare experience. It gives a well rounded perspective of how you are prepared for the arduous task of being a pa student and how you will be as a practicing PA. I recommend asking ahead of time and making them aware of how they will be contacted and maybe sending them a copy of your CV and personal statement so they can reinforce the important points you are making!
2/9/16: Test Anxiety & Low GPA
I am currently still in undergrad, but have struggled through my first 1.5 years. Test anxiety made it almost impossible for me to keep good grades in the pre-req sciences. I am hoping to see an upward trend soon, as I get a handle on all of this. Is it too late for me. If my GPA can’t possibly reach that 3.5 level, will I not have a shot at getting into PA school. I know this is what I want to do, but I’m afraid it won’t happen…
1/18/16: PANCE Questions
1. How many hrs per day did you study for the exam? And when did you finally take it after your program?
It honestly varied based on what work I had going on with my program. I took my exam ASAP 7 days after my posted graduation date which is the first day you are eligible.
2. Breakdown the percentage of short, medium and long length questions.
I honestly cannot remember. I would say it is equally distributed. I think I’ve mentally blocked that much detail out of my brain.
3. The exam seems to have become more harder now….Would you recommend maybe taking more time to study? Is it fully doable during the rotations? It say 6 months to 1 year post graduation a time-frame that can also be used, if one is super busy in their rotations? have you seen maybe your class mates use this schedule to study for the exam?
I definitely think it is doable to take ASAP. I haven’t heard of anyone I know taking 6 months to take their exam. Rotations are generally an 8 hour day (for MOST rotations) and even though you are at rotation you are studying as well. I would usually review things I didn’t know on clinicals that night at home (or at least tried my best to). But definitely NO ONE I know in my class, the class above or below waited more than a few weeks to take their exam and I would say 90% took within 2 weeks of posted graduation date.
4. For the EOR exams…did you practice questions on the computer before you went to take the test? Also, are these tests comparable to the level of difficulty of the actual Pance exam?
Nothing compares the the PANCE haha. I did to practice questions, but I do urge that to use this as a study tool that you look up answers you didn’t know. That is the most important thing!!
5. Are Packrats also comparable in difficulty and length to the actual Pance exam?
Some people say yes, some say no. There is rumor out there that there is a score percentage of what you get on the PAKRAT that determines “passability” for the PANCE. As far as the question, some yes some no–it is honestly all a blurr. I took my last PAKRAT over a year ago during summative week when my brain was at peak fried level.
6. How many practice exams?, Full length exams did you do in order to practice for the Pance exam? How did you use your breaks/bring food?
I didn’t do any full length practice exams. Some people buy the ones from NCCPA–I refused to give them any more money than the ridiculous amount that it costs to even take the PANCE. I did bring food to snack on between sessions. I highly recommend it.
7. In order to better study for the exam….should have to ever study audio/visual type material? murmurs, physical diagnosis conditions, etc, anything like that to be able to answer questions of that nature? Any questions of that sort that could possibly appear on the EOR, pance exam?
I don’t think the PANCE has the capability for audio–you’re in a quiet room with others and that wouldn’t work well. There are visual parts (EKG, XR’s) that are on the PANCE.
8. I suffer from a severe case of test-anxiety, (timed- exams especially on a computer make me very nervous)….any tips you could offer me? Many thanks.
Reassurance. Something like 97% of first time takers pass. You have MORE than enough time. Don’t let that drive you.
9. Have you heard of other board review courses like CME4life? Emory? or any other review courses?, etc. Did you ever try them or hear anyone using them? Should one try to do maybe more than 1 review course?
I know a lot of people who did the CME4Life and I’ve actually had a couple of conversations with John who started the company and his product is legit. I’ve heard really great things. I recommend doing any type of review that works for you. See my page about this here to determine what would work for you.
10. How many questions did you practice in total before you went for your EOR? Pance exam?
Oh man, I have no idea. I usually reserved practice questions for 2-3 days before the exams and made sure to look up answers I got wrong. You shouldn’t use questions to dominate your studying but as a supplemental tool if that make sense.
11. Btw, are there any charts, anything like that you could kindly share with me….to get a sense of how you broke down by disease / topic to study for the exam pls?
The NCCPA blueprint CLICK HERE. Broken down by organ system. Play the numbers. Don’t spend equal time on Cardiology and Heme. It just doesn’t make sense. If I remember correctly Cardiology is 16% of the exam and Heme is 3%–see what I mean?
12. Also, do you have any other material you could kindly share with me…from board courses, etc.
The materials I used are the ones I have listed already on the page. I think sometimes there is SOOOO much information out there it can be overwhelming. Keep it simple 🙂
13. Did you ever get to use Pre-test series questions or hear any recommendations about it? Which ones did you use? find helpful?
I know nothing about this–I’ve actually never heard of it, I’ll have to do some research, but this was not something I used 🙂
1/15/16: Low GPA Freshman year & Pressure From Parents
***This post is long but this person had concerns that I have had more than just one e-mail about so I felt it was important to address. I did delete some parts of the e-mail to ensure privacy :)***
Q: I initially started my undergrad career wanting to become a doctor. But my first year of undergrad was terrible. I failed statistics and received a D in Chem 1. Not because I was out partying or being rebellious, but because I wasn’t prepared for college courses. Let alone, pre med college courses! To keep things short, I lost a lot of confidence in myself and was lost. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I dedicated the rest of my college career to fixing my GPA. I was able to have an upward trajectory the rest of the time in my undergrad career. I received As and Bs in the rest of my upper level pre reqs. I even retook the classes I didn’t do well in. I graduated with a 3.2 overall GPA. I went back as a non degree seeking student and took about 6 more upper level science courses that I did very well in.
I didn’t accumulate any patient care or volunteer hours in undergrad, as I focused on my GPA. After I graduated, I had a lot of pressure from my parents to become a doctor. They didn’t like the idea of me being a PA. So for their happiness, I spent the entire year of 2014 studying for the MCAT. I didn’t do as well as I thought and was discouraged again.
Just this past summer, after talking to many doctors and PAs, I decided to become a PA.
Now, my major issue is that I don’t know if I would be ready to apply for the 2016-2017 cycle, or if I should wait until the 2017-2018 cycle. My parents are pushing me to go for the 2016-2017 cycle but I don’t feel like I would be giving my best.
I feel like I would be rushed during the application process.
But what also worries me is that some PA schools in XXX (edited for confidentiality)want you to have taken your prereqs only 5 to 7 years before you apply for the program. It has already been 6 years since I’ve taken some prereqs. This worries me because I don’t want to have to retake classes I’ve already taken, just so I can apply to these programs.
I would really appreciate it if you could give me some advice as to what you think I should do. And if you could give any other insight as to how I could strengthen my application even more?
1/11/16: MMI, Health Care & Legislation
1. How do you feel is the best way to prepare for MMI. This is the way most PA schools in California are interviewing and its tough for me to answer questions within a 5 – 6 minute span!
The best way to prepare for an MMI. I will say that I went through an MMI process and the book I recommend on the site is honestly awesome. It teaches you everything you need to know about what an admissions committee wants to know. Always ask yourself “what information are they really interested in learning?” Know everything you can about the program and profession. Show them you know what the profession is about and what it takes to be successful. So, even if they question/task doesn’t seem like it directly relates to succeeding as a PA student or why you are a strong applicant–it definitely does.
2. What do you feel is the biggest problem in America’s healthcare system and how do you feel PA’s can solve some issues?
3. What is probably a PA law that weighs the profession down?
I think there are certain states that are more progressive than others. I think this isn’t necessarily a law but some doctors do not understand how to most effectively utilize PA’s or understand the scope of practice we have and make us more like an MA. A lot of guidelines were created also to keep a scope of practice because we ARENT doctors. I think in some states the independence is becoming too much–like in California allowing PA’s to be in the operating room solo, etc. But I think something that needs addressed nationwide is to not have to do ridiculous amounts of documenting (like basically re-doing our job after we do it already).
1/2/16: Accelerated Program
**To the person who sent me this question, I did try and respond to your email but when I replied gmail gave me the old “invalid email address”**
Q: Do you know of anyone who did an “accelerated” 5/6 year PA Pathway? I know Quinnipiac has an Entry Level Masters Physician Assistant program.
I actually have a friend of a friend who did the program at Marywood in Pennsylvania and graduated 2007 I believe. I know that it’s super competitive to get in that way. My boyfriend who will actually be attending Pitt next year and had an awesome resume coming out of high school did not get accepted to Duquesne 3/2 program. If you are coming out of high school and you are certain it is what you want to do, it will save you a years cost in college so it might not be a bad idea!
Let me know if you have any specific questions about a 3/2 program and I can either put you in touch with someone or try and find more information.
1/1/16: When Should I Take Boards?
Q: I am in my clinical year and starting to think about when I will take my boards… How long after graduation did you wait? After the end of my last rotation, we have two weeks prior to graduation for any make up work (so most of those 2 weeks we will have off).
I took my boards the very first day I was eligible, which is 7 days after your posted graduation date. I recommend taking them ASAP. I was a December grad and the NCCPA shuts down the last weeks of December so there were no dates offered around Pittsburgh so I actually traveled to Virginia to take mine, as did most of my class. I’m fairly certain that there is a correlation between how long you wait and passing. You are so much more prepared than you think you are, I promise (unless you have completely slacked off your clinical year than that is another story). I also think the longer you wait the more stressed out you become and build up anxiety. At least I knew that would be the case with me which is why I took them ASAP!
12/31/15: Advice Prior to Didactic Year.
Q: I saw your post on the PA forum and would first of all like to say thank you for paying it forward! I hope to do the same eventually! I was recently accepting into a May starting PA program. Do you have any tips on what I can do to prepare, any books that you found very helpful, or any advice to getting a head start before becoming a full time student in May? Thanks again for your time!
Well I would first say relax before starting school. Programs are designed and layed out to prepare you in a particular order. I have a page dedicated to books and your program will also recommend some as well. Definitely have a good anatomy book- my program used Netter. And for your clinical medicine course Most programs use Current Diagnosis and Treatment as well as Harrison’s Internal medicine. I definitely don’t recommend reading before starting school–unless it is for fun. For me at least, I know if I would have it would have been more discouraging than anything because I wouldn’t have been able to understand any of the clinical information I was reading. Prepare to fully dedicate yourself, save some money if you are able to (or need to), get your housing lined up and materials you need for learning physical exam (stethoscope, otoscope, etc.). I waited until the last minute to do that and I totally regretted it because it was expensive–which I also regret buying an expensive otoscope. Your program should send you a detailed list of materials. If they don’t perhaps contact them and ask them about it, at the very least it shows you are being prepared.
Hope this was helpful. If you have more questions please don’t hesitate to ask! Good Luck 🙂
12/28/15: I was wait listed and want to build my resume
Q: I was wondering if you had any waitlist then reapply experience. I applied to my #1, interviewed, and got waitlisted. After, I talked to the admissions counselor who told me not to worry because I’d almost certainly get a call from them…so I didn’t worry. Instead on adding more volunteer experience or something else to make next years application stand out. Now the program is about to start.
I will reapply but the only thing I’ve done that is rack up more patient care experience with same full and part time job. I am worried I will be waitlisted again!
I actually just had someone else ask about wait listing! Your situation seems a bit different though. So, yes I think you should try and bolster your application. If there is a class that you got a C in, consider re-taking it to show the admissions committee that you are dedicated to properly understanding what is pre-required to enter the program. It also shows that you are taking responsibility for your potential “short-comings”. Even though if it’s o-chem it has NOTHING to do with being a PA. Unofortunately some things are just hoop jumpers.
Yes, I would add more volunteer experience. Depending on how long you have been at your current patient care experience I would consider a different position. Maybe something more challenging that will show them that you are trying to branch out and challenge yourself in a different way to learn as much as you can to prepare you for a career in medicine. You also don’t want to hop around too much though because then it looks like you aren’t committed (I know double standard and fine line). I would also bulk up your shadowing–try and get experiences in a wide variety of specialties.
I would also take a look at your personal statement and how effective it is for you. There are lots of factors for this and I actually just updated the website with some information about this.
And I don’t know you–however I would maybe look back at your interview experience. Did anything go wrong or could anything have gone better? Did you mock interview/prep? Consider using a service at your university to do a mock interview. I know Pitt actually had people that geared it towards the PA profession (I was impressed by this). A few of my friends used it and were happy with it.
I hope this gives you a start. If you have other questions please feel free to email back!! Good luck!:)
12/28/15: I’m Wait Listed!
Q: Good morning Danielle! I really like what you are doing with your website! Do you have any advice for those (which includes me) for being on the uncomfortable waiting list?
Oh goodness. That definitely has to be anxiety provoking. The first thing that comes to mind would be remind the admissions team you are still there and interested but also don’t be a pest—does that make sense? Perhaps a follow up email after getting your letter stating you received a wait list letter and let them know that you are still highly interested in pursuing your education at that specific institution. I don’t have any personal experience with being wait listed but I do know that one girl in my class was accepted like super last minute. Don’t lose hope and also know that about 1/3 of my class were also second time applicants. And people who had AWESOME resumes, experiences and grades. So–if by some chance you don’t get in on your first try and this is what you want, give it another go!!
12/28/15: Clinical Hours
Q: I’m strongly considering PA school so I have a question if you don’t mind answering! I’ve already read your whole blog lol but I’m wondering if you could give me some tips on getting clinical hours? I’ve applied to be a scribe but I think there’s a waiting list.. So I wanna look into other possible ways!
Oh man! I’m telling you its tough out there right now to get hours. So, I was lucky enough that my hours as a mental health therapist counted. So– every program differers on what they will accept as “patient care hours”. I’m not sure if you need a paid position or if you can volunteer because that is always an option. here are some of the backgrounds of my class mates: phlebotomist, patient care tech, nursing assistant, someone worked with patients with brain injuries–god its hard to remember at this point. I think also physical therapy assistant counts in a lot of programs. Hospitals will ALWAYS take volunteers–those positions can be rough and kind of intellectually boring but if you NEED to get hours–do it haha. If there are local hospitals near you look on their website and see what you qualify to do. Oh– we had a few EMT’s in our class as well which would be AWESOME experience before you start if that is something you are able to do. For me too– I thought about who i knew and where they worked. Unfortunately sometimes its not about what you do but who you know. If you know someone who works in a hospital system and can get you “in” or use them as a recommendation that can help too. I didn’t realize how many people I knew in health care until I started pestering all of them “do you know a PA I can shadow” haha. I hope this was helpful. Unfortunately this is probably the area I know least about because I was lucky enough for my job at the time to count. Let me know if you have more questions I’m happy to help 😊
12/20/15: Preparing for Didactic Year.
Q: I saw your email on your Instagram. I am starting PA school Jan 11. I am getting nervous about the work load. Do you have any advice as to how to study, keep up with the coursework, and stay organized during didactic year?
12/13/15: GPA and Admission
Q: I am in college about to graduate with a respiratory therapy degree next semester! I have done a pretty good job of keeping my grades up. But I was wondering if you knew how much the GPA went into admission decisions. I thought you would have a better answer since you have been to PA school with other PAs that all had different strengths that got them admission. OK well that’s my question!
A: Good question! From my understanding–if you meet the minimum requirements in all categories you should have a good chance at getting an interview. At least that is what all of the professors who were in charge at my program have relayed to me. I can also tell you that I had a masters before I went to PA school and my bachelors grades were NOT impressive. (3.0) and in my masters program I did very well. It is all very program dependent.If you have an idea of the programs you want to apply to I suggest contacting them and possibly making a visit–when you talk to the professors or administrators you will get a better feel for what they want/expect if that makes sense! The most important thing I think is selling your strengths and do everything possible to make yourself favorable to admission panel!