I love answering Pre-PA questions. I invite any and all inquiries, and for that reason I do get a lot of them and understandably many asking the same questions. Because it’s time consuming to individually respond to each question and because I often give the same response, I decided to make a Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) blog post. So right now I am literally scrolling through my Instagram direct messages and listing all the questions and the answers that I have been giving!
Q: I am applying for PA school this cycle. What are ways that I can strengthen my application?
A: There are many things that are out of your control at this point. For example, at this point you can’t change your GPA, and you probably don’t have time/want/or even need to retake the GRE. So focus on things that ARE in your control! Make sure you have a strong narrative. You can change that up until that last moment before you hit send! Read my post on writing the PA narrative HERE. Keep getting all the healthcare experience you can, whether that’s putting in extra hours at work, volunteering, or shadowing- all of these can still strengthen your application.
Q: What was your #1 studying tip during your undergrad?
A: Chemistry and calculus were the hardest for me. My biggest tip is to seek help when you need it! Most of these courses offer “office hours”, where the professor or a teaching assistant can give you 1:1 help. Take advantage of this! The moment you feel lost or you feel like you have fallen behind get into those office hours! I also recommend doing as many practice questions as you can for these subjects. You will be glad you did when exam time rolls around!
Q: How do you like being a dermatology PA? Do you get to do a lot of procedures?
A: I love being a PA and I love dermatology. Lots or procedures! There’s basically no limits for PAs in dermatology. We can do biopsies, surgical excisions, injections, lasers, you name it.
Q: I am starting my clinical rotations in PA school and I am interested in dermatology. Any recommendations on getting a dermatology job? I am worried because most jobs say you need 2 years of previous dermatology experience!
A: Make sure you do a dermatology elective, and during that rotation let your preceptor know your interest. That can possibly land you a job because the physician knows you, likes you, and may be willing to train you! In addition, don’t be afraid to tell preceptors in other specialties that you want to work in dermatology! They can help you. Networking is important! Join the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants (SDPA) and go to conferences if you can.
Q: I am interested in changing specialties and transitioning into dermatology. What can you recommend as far as finding a dermatology job? (This question comes from currently practicing PAs)
A: Consider joining your state Dermatology PA association as well. Go to derm conferences so that you can NETWORK- networking is huge in dermatology! And lastly, you may have to consider moving a less populated city where the job market isn’t quite as saturated (if you live in a big city right now). I did, and I don’t regret it because I am doing what I love!
Q: I am trying to decide between becoming a doctor or a PA. What made you decide to become a PA over a doctor?
A: The answer for me is simple. I knew that I wanted to work in dermatology, and that simply wasn’t guaranteed for me if I had gone to medical school because I would have had to match into a residency. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t go to medical school if you want to work in derm! There are so many awesome men and women who did just that and now they are killing the game as board-certified dermatologists. But for me, PA was more tangible and I knew I would be more motivated this route. I knew I wouldn’t be stuck in a specialty that I am not happy in because PAs have lateral mobility, meaning that we can switch specialties without having to complete a residency etc. And another big factor is that I don’t mind having a supervising physician. I love the fact that if I am unsure about something I can grab my SP for help or another opinion. Some people really need that full autonomy and would not function well as PAs.
Q: How long is PA school and how long did your journey take?
A: PA programs are typically 2 or 3 years long and they earn you a masters degree. Most require a bachelors degree in order to apply, which is 4 years. My PA program was 2 years, so I went to school for 6 years total, however I did take off a year after undergrad to work full time in the hospital so that I could gain more healthcare experience. So my journey to PA took me 7 years total.
Q: What made you decide to be a dermatology PA and not another specialty?
A: I had a special interest in dermatology and that was my main intention for going into medicine, but I did work in family medicine for 3 years before just for broader experience. During PA school I learned that I liked general medicine more than I thought I would, and I wanted to expand on the education that I was given. But now that I am specialized I can dedicate all my time and energy into studying and treating one organ system and that’s something that I truly enjoy. I love skin and I love to make people feel good in their own skin. I love giving advice on products to use. I love seeing results. Procedures are fun. So that’s why I picked dermatology!
Q: What kind of majors do pre-PA students typically choose? Do I have have to pick a science (e.g. biology)?
A: You can literally major in anything. I was a Spanish major with a minor in nutritional sciences. As long as you get in all those pre-requisites for each program you plan to apply to you are set. This will take a lot of planning if you do not choose a science major but it can be done. I did notice that many of my classmates majored in Health Science however.
Q: Do you think that anything on your application stood out?
A: I completed a Summer Medical and Dental Program my freshman year of college, now called “SHPEP”. Check out my blog post HERE to learn more about that. I worked as a CNA initially in a patient’s home and then I had jobs in two different hospitals, both as a 1:1 sitter than as an advanced medical technician. I believe this may have stood out only because of the upward trend in the level of my healthcare experience. PA schools like upward trends! I also studied abroad which can also strengthen one’s application because schools like to know that applicants are well-rounded.
Q: How can I get healthcare experience for PA school?
Q: I did not do too well in undergrad, but for the last few semesters I did. Do you have advice on how to deal with a situation like this?
A: PA program committees look for upward trends. In other words, it’s better to do bad the first couple of years then kick butt the last two years. If your GPA really suffered, it can help to take some post bachelor science classes to strengthen your GPA. Make sure you explain your circumstances in your personal statement and express how that helped you grow. Always turn the negative into a positive!
Q: What was family medicine like as a new graduate?
Q: How is dermatology in comparison to family medicine?
Q: Any advice for the personal statement?
Q: How many hours does a PA work?
A: It depends on the specialty. Outpatient clinics such as family medicine or dermatology typically work a typical M-F 8-5 schedule (40 hours). Inpatient settings such as Emergency Medicine, ICU or Internal Medicine often work shifts, e.g. three 12 hour shifts per week. I have a friend who works in internal medicine 7 nights on and 7 nights off.
Q: What is the difference between a PA and a medical doctor (physician)?
A: PAs typically obtain a master degree (6 years in school) while physicians obtain a doctorate degree (8 years of school). Physicians also have to complete residency training which can range from 3-6 years. PAs are dependent practitioners, meaning they must work under physician supervision. This is often misconstrued; many people believe that the doctor must also see the patient and that the PA must always collaborate with the physician to make a plan. This is not true. PAs must simply have a supervising physician who is available for collaboration when needed, and this can even be by phone. There are PAs who run clinics essentially on their own, especially in rural areas. The level of collaboration between the PA and the physician often depends on the level of experience of the PA as well as the specialty. Learn more about PAs HERE: What is a Physician Assistant?
Q: Can I take a pre-requisite for PA school at a community college?
A: It really depends on each individual program, so unfortunately you need to look on each program’s website or call them.
Q: Do you ever feel limited in your practice compared to the doctors or feel like you are not getting to do the work you want to do?
A: I don’t experience that in dermatology and I didn’t in family medicine either. If you are considering a surgical specialty I highly recommend you reach out to a surgical PA to learn more about that (@itskendralynne, @thatpagirl to name a few!)
Q: How did you pay for PA school?
A: I’m still paying for it! Student loans are available to most applicants.
Q: How did you start your blog?
A: I used Squarespace the free version and just wrote a few solid blog posts in order to launch a page with some content on it.
Q: I am debating whether to become a PA or a nurse practitioner (NP). What is the difference and which do you recommend?
A: PA's and NP's often have the same job description and get paid similar salaries. The difference is this: PAs are trained in the "medical model", meaning that our education is modeled after the way physicians are trained. NP's are trained in the "nursing model". How these differ I am not really sure because I don't know a ton about the "nursing model". My advice is this: if you already have some sort of healthcare experience (non-nursing) go the PA route because in order to become an NP you first have to become a registered nurse (more time, money, school). If you are currently in nursing school, become an NP. Most nurses can still work while completing their NP education online. And many employers will pay for it. That's a no-brainer to me. Another difference is that NP's are not considered "dependent providers", so technically have more autonomy. This basically means you can open up your own practice without having a supervising physician. But honestly most NP's who do this still hire a medical director (a physician). Lastly, more and more NP programs are becoming doctorate programs. For some this may be appealing, for others not so much.
Q: Why did you choose to become a PA over NP?
A: It just made the most sense for me. I was already working in the hospital as a CNA, and I had all the pre-requisites completed, so I had a good shot at PA school. To become a nurse practitioner I would have had to first go to nursing school to become a registered nurse. More time and money. And I don't think I would have enjoyed those years doing bedside nursing either. Everybody is different and has different reasons for choosing one or the other. For nurses it definitely makes more sense to become a nurse practitioner.
I will keep adding to this FAQ post as I get new questions. Please feel free to comment any additional questions you may have!