The First Step of Your PA Journey: A Tutor’s Guide to Pre-PA Success

November 14, 2022
You’ve been waiting for this! Now is the time to finally embark on your PA journey, the career you are destined for. Whether your hopes and dreams are to serve communities with fewer resources, medically assist those in your hometown, or provide care in remote parts of the world, you need the know-how to get to where you want to go. You may be wondering now, “Which PA programs do I want to consider?” “Which prerequisite courses should I take?” “What am I not even thinking about to help with my success as a pre-PA student?”
As a PA tutor who has walked this path before you, I understand the passion to pursue this career path just as much as I understand the overwhelm of taking the first step. Here is my quintessential guide for starting your PA journey off on the right foot.

Step #1: Establish work-life balance as early as possible

I’ve mentored and coached many PA students throughout the years. One recurring struggle in their educational journeys was the breakdown of support (or sometimes lack thereof) in work-life balance. There is no perfect timing to establishing this critically important task—however, as a pre-PA student, getting your focus on education for yourself and your other obligations is important. My recommendation is to establish your work-life balance early and change often as the outside influences of life arise.

As Ben Franklin said, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Keeping those around you well-informed of your intentions can pay off greatly. Allowing time for your family, friends, and even your work to adjust their expectations to help you meet yours, can be invaluable moving toward PA school. This is keeping “everyone on the same sheet of music,” to create a beautiful symphony that just works to support your educational journey (as well as their hopes and dreams, too!).

Step #2: Think about which PA program(s) you would like to apply to

Honestly, most students that I’ve met in my career will brush over this concept. There is a certain subconscious drive that stems from your school affiliation. If you’re a fan of college football, as I am, you’ll know there are thousands of students who get decked out for their alma mater. Not only is it important that your soon-to-be school is accredited, but that you enjoy the program! This is one of the motivators that will drive you to continue when you are deep into your educational journey. School pride is beneficial!

Additionally, there are resources to find which PA programs you’d like to apply to (I recommend no more than 15). Start doing your own homework. A great resource is the PA school program listing on the Physician Assistant Education Association website which can give you a snapshot of the prerequisites that the school looks for in candidates. Even if you’re not pursuing a typical “pre-medical” major, you can still use this tool to knock out the prerequisites that PA schools will be looking for.

Step #3: Map out your PA school prerequisites

As a pre-PA, you will be working on shadowing hours and connections moving toward your application for potential schools. However, coursework will always be critical, so make sure you’re also challenging yourself with high-impact, rigorous courses. You should be taking into account which courses you need to complete in order for your application to be considered by PA programs. There are multiple resources available to help you create a “game plan” and map out your PA school prerequisites (one of the tools I enjoy is this online spreadsheet).

When you do get into PA school, some will compare the speed and challenge of PA school to “drinking from a firehose” as the information comes fast and furious. However, if you work hard before PA school, you can reap the benefits of organization and scheduling to maximize your educational efforts! This is the time to sharpen your abilities and prepare yourself for the whirlwind of PA school, rather than simply going through the motions to complete your course requirements. 

Step #4: Work with seasoned professionals who have gone before you

As a pre-PA student, you’ll need to efficiently utilize your time—or as they say, “don’t reinvent the wheel.” Whether or not you’re already working toward your prerequisites, it’s always a good idea to check in with an academic advisor at your university or college. They are an invaluable resource to help plan your progression. Although PA programs may be ever-changing, the path to becoming a PA remains relatively constant, so you can benefit greatly from someone who has the experience to “cut through the fluff” and ensure your purposeful direction toward PA school.

You may even consider working with a PA tutor who has “been there and done that” and can help you learn the basics of anatomy and physiology early on, or if you would like to study pre-PA practice questions on your own time, check out the Rosh Review Pre-PA Preparation Qbank!

Step #5: Connect with your peers

In addition to reaching out for help from those who have walked the path before you, it’s also valuable to make connections with those walking the path alongside you. You’ll find that building a support system with other pre-PAs, whether online or with groups at your local school that share your interests, will be vastly beneficial further down the line. Growing your network is vital to your continued journey to PA school and will help you feel less alone during the process!

More than 90% of PA programs in the U.S. use Rosh Review Qbanks to help their students prepare for their board review and beyond. Get a headstart as a pre-PA student with a free trial!

By Frank Ritz, DScPAS, PA-C, MPAS

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