Deciding on a PA Program
One of the first steps in the application process is deciding which PA programs you want to apply to. Currently there are 256 PA programs in the US, so this can be a very daunting task. When I started looking into PA programs, I felt extremely overwhelmed and worried I was going to make the wrong decision. After going through the application process, I learned the main factors to consider when deciding on a PA program:
- Accreditation status- Start by narrowing your search to only include PA programs with continuing accreditation status, which you can check on PAEA's program directory- directory.paeaonline.org/programs. To ensure that your PA program will appropriately prepare you to be the knowledgable PA that your patients need you to be, the only real accreditation status I would consider is continuing. Some PA programs are new and, therefore, have provisional accreditation status. Provisional accreditation status is not technically bad, but it means that you may end up being a guinea pig as the program works on establishing itself.
- Pre-Reqs- Sadly, the pre-requisites required for PA school vary from program to program. If you are an applicant that has already graduated with your Bachelor's and are unwilling to take additional courses, then you need to make sure that you only apply to PA programs with pre-reqs that you have already completed. If you are still in school working towards your Bachelor's, then you may have a little more leeway in this area.
- HCE- Another factor that varies from program to program and may affect which programs you are able to apply to is healthcare experience (HCE). If you have years HCE, then this will not be a factor for you. However, if you have just started accruing HCE as the application cycle opened, like I did, then you are going to be unable to apply to several programs. However, read the fine print on those PA program websites! Some programs require 1000 HCE hours by the time you apply, while others require 1000 HCE hours by the time you start the program (usually a year later).
- Location- One of the biggest factors that helped me decide which PA programs to apply to was location! I currently live in FL, which is extremely hot and lacks seasons. I knew I wanted to move northward and live closer to the Appalachian Trail, where I could enjoy hiking in my minimal free time during PA school. Other applicants need to apply closer to home for family and various other reasons. I utilized www.paschoolfinder.com/ to look at a map view of PA programs to help ensure I applied to programs in the right location.
- Cost- PA school is expensive! When I was deciding on PA programs, I was unwilling to apply anywhere more than $45,000 a year, which is actually on the higher end because I was applying to mainly out of state programs.
- Accepted Applicant Stats- First, understand that you should take this information with a grain of salt because every application is unique! However, it is useful to understand where you stand in comparison to accepted students to ensure you won't be waste too much time and money on unrealistic programs.
- Rank- Again, only take this information with a grain of salt because the ranking system is very arbitrary. However, some people may find the ranking list as a good place to start finding and researching PA programs. PA school ranks can be found at www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-health-schools/physician-assistant-rankings.
As you are going through the application process, it is possible that you may be accepted to multiple PA schools and will have to decide which PA program to attend. In this situation, I believe that there are only two main factors to consider:
- Your Gut- I know that it is hard to not base such a big decision on logic, especially since most of us are logical, type A people. However, if you decided to apply to a PA program in the first place, then it should be an excellent program that checks all the above boxes. Therefore, your gut should be the main factor in deciding which PA program to attend. When I interviewed at JMU, I genuinely had a fun experience filled with laughter between me, current students, and faculty. I felt comfortable and supported in the environment, as well as super impressed by the facilities. I knew immediately after the interview that I wanted to go to PA school there if I was accepted, regardless of the fact that it was the most expensive program I applied to. When you are struggling through PA school, you are going to need the support and laughter from your peers and faculty to make it through. Let your gut have a say in this difficult decision!
- Clinical Experiences during Didactic- Now if there are multiple programs that you got accepted into and would love to attend, then I say you are amazing and you should start judging them! Not all PA programs provide PA students with clinical experiences during their didactic year, so attending a program that does will provide you with an advantage for clinical year.
That is all I've got for this rainy Sunday folks! Enjoy the very small time left in your weekend and I hope you found this information useful!