The field of physician assistant (PA) studies has been cited among the fastest-growing careers (38% in the next ten years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and was named by Forbes as the “#1 Best Master’s Degree for Jobs” in 2012. But when I sought help in planning my path to becoming a PA, my university’s health professions adviser told me, “We’ll learn about this together.” There can’t be a framework in place for every possible career, but figuring out the path doesn’t have to be difficult.
Find others with similar plans. The first real companion I found was a friend from high school who was applying to become a physical therapist. We were both used to having to defend our career choice; each of us had the experience of people asking, “But why don’t you want to be a doctor?” With that off the table, we were able to get into the details of what we were excited about, what we were unsure about, and why we were going into our chosen fields. A supportive environment makes the rough parts a little smoother.
Reach out. Really, really reach out. It may be hard to find people to shadow or meet with. I was able to shadow one of the PAs who worked with my aunt, but after that, I didn’t know how to find others. The shadowing program set up through my university had plenty of alumni who were doctors, but not a single PA. Desperate for more contact, I emailed the state physician assistant association and asked for help. Not long after, a representative emailed me a list of PAs who would be willing to take me on for a day. I attended a program for emergency medical technicians to shadow emergency room physicians, and when the doctor found out I was applying to PA school, he found me one of his PA colleagues to work with instead. Take every opportunity, and do everything you can to create them.
Don’t be afraid of nontraditional resources. There was no organization for pre-PA students at my university, so I went to a few meetings of the fledgling pre-nursing group to figure out where I could take my prerequisite courses. There wasn’t a lot of information relevant to me, but there was enough to get me started. And just as there are study guides for every possible standardized test, there are “how to get into school” books for nearly every career. Working from those books and scanning over message boards ultimately got me all the information I needed to put together a successful application.
Mariah Swiech Henderson is a first-year student in Northeastern’s Physician Assistant Studies program. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about working in healthcare and applying to/attending PA school.