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Applying to PA school after 2 years of undergraduate studies

Applying to PA school after 2 years of undergraduate studies

PA School after 2 years

Here I address a question which essentially asks, “When is a good time to apply to PA school?”. When you decide to apply during your career will affect what schools you apply to.

Q: I was wondering if it is too ambitious to apply in second year and if it hurts my chances for future years if I get rejected. I know many people who apply are even grad students. Or is it advantageous to apply early to have a high GPA?

If you are mid way through your 2nd year without previous health care experience, then the only program you may qualify to apply to is McMaster’s Physician Assistant Program. There are a couple of considerations for why you would want to apply in your 2nd year or why you would want to wait. First and foremost, you CAN apply as long as you meet the minimum requirements.

It is not too ambitious to apply while you are in your second year of undergraduate studies. There’s a wide demographic of students that get into the PA program each year, during my year, the average age was approximately 27, and anecdotally each year that average age gets lower and lower. Many of the classes have students have gotten into the program after completing 2 years of university and have done just as well as other students.

What if my GPA is low? As long as you make the cut off of 3.0 GPA for undergraduate studies completed so far, you can still apply. If your GPA does not meet the requirements, your application will not be considered. If your GPA is below 3.0, it may be worth waiting so that you can take courses to upgrade your GPA to meet the minimum requirements. However, waiting for your GPA to go from a 3.3 to a 3.7 GPA doesn’t make you “any less qualified” to apply, in both instances you still meet requirements and I would strongly encourage you to apply! Keep in mind there are other aspects of the admissions process – the supplementary application and Multi-Mini Interview where you can use your awesome communication skills to stand out as a PA candidate. Please check the McMaster PA Program Admission Requirements for the most up to date information.

What if I don’t get in because I wasn’t “competitive enough”? Well, sometimes it takes several rounds of interviews to get into the PA program. One advantage of going through the process is that you’ve had an opportunity this year to go through the admissions process, whether thats only as getting as far as the supplementary process, or making it all the way through to the interview round. Keep in mind that when McMaster sends out its offers, you may get waitlisted and SOME successfully PA candidates decline the offer for admission into the program. You may find out closer to the Fall start that you may have gotten in. Many PA colleagues I know did not get in the first time they applied or were wait listed after the interview, and for some reason a spot opened up. Each failure is a learning experience and opportunity to be improved upon.  You are now familiar with the supplementary application and MMI process, from which you can practice more. You now have some time to do research about the PA profession, do some shadowing, or speak with some PAs about their career.

Tip: Examine your goals

Deciding to enter any profession is no easy decision. Sometimes its based on your skillset, interest, personality, and other times a lifestyle factor. A personal decision I had on pursuing the PA program were for various reasons – it was the right amount of time in school for me (I couldn’t imagine spending another decade in school!), I enjoyed the flexibility the PA profession and liked the idea of assisting in pioneering of a new profession in Canada. Of course, at the time, I was contemplating other health care professions at the time – Medicine, Pharmacy, Optometry Physiotherapy, and Naturopathy to name a few. I attended a few career booths, and information sessions offered by my university’s Career Department, spoke with the guidance and career counselor at my university’s student centre, and quickly ruled out a few health career professions on my list.

I had to ask myself a few questions:

  • What kind of work-life balance did I want once I was out of school?
  • How much financial debt was I willing to take on?  I have had friends that have gone overseas to complete Medical School in Australia, England, The US and the Caribbean. A personal friend of mine who did not get into Optometry school in Canada relocated to Boston to attend Optometry school there. I know of some of my former undergraduate classmates who attended Dentistry in the United States as well. Some have been able to get their foreign licenses recognized in Canada, albeit it was a process, and have been able to return to Canada to practice.  I even had the option of attending PA school in the United States, which would allow me to practice in both the United States and Canada. However, to a certain extent I am risk adverse, and I also had an enormous amount of student debt to pay back to OSAP once I was done my four year undergrad living away from home prior to starting PA school. If I decided to attend a school in the United States or abroad, I would have likely required one of my parents to co-sign my a line of credit. I was also not willing to relocate overseas or across the border to attend any kind of professional school internationally or pay international fees (with no guarantee that I would get employment since I was done school at said international schools!). I knew that if I were to attend school, I’d want to stay within Canada, and if possible Ontario as it is my province of residence.
  • How many years am I willing to spend in school? Some professional schools are a 4 year program or more (e.g. Dentistry, Pharmacy, Medicine) and others are less.
  • Can I envision myself in a helping profession where I am working with others (health care staff, patients)? The fact that I enjoyed My experience with volunteering in hospitals, seniors centres, and clinical research settings, and jobs in customer service as a teenager were a great indicator that I’d enjoy be in the health care field. Reflect on what experiences you’ve had working with people, in small groups and in team settings whether in academic, paid or extra-curricular settings. 
  • Am I a self-starter and willing to learn on my own initiative? Many components of the PA programs involve Problem Based Learning. Also, medicine is an ocean. Its impossible to learn all that you need to know within 2 years of PA school, or even 4 years of medical school. As a PA, if I come across a concept I may not be familiar with,
  • Am I willing to take on an unpredictable job market?  Note: in 2009 when I applied, no civilian PAs had yet graduated and the very first iteration of the Career Start funding program was not yet announced. As of 2017, we now have a better picture of the job market since there have been many generations of PAs that have graduated from all 3 civilian programs in Canada.
  • If I don’t get into the PA program (or other health care professional schools), do I have other backups?
  • A big one for me: Am I okay not being a doctor (or insert other profession here that isn’t PA)? After careful examination, speaking to medical residents, currently practicing physicians, I realized being a physician although a possibility, was not a good fit for me at the time. The PA role better suited my long term goals. In retrospect, I feel as an individual its easier to make a bigger impact in a smaller community. 

Answers to these questions about your long term goals and career aspirations will come from self-reflection, your own research about different health care professions, speaking to campus career counselors, attending information sessions, speaking with PAs and PA students (the program info sessions are great opportunities for this!). Be well researched and always keep your options open. Take pre-requisites that you feel you can handle in your course load and that will help open up doors to application to your professional schools of interest.

Age is just a number

Just like other facets of life, age is just a number and having the characteristics that make you a good candidate for the program is not determined by age. There are some things you can’t teach, such as attitude, an eagerness to learn, passion for learning and patient care, empathy, working well with others, and willingness to take initiative. Use the time between now and when you apply to seek out enriching experiences and opportunities (whether through extracurriculars, volunteer work, mentorship, shadowing or part-time work) to develop the skills that will help you succeed in whatever you choose to do.

Q: Also, is there a way to strengthen my application aside from a high GPA and good supplementary app? The website states that an inquiry courses will benefit applicants, but I don’t think the course is open to science students. Only humanities, social science, arts and science and health science have the opportunity to take the course.

A: Do your research – Inquiry-based courses are a benefit but not a pre-requisite. Read up on the philosophy of PBL – a great guide available online is McMaster’s Guide to “Approaching PBL Practically”. It was put together by medical students and outlines how PBL is used in a medical curriculum, which is what the PA program models off of at McMaster. You may wish to reach out to your guidance counsellor or career counselor on options for courses close to the Inquiry Model or PBL as a base of courses that may be available to you. Again, this is not required to get into the program and there are PA students who got into the PA Program without taking Inquiry courses beforehand.

Try researching what characteristics you would need to succeed in a PBL-based learning environment and seek experiences that would help you achieve these.  Another good resource I recommend is the McMaster University CLL – Resources for Inquiry website, which links to resources about how to teach Inquiry.

The McMaster PA Student Resource also has an article in their Pre-PA section titled, “What is PBL?” I strongly recommend you check it out!

Speak to currently practicing PAs or PA students – and ask questions not just pertaining to “how can I strengthen my application”, but questions like:

  • How are you enjoying the program?
  • How do you like PBL?
  • What do you find challenging?
  • What was your academic background before you entered the PA program?
  • What are the students like in your PA class?

These are just a few questions; but provide you insight into the program that wouldn’t otherwise be available online.

To reach out to currently practicing PAs, I recommend you email CAPA – the national PA organization at admin@capa-acam.ca.

If you would like to reach out to a current PA student, you may try emailing the PA program, attending an upcoming information session (which occurs once a year in November on campus).

If you do not have access to either, I strongly recommend you browse through the American Physician Assistant Forum, although it is American there are similarities between the application process and some of the professional challenges we face. Many PA students, practicing PAs and pre-PAs browse the site daily and are happy to answer your questions.

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2017-08-28T08:45:42+00:00 0 Comments

About the Author:

Anne is a Canadian Certified Physician Assistant working in Orthopaedic Surgery and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in Ontario. She is the founder and a writer at canadianpa.ca. She is long time blogger and web graphic designer, and loves to use social media and tech as a medium to promote medical education and the PA Profession.