How to meet University of Toronto’s Health Care Experience (HCE) Hours Requirements

clinical experience university of toronto

When speaking with PA students in our Canada Pre-PA Student Networking group on Facebook, many feel they are unable to apply to the PA Consortium (University of Toronto, NOSM, Michener) program because they do not meet the “health care experience”.

PA Consortium accepts health care employment, clinical placements as part of an education program, and volunteer work as part of the minimum hours required for admission.  You have to specify whether you provided direct (e.g. registered massage therapist, nurse, physiotherapy assistant) or indirect patient care (e.g. research, health records, med lab technician where you are in the lab only, etc.), or patient care directed by others (e.g. administrative assistant, student in clinical placements, ward clerk, receptionist).

To verify, I sent an email to the program director and admissions office inquiring about the health care experience requirement:

“And the biggest ‘yes’ is in answer to “as long as the experience falls under one of these categories (as per 2018 supplementary application) – does this count towards the “health care experience”?”

We recommend to potential applicants now, that if they are unsure, to go to the PDF of the Supplementary application.  If they can answer the questions in the Health Care section (i.e. if what they have been doing falls within the answers to the questions), then it is reasonable to consider this as acceptable health care experience.”

PA Consortium Admissions Office

Note that health care experience is not a requirement for the other PA programs (McMaster and University of Manitoba does not require health care experience.

Health care experience (whether volunteer, as part of education program, or paid) helps give you insight about the health care system from which Physician Assistants work within. You get to work on soft skills such as team work, leadership, organizational skills, attention to detail, integrity, and communication & interpersonal skills. You also have material and recent examples to use on your supplementary application. If you are interested in tracking your health care experiences, we have a handy Health Care Experience Activity tracker to help you track and reflect upon your health care experiences that you can use to help you during admissions.

Volunteer Work as Health Care Experience

Volunteer work that counts towards health care experience

When attending the PA Consortium Information session with Jeff Straw, I learned that some of my Pre-PA  extra-curricular activities and employment if I were to apply for September 2018 entry.

  • I worked as a research assistant as part of a clinical study during my summers of undergraduate years and part time. This did involve direct participant contact, and included obtaining consents, and measurements. Although I wasn’t treating the patient, I learned that this counted.
  • I volunteered at Toronto Western Hospital prior to getting into the PA Program in the Emergency department, General Surgery and Orthopaedics. My roles involved interacting with patients, showing patients around the hospital, and addressing patient concerns.

My health care “experience” as a Pre-PA student was recent and would certainly count should I decide to apply for this round of applications.

Indirect Patient Care: There were some health care experiences Jeff Straw at the session talked about that was considered “indirect” patient care – for instance, he discussed how one successful candidate acquired some of their patient care hours by working in a lab analyzing patient samples. Although there was no “direct hands-on patient care” that involved treatment, this counted for the candidate as indirect patient experience.

Level of Involvement:

Clinical Duties:

Does Quality of Healthcare experience matter?

According to PA Consortium’s Admission requirements, yes, the healthcare experience will be evaluated, and you are expected to provide detail regarding your health care experience.

“Healthcare experience will be evaluated based on the following criteria:

  • the level of involvement in direct patient care
  • the specific clinical duties performed
  • the level of supervision
  • the total number of hours
  • the type of clinical setting
  • the recency of experience”

Neither do they confirm whether or not health care experience is appropriate prior to the time of application.

Am I still competitive enough to apply with unpaid health care experience?

Unpaid health care experiences may include volunteer placements, and clinical placements as part of a training program (e.g. RPN program, nursing program, kinesiology, etc.).

Yes, but also keep in mind health care experience is not the only criteria you are evaluated on. How you write about your health care experience matters. Keep in mind there is also your references, GPA, supplementary application questions and how you perform on the multi-mini interview (MMI).

Unpaid Health Care Experience

Clinical Placements as Part of an Education Program

Here are two examples of an undergraduate degree that includes clinical placements as part of their curriculum:

  • Kinesiologist: Complete a Bachelor of Kinesiology, and your “clinical” placements count towards your HCE hours. You can also work as a Kinesiologist at a rehab centre getting hands-on patient care.
  • Registered Nurse (RN), Registered Practical Nurse (RPN): Clinical placements during your undergraduate years’ count. Keep in mind even with RPN experience you also require university-level courses as part of your application.

Keep in mind that although some health care experiences do count (college level), you do still require a minimum of 2 years of university-level courses to apply to PA Consortium Program.  Your clinical placements may not also provide all HCE hours so you will have to acquire some other health care experience (volunteering works too!).

Paid Health Care Experience

A look at college-level programs that lead to paid health care experience:

If you were not able to get into PA school and wish to try again, or have a gap year before the next round of admissions, some students opt to complete a college level program (less than 1 year) as a stepping stone to PA school or other health care profession. A common pathway for American PA admissions is for students to get certified and then work as Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA).

  • Administrative Assistant (also known as medical secretary)
  • Crisis Counsellors
  • Dental Hygienist
  • EMG technician
  • Medical Assistant
  • Medical Scribe
  • Optician
  • Paramedic (6 months to 4 year programs)
  • Patient Transportation
  • Personal Support Worker (PSW)
  • Pharmacy Assistant (also known as a Pharmacy Technical Assistant, diploma program)
  • Phlebotomist
  • Physiotherapy Assistant, Occupational Therapy Assistant (PTA/OTA)
  • Registered Massage Therapist (RMT)
  • Radiologic Technician (X-ray/Ultrasound)
  • Ward Clerk

Other paid health care experience examples:

Here is a screenshot of other health care jobs as listed in the PA Consortium Health Care Experience:

I don’t have healthcare experience (paid, or unpaid), how can I get started?

Find health care experience locally –

  • Do a quick google search of hospitals, community health centres, family health teams that may be looking for volunteers. There is usually a “Volunteer” section on hospital websites where you can fill out an application, because you are working with vulnerable populations
  • Email family physician offices and ask if they require a “medical assistant” (someone to take height and weight, patient reminder phone calls, helping with filing, photocopying).

“Pre-Health Internships Abroad”

International medical mission trips are not required to get into PA Programs. However for those looking for unique experiences may opt to volunteer on medical mission trips. This involves quite a few expenses to pay your way, and time off.  There are various organizations you can look into. Keep in mind many PAs (myself included) got into Canadian PA programs without such experience.