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

University of Toronto’s Physician Assistant Program (also known as PA Consortium) is the only PA program in Canada that REQUIRES health care experience hours to apply to PA school.

Note: McMaster and University of Manitoba does not require health care experience hours to apply to their programs.

PA Consortium (BScPA UofT) 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 patient care (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).

The Different Types of Pre-PA Health Care Experiences

Here is my interpretation of health care experience hours as it relates to PA admissions. Always check the official PA program websites for description of health care experience hours.

What details do I need to include about My Health Care Experience Hours?

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. Be prepared to explain, elaborate and provide proof of:

  • The level of involvement in direct patient care – was the care direct or indirect?
  • The specific clinical duties performed – a list of duties as it relates to patient care. You can get this information from the original job description, use your resume, or make notes on what duties you currently perform at work.
  • The level of supervision
  • The total number of hours – This is usually listed as the total number of hours completed from start to finish of your experience (e.g. 50 hours total, 120 hours total)
  • The type of clinical setting: Did your experience take place in a hospital? clinic? long-term care home? lab? ambulance?
  • The recency of your experience: Your start and end dates (e.g. This could be listed as “February 1, 2020, to January 15, 2022”)

Ensure you describe these aspects accurately as the program can call up your verifier to confirm if the details you provided to PA Admissions about your health care experience are accurate.

Can the PA program verify if my Health Care Experience will count?

No they do not. In fact, they list on their website that they can “Neither confirm whether or not health care experience is appropriate prior to the time of application”.

Here are a few suggestions to find out if that health care experience counts: 

  • If you are not certain, you can ask in the Canadian Pre-PA Facebook Group in a post whether or not the health care experience applies – and other Pre-PAs, PA students and practicing Canadian PAs can reply with feedback on whether or not it will likely count.
  • You can browse “#healthcareexperiencehours” subtopic in the Pre-PA Facebook Group (or use the search option) to see if someone has asked about the role you are inquiring about.

Where can I find examples of Health Care Experiences that Qualify?

Option 1: Visit the PA program’s Admissions Requirements page, and open the “Healthcare Experience” tab to see a list of example health care experiences that qualify. It is not all-inclusive, so there are some experiences that are NOT listed that may potentially count.

Option 2: To see what past successful candidates for their health care experience hours, check out the UofT’s PA Class Statistics from previous years. You can view this by joining the Canadian Pre-PA Student Facebook Group (free). Infographics for ALL PA program classes are listed there, so make sure you look at the University of Toronto’s PA class infographics specifically.

Does Shadowing Count as Health Care Experience Hours?

Although the PA programs cannot confirm or deny if shadowing counts, in my opinion, it does not. And if it does, I would not consider it a strong health care experience.

Shadowing may not be considered a clinical experience because it is observational. You are observing someone else providing care, and there are no duties or responsibilities that are involved in shadowing.

Shadowing is still VALUABLE as it provides you with more insight into a profession and an understanding of what it is like to work in the health care system.

How UofT PA Students Hannah & MC Acquired their hours

UofT PA students Hannah and MC walk us through what’s involved with health care experience hours, and how they obtained theirs!

Do other PA programs require health care experience hours?

McMaster and Manitoba’s PA programs do not require health care experience hours to apply.

Nonetheless, even if you are applying to a program that does not require health care experience, it is helpful to get exposure to health care.

Health care experience (whether volunteer, as part of education program, or paid) helps give you insight into the health care system from which Physician Assistants work. You get to work on soft skills such as teamwork, leadership, organizational skills, attention to detail, integrity, and communication & interpersonal skills. It also provides with you experiences, patient encounters, and examples to draw from for other aspects of the PA Admissions process – such as the supplementary application/statement of intent and interview.

What if I don’t have any health care experience? Where do I start?

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).

Have HCE requirements changed because of the pandemic?

University of Toronto’s PA program temporarily decreased the number of hours required to apply, from 910 health care experience hours down to 100 health care experience hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has made it easier for applicants to qualify to apply in light of decreased opportunities for Pre-PAs to acquire health care experience in these circumstances. This has affected admission cycles 2020-2021, 2021-2022 and 2022-2023

Always check the official PA program website to see the number of health care experience hours required for this admissions cycle. 

Final Notes

Now it’s your turn! Have questions about obtaining health care experience hours for PA school? Leave your question in the comments below.

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