How to Prepare for Pre-PA in High School

Something that a lot of high school students don’t realize it that health care programs in Canada are competitive (thats right, not just medical school and dentistry – but pharmacy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and PA as well).

So although its good to look at meeting the minimum requirements, its also important to try to be competitive and well rounded – and you can start in high school!

Here we’ll cover 6 things you can do to prepare for your Pre-PA Journey while in High School

1. Work on Establishing Strong Study Habits

Although PA programs do not look at your grades from high school when calculating your GPA for admissions, its important to establish strong study habits now that will help you achieve the grades you need to be competitive while in undergrad.

Something you’ll quickly learn when you get into university is that not all high schools prepare students for university courses the same. Its not uncommon for students (even straight-A students) to see their grades drop when they enter first year.

But as you learn how to study grades tend to improve.

Your best bet is to learn how to study and get disciplined with balancing study and life.

If you’re struggling, try speaking with your guidance counsellor to ask for resources, an upper year buddy or mentor, or work with a tutor.

If you’d like to learn some strategies and tips, try reading How to Become a Straight-A Student by Cal Newport.

If you want to learn about juggling school-life-work balance while engaging in extracurriculars, I’d recommend reading How to Win at College by Cal Newport.

2. Pick an Undergraduate Program that you are interested in and will excel in

Once you hit grade 11 and 12, that’s when you will start to pick an area of concentration with coursework – whether you are focusing heavily on maths and sciences, or social sciences for example.

Is there an undergraduate program/degree that leads directly to PA school?

There is no specific “Pre-PA” undergraduate degree that will help you get into PA School, nor do the programs require you to be part of any specific program. In fact, many “Bachelor’s” programs do not lead directly to careers.

What undergrad programs lead directly to jobs?

You have to apply to professional programs after (e.g. Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, PA, etc.). Only degrees like Medical Radiation Sciences, Kinesiology and Nursing lead directly jobs after you complete the 4 years of the program.

What should I focus on in undergrad then?

What counts is a strong GPA, and if applicable, ~3 courses that you can take as electives (Anatomy, Physiology, and Chemistry/Biochemistry depending on the PA school you apply to).

Where do successful PA students complete their undergrad degrees?

Otherwise those who have done courses in Health Sciences, Sciences, Kinesiology, Nursing, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Social Sciences / Psychology and more get into PA programs. We’re a diverse group!

How do I pick the right undergraduate degree?

What’s key is picking an undergraduate program that is an area of interest to you, AND where you think you’ll achieve high grades.

Make sure to go to events like university tours and open houses. Speak with current students in programs that you are interested in. Also attend events like the Ontario University Fair.

3. Get involved at school and in your community

PA programs don’t just look at those who achieve well, but well-rounded candidates who are strong leaders, great communicators, are able to work well within teams, and are good advocates.

Think of your last interaction with a health care provider – whether it was your family doctor, a specialist, a visit to the Emerg, interaction with a nurse or PA. How did the health care provider treat you? Were they kind? Did they listen first? Did they make you feel empowered to take control of your own health?

Part of being able to build yourself up as a strong candidate is gaining experiences at school in your community. Joining a sports team, getting involved with Prefects, social clubs, or other committees at school helps too.

Volunteering in the community is also a great way to get involved and build up communication skills and maturity.

And don’t approach volunteering as “getting the hours over with”. Show that you can commit to something over time.

4. Start Getting Health Care Experience Now

Consider volunteering at a hospital, doctor’s office, nursing home or a community centre. It’s not a requirement for all PA programs but is a good way to get exposure to the workplace setting that you eventually want to work in!

You can start by going to websites like Volunteer Canada, or visiting the “Volunteer” section of hospital websites. Or go to a local family doctor’s office and ask if its possible to volunteer.

It’s a great way to build communication skills and references and continue that skill-building while you are in university.

5. Research the PA Profession… and other health care professions too!

One thing that I’ve learned in speaking with anyone considering a career in health care is that interests evolve over time. For instance, many of us who thought we wanted to pursue medicine in undergraduate degree ended up in different careers (e.g. PA, dentistry, physiotherapy, law, teaching and more).

So before deciding to apply to a program, do as much research as you can in your top 2-3 careers that you are interested in.

This includes reading about school requirements, but also about what PAs do:

  • Job Description – Roles & responsibilities

  • A Typical Day in the Life

  • Work Life Balance

  • Salary

  • Advancement in the Profession

To help you out, I’ve done an interview series that you can watch or read to learn more about what PAs do!

Repeat this process for any other health care professions you are considering!

6. Join our Canadian Pre-PA Student Networking Group

Make sure to join our Canadian Pre-PA Student Networking Group. Here you can interact with current PA students, practicing PAs (from Canada!) and other Pre-PA students vying to get into PA programs in Canada.

We share resources, articles, and answer commonly answered questions.

Plus its free to join!

Join the Canadian Pre-PA Facebook Group