PA STUDENTS • WITH MARIE-CHRISTINE

Successfully Reapplying to PA School

Hi! I am Marie-Christine (or MC), and I am from Montreal, Quebec. I live with my husband and lab/golden mix named Monsieur Bailey. In my free time, I like working out (strength training, boxing, snowboarding) and baking; a nice balance of calories in versus calories out 😉

In 2006, I became a medical electrophysiology technologist. I started my career in cardiology, where I performed resting ECGs, stress tests, and holter monitor analyses. In 2007, I switched to neurology in electroencephalography, electromyography, and epilepsy monitoring. Since 2014, I’ve been working in physiatry, where I perform nerve conduction studies in collaboration with a wonderful, incredibly smart physiatrist. I love physiatry because we see a wide variety of patients, and there is so much to learn!

I also have a degree in commercial photography, and I have been working as a professional wedding and family photographer for close to ten years. As you might see, I like to keep busy!

This year, when I applied (U of T and McMaster), I was at the beginning of my third year in a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree at Queen’s University. I received an interview invitation from both schools, and I got accepted into U of T’s PA program!

“I am a BHSc student at Queen’s university, and…a future PA student! Yes, that’s right! Yesterday, I received an offer from the University of Toronto and I could not be more ecstatic 🤩 It hasn’t truly sunken in yet. Until now, becoming a PA was hypothetical; a dream that seemed so far away. I will be sharing my journey as a PA student on this account, and I would love to help others as much as I can. Speaking of which, an enormous thank you to all the PAs, PA students, and pre-PAs that have inspired and supported me through this process. I wouldn’t be where I am without you! 🥰
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For those who applied and did not receive an invite, I feel you. I was there last year and I was devastated. Right now, take care of yourself. Indulge in things that will make you happy. Last year, I took some time off of all things PA-related just to focus on myself a bit. You got this. This isn’t the end, it’s just a chapter in your story.” – Marie-Christine, PA-S1

Some of the Common Questions I receive from Pre-PAs:

  • How did you process your refusal?
  • What courses did you take in your undergrad?
  • How can I best prepare for the interviews?
  • How many hours of patient care did you have when you applied?
  • How can I increase my patient care hours?
  • I thought I had a strong application, and I did not get an interview. I do not know where to go from here. How can I improve?

My PA Admission Stats

  • Bachelor of Health Sciences degree – ongoing
  • My GPA was 3.95 on a 4.3 scale – so approximately 3.69 on a 4.0 scale
  • I had 60 credits (20 half-course credits)
  • I had >10 000 clinical experience hours, all of which were direct patient care

My Approach to PA School Admissions

I read about the profession and program online, through websites like canadianpa.ca. I also read Doing Right, by Philip C. Hébert. I followed a few practicing PAs and PA students on Instagram, too.

I started working on my application sometime in November – this gave me plenty of time to reach out to previous supervisors, write my supplemental application and review all my answers. When I submitted my app, I knew I was delivering the best of myself.

My First Attempt in Applying to PA School

I read about the profession and program online, through websites like canadianpa.ca. I also read Doing Right, by Philip C. Hébert. I followed a few practicing PAs and PA students on Instagram, too.

I started working on my application sometime in November – this gave me plenty of time to reach out to previous supervisors, write my supplemental application and review all my answers. When I submitted my app, I knew I was delivering the best of myself.

Sadly, I did not get an invite to the interview.

I was heartbroken! I still very clearly remember when I found out I was not invited to the interviews. I was at the gym, and I immediately picked up my things and went home. I think I cried for two days straight; my husband had never seen me this devastated. I had edited, reviewed, and re-edited my supplemental application, and I had the necessary clinical hours. I had a good GPA, too. I believed that I was a good candidate.

The rejection had hurt so much that I was unsure I wanted to re-apply. What if I got rejected again? Initially, I took a step back from all things PA-related. Most importantly, I focused on self-care. Then, sometime in the summer, I regained interest in the idea of becoming a PA, and my passion for the profession came back!

PA programs don’t give feedback on past performance. Working on improving my application for next time: 

Initially, I felt kind of lost on where to start, but I knew that I’d have to sit down and reflect on my experience.

I started by making a list of strengths versus weaknesses in my application – this way, I would have a clearer picture on the approach to take. For example, I knew I wouldn’t have to work on gaining healthcare experience due to my 10 000+ hours, but I would have to increase my number of credits.

My Second Attempt in Applying to PA School

Becoming a stronger candidate – changes I made

First, I knew I needed to obtain more than the minimal requirements, so I continued working on my BHSc degree. I specifically took courses that could help my application and my experience as a future physician assistant. For example, I enrolled in a Health Law & Ethics course, which was extremely helpful for the multiple mini interviews.

I also created a Twitter account and started following health journalists, bioethics specialists, and news outlets. This helped me stay up-to-date with current topics.

Attending the Pre-PA meetup was also very helpful! I loved connecting with current PAs and PA students.

Lastly, I decided to also apply to McMaster’s PA program. Although I preferred U of T, I knew I would increase my chances of getting into PA school if I applied to more than one school.

The biggest change was my number of course credits. I went from 20 half-course credits in my first application, to 27, which means I was in the 3rd year of my undergrad.

Even though I was initially unsure about re-applying, I continued to take courses for my BHSc degree.

“At first, I took some time for self-care. The refusal hit hard, and it shook my confidence. I knew I had to regroup before even thinking about re-applying. After a few months, the interest and passion for the PA profession grew back, and by the time it was summer, I knew I would want to reapply.”

The refusal turned out to be a humbling experience. I started the process feeling confident about my application, but I then realized that I still had so much room to improve.

Redoing my UofT PA Supplemental Application

I did! I started by re-reading my entire application, and I did not like it at all! It was quite surprising, as the previous year, I felt pretty good about it. I think the fact I had distanced myself from the application gave me the objective view I did not have before.

I realized that my first application lacked information about me. I went back to the drawing board, brainstormed, and re-wrote almost the entirety of my application. This time, I tried tying in personal experiences, this way, the admission’s team could learn more about who I am as well as what I can bring to their program.

Tips for Reapplying to PA School

I would suggest starting early, if possible! As soon as the application form is available, start working on it!

  • Sit down, brainstorm.
  • Think about your strengths, weaknesses, experiences, and why you want to be a PA.
  • Learning about bioethics is a slow process, so don’t be afraid to jump in and learn about it right away.
  • Start thinking about important local, national, and international issues related to healthcare.
  • Learning about these are not only beneficial for your application, but also for your future career as a healthcare provider.
  • Don’t be shy to reach out for help, either within your circle of friends and family, or on social media.
  • Having multiple points of views can be beneficial for your growth.

Lastly, make sure you have a good understanding of the university’s mission. This is kind of like when you are applying for a job. You want to show that you have researched the school and that your values align well with theirs.

Answering Pre-PA Questions about Admissions

A. I feel like your post is my exact story! First, I completely understand that you are upset. You’ve worked hard to get to this point; you have all the requirements; yet, you were not invited to the interview. It’s especially frustrating that we cannot receive feedback from the universities. However, you have the possibility to self-reflect and grow, as there is always room for improvement. 

 

For U of T, ask yourself – although you have all requirements, do you also have some of the recommended criteria? Would you be able to add any of these to your next application? For example, have you taken anatomy and physiology? These courses make you a more competitive applicant, and they can also be handy if you are accepted into PA school.

For the supplemental application, I chose to put mine aside for a few months to gain some perspective and objectivity. Once I picked it up again, it was easier to pinpoint what I needed to improve. I highlighted the parts I believed were strong enough to keep, and I re-wrote everything else based on the brainstorming I had previously done. 

 

Have you heard about the “What/How/So What (or why)” method? This method can be used to communicate your thoughts in a clear, concise manner, which can help you establish the skeleton of your supplemental application answers. Over the past few weeks, I have read/reviewed a few supplemental applications, and a common pitfall is a lack of the so what. I can easily establish the applicant’s topic/point of view and data that supports these, but then, it falls flat. I am left wondering, “ok, but how can these traits or experiences be useful for the program or the PA profession?”. I often feel the extension is missing. 

 

Also, don’t be shy to have your supplemental application reviewed by others. This can be your family, friends, PA students or practicing PAs!

 

As for the McMaster supplemental application, I suggest using the practice sessions offered on the Kira Talent platform. It will give you a good feel on how you will need to present your answers once the real deal begins. Practice on your own time, too, by filming yourself on your laptop. Analyze how you show yourself on video: are your eyes engaging with the viewer? How is your posture? Do you have any tics? Do your answers sound natural or rehearsed? As painful as it is to listen to our voice, this exercise can be beneficial in tweaking your interview demeanour. 

 

Most importantly, remind yourself that MANY students get into PA school after more than one try. Just because you were turned down this year does not mean that you do not have what it takes to become a physician assistant. The physician I work with always reminded me that my refusal was not a personal attack on who I am specifically. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of not having a strong enough application among a sea of strong applicants. A refusal is not a failure, but a simple bump in the road!

– Christine

Recommended Pre-PA Resources

Follow Marie-Christine on Instagram