My PA School Application Stats:
Where I completed by Undergraduate Degree: Honours Bachelor in Life Science from McMaster University
My Healthcare experience Prior to PA School:
High school co-op in cardiology (few months)
Hospital volunteer (6 years)
Clinical research assistant coordinator (8 months)
Volunteer research assistant (8 months)
Medical assistant (1 year).
Total hours: ~3000. Had around 2000 hrs my first application cycle
Number of cycles applying to PA school: I applied to PA School twice, getting in after my second attempt.
Exposure to PA Shadowing as a Pre-PA: I had never actually shadowed a PA but had been seen and impressed by one in a specialty setting before!
Why I decided to pursue the PA Profession
When I was 8, someone gifted me a full toy doctor set with a prescription pad. Playful habits turned into something I knew I had to pursue. Since then, it had always been “med school or bust” for me. I had no idea about the PA profession until I happened to stumble across it while studying for the MCAT.
Talking to friends in med school, numerous health care professionals, and having had plenty of exposure working and volunteering in different areas of healthcare made me realize that everything I truly enjoyed about the field of medicine could be found in the role of a Physician Assistant. I am someone who enjoys knowing more about more topics rather than knowing everything about one. I realized that the kind of daily experience and flexibility I wanted in a profession, would not come from having an MD.
Taking a year off after undergrad also helped me realize that as much as I love learning, there is more to me than just being a student. The type of work-life balance I aspired to have, seemed to be something that I could only find in the PA profession.
As daunting as it is to be going into a profession that is not as well established as in the States, I realized that it gives the opportunity for my peers and I. It allows us to be architects of our own path, and to mold the profession in Canada to be what we want. Which parallels versatility of the PA role’s ability to be molded based on the specialty and the practice we work in!
I applied to PA school twice. I got to experience the MMI during my first application cycle, and got accepted the second time around!
Changes to make for your second attempt at admissions
Instagram post from @thebloomingpa First of all, kudos to you for applying and setting yourself on the first step of your journey in the field of medicine! Rejections happen but how you process them and grow from them, is what defines you as a person.
Let’s talk about what changes you might make for next time:
🤔Program requirements: Did you carefully look at what your program of choice requires at a base level in an applicant, and do you meet everything?
🤔 GPA: Most programs have a minimum acceptance average but also a competitive average range where most successful applicants fall. Is there anything you can do to up your GPA? If not, are there other parts of your application that can be improved upon?
🤔 Healthcare experience hours: As with above, do you meet the minimum experience hours? Does your program of choice have a competitive range for experience hours? What type of experience did you document? Programs may value direct patient care roles more; check with your program.
🤔 Supplementary app/personal statement: This one is no doubt the trickiest because it’s so subjective. Do you have a “cookie cutter” type of personal statement or was it well catered to the specific program and school? Did you make it personal? How does your statement make you stand out? Some schools offer free personal statement review sessions; is this something that could be a valuable experience for you?
What my First Attempt to Applying to PA School Looked Like
I didn’t have enough confidence in my application the first year because of many different personal factors. However, I did have confidence in my patient experience and the skills I had been collecting over the years, which I managed to convey through my supplementary application and therefore received an MMI invite to UofT.
My GPA was significantly improved after my 4th year’s grades, and because they were not included in my first application, this may have held me back from receiving interview invites from other schools.
How I approached PA Admissions after receiving a rejection
My motto for a whole year became “everything is an MMI”.
I tried to see if I could squeeze in MMI type of logical thinking in situations that I faced on a day to day basis to make it second nature.
Regardless of whether it was a simple interaction with a stranger at a grocery store, observing others in various situations, or being in a difficult scenario myself, I tried to formulate an “MMI style approach” for everything.
Someone cuts you off in traffic? MMI that.
A family friend asks you about your opinion on restaurants? MMI that.
Tips to Reapply
Instagram Post from @thebloomingpa So you didn’t get an acceptance this year, now what?
Firstly, feel proud of yourself for having made it to MMIs. Out of the hundreds and thousands of applicants (program dependent), you were picked to be interviewed and that’s an accomplishment on its own! But programs can only accept so many people and as much as it hurts, rejections happen. How you process them and grow from them, is what defines you as a person.
Let’s talk about what changes you might make for next time:
🤔Some schools base acceptances on the MMI alone, others base them off of your cumulative application: GPA, supplementary app, MMI, etc. Find out what your specific program looks for and work from there.
🤔 Reflect on how you felt the day of your MMI. Did you feel like you did fantastic or do you think you can work on some parts of how the day went? Most people feel a general sense of “okay” with the feeling that maybe one or two stations didn’t go so well. If you felt that you did poorly on stations, reflect on how you handled yourself: did you keep a strong front or did you become flustered?
➡️ Think about next steps and what you’re going to change for the next application cycle. After my first cycle (didn’t make it past the MMI), my motto for a whole year became “everything is an MMI”. I tried to see if I could squeeze in MMI type of logical thinking in situations that I faced on a day to day basis to make it second nature 🤓
Remember that there’s no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to MMIs and reapplying and try not to feel overwhelmed by the idea of re-applying. Medicine is a long journey, but if it feels right, you have to keep trying for yourself 💕
Resources I used to prepare for my second round of PA Admissions
Having made it to MMI’s the first year, I knew that my interview skills would be the main area of focus for me so the resources specific to MMI skills.
However, when it came to the supplementary application I made sure to read up on tips and tricks of what makes a good application as well; something I didn’t want to take for granted despite having received an interview opportunity the previous year.
I had skimmed through “Doing Right: A Practice Guide to Ethics for Medical Trainees & Physicians” in the past, but my personal focus was on expanding problem solving and my ability to generate out-of-the-box solutions.
Thus, the resources I used were heavily based on ethical dilemmas (not just medical), especially websites that explained the full thought processes of how a solution was derived, or not.
The resources I used included:
Youtube MMI videos
law/ ethics podcasts, etc.
The Canadian PA website was a huge help in really gaining a better understanding of the PA profession and what it takes to be a good clinician (CANMEDS-PA) – so I focused on practicing in a way that would help me build those skills.
How my second attempt at PA Applications was different than my first
For the most part, my supplementary application stayed the same in terms of the content I wanted to present to schools, but I did make an effort to re-word, add detail where I could, and also make it concise enough to fit in the word limits.
Working for a year also helped to boost my patient experience hours but helped build my communication skills. Ultimately when it came to the MMI day, I visualized the interviewer as a colleague at work, helping to being down my anxiety and increase my ease in incorporating the prompt answer as a conversation. I’d like to think that made the biggest difference in my ease of communicating with the interviewers.
Practicing the MMI
Instagram post from @thebloomingpa: Let’s talk about MMIs 😲
MMIs can seem scary but once you create an approach that you are most comfortable with, practice practice practice until it’s second nature and makes interviews seem like an easy, thoughtful conversation. Hope this long post helps!
How to practice:
✅Set up a camera and record yourself: it can be awkward but seeing your answer will help you pick up on habits that you didn’t know you maybe had such as: breaking eye contact, fidgeting, verbal “fillers” like “um, like, ah”. Recording yourself will also help you get a sense what answering a prompt in x# of minutes feels like, to help increase confidence for interview day.
✅ Have a friend listen or lead you through various scenarios. They don’t have to be an expert in all things medical to be able to give advice on basic communication skills and if your answers make sense.
Here are the barebones of the approach I used to organize my thoughts:
✅Stakeholders: Identify all parties that are being effected in this scenario and to what degree.
✅Issue: what are the pros and cons of each possible decision or action in this scenario?
✅Context of society: Is there a bigger picture involved? If so, how does answer impact it.
If the prompt specifically asks for you to make a decision then definitely make one after stating your thought process!
Advice on Overcoming a Failed 1st Attempt to Applying to PA School
Instead of asking “am I good enough” during setbacks, I like to ask myself “what is this experience teaching me?”.
This mental paradigm shift helps me be more optimistic and open to finding solutions in my next steps rather than ruminating.
It’s not easy to implement this kind of thinking, but as with anything, practice makes perfect.
It’s almost become a mantra for me: learn, adapt, and grow. I think this kind of mentality is necessary to stay resilient not only through pre-PA and PA-S years, but is also valuable as a healthcare professional.
About the Author
The Blooming PA is a first year PA student at the University of Toronto. She did her BSc in Life Sciences at McMaster University and also has a yoga teacher certification.