FIVE TIPS FOR SELECTING A PA PROGRAM
Getting accepted to a physician assistant program is a very competitive process. If you want to maximize your chances of getting accepted to your top choice programs, follow the five tips I provide below:
Check the accreditation status of the programs that you plan on applying to. You can find a list here: http://www.arc-pa.org/accreditation/accredited-programs/. The list contains all the accredited PA programs in the United States. There are also eight accreditation types, which can be found here: http://www.arc-pa.org/accreditation/accreditation-types-review-cycle/.
Keep in mind that if a PA program is not fully accredited by the time you graduate, you may not be able to sit for the boards; the Physician Assistant National Certification Examination (PANCE.) If you can’t take the PANCE, you can’t get certified as a PA!
It is best to check with the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants on any updates to the accreditation rules; http://www.nccpa.net/
Every physician assistant program already knows the qualities they are looking for in a Perfect Applicant before you even apply. Your job is to demonstrate to the program that you have those qualities and you are a Perfect Applicant for that program. You do this through your CASPA application and essay, and at your interview. I show you exactly how to do this in the “Interview” section of the website.
To learn about the qualities that any PA program is looking for in their Perfect Applicant, you will need to do some research. Review the entire website for clues on what they value most. Perhaps they value community service, or someone who wants to work in underserved areas. If you can demonstrate that you have those experiences, you will be a much stronger applicant than those who cannot.
Additionally, do just stop at the program’s website like so many “vanilla” applicants do. Check: the programs Facebook page, YouTube, Google, and any student blogs. You will find a lot about the program’s culture and values by checking these resources.
You will also want to look at the program’s first-time, and five-year PANCE rates. The average PANCE rate is approximately 94%. If you’re interested in a program, and you want to be able to pass your boards when you graduate, I would strongly suggest that you choose programs with high PANCE rates (average or above.) Every program publishes their first-time, and five-year PANCE rates on their website. High PANCE rates are a great indicator of the quality of education that you will receive at that program. Keep in mind that if you don’t pass the boards once you graduate, you cannot get certified as a PA. You may have wasted a lot of time and money!
If possible, attend the program’s Open House for physician assistant school applicants. The Open House is a wonderful opportunity to network with the faculty, and with the students. You will also get a feel for the culture of the program and learn things about the program that you may not learn from their website.
Attending the Open House also provides a fantastic opportunity to ask a lot of questions about what the students like best about the program and ask the faculty about the qualities they are looking for in a competitive applicant. You may ask, “What are the top three qualities you look for in applicants who are successful getting accepted to this program?” You can use this information when writing your essay, and when interviewing.
Lastly, the faculty will remember that you took the time to attend the Open House, and that could score you some extra points at your interview.
During your PA school interview, you may be asked “How many programs have you applied to?” and “Why have you selected these programs?” The program wants to see your rational for selecting the programs you’ve chosen. Perhaps all the programs have a focus on community service, and you have hundreds of community service hours? Perhaps the programs value diversity, and you’ve been on several mission trips to foreign countries? Or, perhaps the programs really value clinical experience, and you have 4,000 hours as an EMT.
In either case, you want to make sure that you choose programs that have a common denominator consistent with your goals and background. DO NOT choose programs only based on geography.