Answers to Pre-PA Questions – Should I Quit my Job to get Experience?


A reader used the contact form on the site to send me a note with these questions:

I graduated in 2005 with a Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering (GPA was 3.35).  I’ve been working in the engineering-field since graduating.  However, the past few years I have been seeking a more meaningful career in healthcare.

Through research, I came across the Physician’s Assistant occupation, and it would be a great fit for my goals.  I would love to become a PA at a pediatric or orthopedic practice.

To gain hands-on healthcare experience, I’ve been volunteering at a local pediatric hospital once a week in the neuroscience and rehabilitation units, interacting with patients.

I have a few questions:

1) I realize I’ll need to take some pre-req courses (Biology, Anatomy, some Chem, etc).  But would my Major and GPA make me competitive for admission to PA programs?

2) I think the biggest hurdle for me is gaining 1000+ hours of hands-on healthcare experience.  Do you have any recommendations on entry-level Healthcare jobs which I can gain experience with (EMT, Medical Tech, Phlebotomist, etc)?  I am considering leaving my full-time engineering position and taking an entry-level healthcare position if that means I can achieve my goals.

OK, here are some facts. First, every school does not require 1000hrs of experience. All schools give preference to it. If two people are equally qualified and both interview well, experience will tip the scales in that persons favor, even if the school does not require experience in a certain amount. Second, you graduated 6 years ago but your Anatomy and Physiology grades with LABS! will be new since you will be taking them as part of your prerequisite package.

Your major does not matter much. Your over-all GPA does – yours is great. Your science GPA does – you should do well there. Your GRE scores do. Then you need good references( preferably a couple of PA’s and if possible graduates of the programs you are applying to) and great essays to get an interview. The interview gets you accepted.

As far as quitting your job, the 1000hrs are 6months full time. EMT is the best way to get those hours fast. You are faced with needing about 40 hours of prerequisite courses so about 3 full time semesters. If you take it slower, then, 4 semesters and then the experience. So you are looking a beginning the application cycle in April 2013 for a start in 2014, becoming a PA in 2016. That is a 5 year path. If you did one 12 hour shift a month as an EMT, you would acquire about 400 hours before you started school. Do one full weekend – 2 12 hour shifts per month and you would have 864 hours. You don’t need to quit your job but you will have to give up most of your social time. Most of the science courses need a lab which means Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Anatomy, Physiology, Microbiology all have to be taken on site. Those that don’t require a lab can be taken online (Immunology, Embryology, Cell Bio, Bio Chem, etc…). That is intense but it can be done. I have seen people do it and get in. They did it while working full time and going to school nights.

While you are doing that,  get as much out of debt as you can. If you can, keep your engineering job and tighten up the financial reins if necessary. I wish you the best. Keep an eye on this site as I will offer a membership soon that will prepare you for CASPA, Interviews and essay writing and will have some calls you can join to discuss needs, answers questions etc…

Good Luck on your PA Path

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