This is a guest post by Jessica Rodriguez Ohanesian, MS, PA-C. She is the author of the upcoming book, The Ultimate Guide to the Physician Assistant Profession.
Jessi reached out to me when she was first working on her book because she wanted to use some material from my blog in her book. I think that was the first time anyone ever asked me to be in their book so of course I was pumped!
Jessi is very passionate about her career as a physician's assistant and it shows. If you're interest in becoming a physician's assistant, read her story below and definitely check out her book.
Physician Assistants (PAs) are healthcare professionals licensed to practice medicine autonomously with physician supervision and are among the fastest growing professions in medicine. Over 60 different areas and clinical specialties of medical and surgical practice utilize PAs.
Often, when you go to the doctor's office you are primarily seen by a PA and the doctor just checks in at the end.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted the PA profession would grow by 39 percent and be the second fastest growing health profession between 2008 and 2018. Forbes.com ranked PAs first in its list of best master’s degrees for jobs. CNNMoney.com ranked PAs as number two on its “best jobs in America” list and the U.S. News & World Report ranked the PA profession as one of the “50 best careers” of 2011.
Although the profession is widely known and publicized today, there are still comparatively few resources available covering the entire profession from initial training through professional practice. The Ultimate Guide to the Physician Assistant Profession fills this knowledge gap, serving readers as a personal mentoring guide for each step in their journey to a fulfilling career as a PA.
The book defines the PA’s role in today’s healthcare environment, shares secrets about successfully getting through a PA training program, and provides tips for students to use during their clinical rotations. It also includes firsthand accounts written by 6 student PAs and 39 practicing PAs who relate their personal, daily experiences working in a variety of clinical specialties.
5 Quick Tips to Getting Started on Your Path to Being a Physician's Assistant
Are you interested in becoming a PA? But not quite sure where to start?
1. The Decision
Be sure the profession is right for you. Interview and job shadow a practicing PA. Do this more than once. You won't know what an actual day is like if you aren't shadowing someone.
As of July 1, 2013 there are 173 accredited PA schools. The Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA) maintains a list of the accredited programs. Click on the state column to open the webpage of that particular school and review “Admission Requirements or prerequisites”; never attend a school that isn't accredited.
3. Academic Preparation
Plan your classes according to the prerequisites for your top 10 schools. Focus on keeping your science GPA high, because that is a calculation PA schools consider.
4. Clinical Preparation
Volunteer or work in a healthcare related field. Many schools require 1,000 to 3,000 hours of “direct patient healthcare experience.”
The application process starts with Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) which is an “application service that will allow you to apply to any number of participating PA educational programs by completing a single application.”
My PA Story and Why I Decided to Write a Book
Growing up, I knew I wanted a stable career that brought satisfaction through serving others. Medicine has always intrigued me. During my teens and early twenties, I swam competitively and worked summers as an ocean lifeguard. This experience introduced exercise physiology and first responder medical knowledge.
I explored different career options by shadowing family members and friends. Nursing didn't particularly spark my interest, but firefighting, law enforcement, and physical therapy all remained considerations. I knew my likes and dislikes, but my career search seemed to be missing that one option that spoke to my heart, and said, “This is for me.” I had not yet heard of a physician assistant (PA).
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A seemingly unfortunate yet providential experience led to my discovery of the PA profession. Fourteen years of competitive swimming came to an abrupt end my senior year of college due to an injury. This freed up 4-5 hours each day. I used this newfound time to explore potential careers.
Having an interest in physical therapy, I walked into the nearest hospital and asked if I could shadow someone in this profession. Luckily, they said “yes”, and this opportunity introduced me to a wide array of health professionals including PAs. I decided then to pursue the PA profession, but found very few resources to guide me, which planted the seed to one day write The Ultimate Guide to the Physician Assistant Profession.
The American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) webpage was the best resource available, and I joined as a student member. I then applied, and was accepted, to the school of my choice: Western University of Health Sciences. Having graduated from college Magna Cum Laude, I started PA school with much enthusiasm and excitement.
I soon realized the course load and academic expectations were more than I anticipated. To say that I struggled the first three months would be an understatement. It was difficult to keep up with the fast pace and the medical terminology. All exams had an allotted time and many I was unable to complete.
During my undergrad education I was an “A” student. Now I had a “C” average. I knew at that point that my effort, determination, and study efficiency would be tested like never before.
During those difficult first few months in PA school, I wish I had a real-life PA mentor, a book to impart guidance, or something to provide hope and encouragement and say,
“Hang in there, it'll all be worth it.”
I needed a light in that dark tunnel of 10-hour classroom days, daily exams, and weekends camped out in the library.
I began PA school, the youngest in my class, barely hanging onto a “C” average, and uncertain if I would even graduate. In the end, I finished top 10 in my class of 92 students, with national board scores in the 99th percentile. This turnaround began by realizing “PA school is not undergrad” and the energy and focus required was ten-fold. There was no back up plan and failure was not an option.
My first step toward making a turnaround was to meet with a counselor at my school’s testing center. He watched as I took practice tests and gave me guidance on test taking skills. It was hard to make time for these appointments but in the end it was a necessary step I had to take. I also signed up for tutoring with a second-year PA student. We met for six hours every Saturday.
My exam scores and confidence improved. Every minute in the day counted, and I had a disciplined and detailed study plan for each upcoming exam. After the national board exam, I reflected back on how much I learned through the PA school process, and made a commitment to help every PA student I possibly could.
Mentoring PA students has become one of my passions. I have been in close contact with a large group of aspiring PAs, and I love hearing their personal stories of how they came to know about the profession. Encouraging them through the rough parts of PA school comes naturally to me. I sincerely love being a PA, and I want others to understand that this difficult road is worth the rewarding career in the end.
Aside from the PA profession, I love to write. After two years working as a PA, I submitted my first excerpt for publication, “A Day in the Life” of an Emergency Medicine PA for The Journal of American Academy of Physician Assistants (JAAPA). While preparing this excerpt, I scoured through all the previously published “A Day in the Life” articles. I thought,
“What an excellent resource for aspiring PAs. This content should be re-organized and marketed in book format.”
From that point on, I began writing letters to publishers and organizing the Table of Contents for this book. McGraw-Hill publishers expressed interest making this project possible.
Through networking, I have solicited advice from literally hundreds of PAs on succeeding in PA school, student rotations, and the transition from school to the working world. In chapter 4 you can read the hour by hour account of life in PA school and clinical rotations written by PA students. Chapter 7 includes a sampling of the most popular PA sub-specialties in the “Day in the Life” of a PA format. If you express interest in rare PA subspecialties such as: forensics, anesthesia, or administration, read chapter 8. In the last chapter, you will be inspired by the biographies from the top leaders in the PA community.
This book will help you excel in PA school, give you a broader understanding of the many facets of this profession, and encourage you to be your best. Set no limits on what you can accomplish as a PA.