Healthcare experience for PA school

November 16, 2020

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

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If you are interested in becoming a physician assistant, you know that you have certain prerequisites you must fulfill before applying to a program. One of the most important is getting healthcare experience for PA school. 

There are two types of clinical experience that you can add to your application, based on the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA)healthcare experience and patient care experience

Most pre-PA students need to have both to be a competitive applicant for physician assistant schools. In this article, we discuss what qualifies as healthcare experience and how you can find healthcare opportunities as a pre-PA student. First and foremost, you should always check the prerequisites of the programs you are interested in.

At Global Pre-Meds, our job is to support students interested in a healthcare careers through our doctor shadowing and global health programs. We can provide unique healthcare experiences that will make your PA school application stand out from the rest.

According to the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA), the PA profession has a 36% projected growth rate by 2026. This is fantastic for you because it means there will be more job opportunities, but there are also even more people applying to become a PA that you will have to compete with. We want to help you become a successful applicant and solidify your future as a physician assistant. 

What qualifies as healthcare experience for PA school?

The CASPA application, which most pre-PA students in the U.S. fill out, defines healthcare experience as “both paid and unpaid work in a health or health-related field where you are not directly responsible for a patient’s care, but may still have patient interaction.” 

Some of the examples they provide are filling prescriptions, performing clerical work, delivering patient food, cleaning patients and/or their rooms, administering food or medication, taking vitals or other record keeping information, working as a scribe, CNA, medical assistant, etc.

Patient care experience, which is the other type of clinical experience, is defined as experience where you are directly responsible for patient care. This can include prescribing medications, medical procedures, treatment plans, or paid work such as a nurse or an EMT. 

If you are not a certified healthcare professional, you usually have to start with finding healthcare experience hours, where you are not directly responsible for patient care. It’s important to remember this as you look for opportunities because you would not want to commit any ethical violations that could affect your future.

As mentioned above, there are some paid jobs that can count towards your healthcare experience. However, jobs such as a CNA or medical scribe can require extensive training, which means more money and time than some students have.

Volunteering at hospitals or clinics, where you can help with administrative duties or other aspects of patient care, can be a great way to earn healthcare experience for PA school. This also shows admission officers at physician assistant schools that you are committed to caring for others. 

At Global Pre-Meds, in addition to the educational experience you will receive, we offer volunteer opportunities to our students. You can partner with local organizations when you are not at placement to give back to the local community. 

Volunteering or working at a hospital also helps you build your professional connections. It’s often about whom you know when it comes to getting jobs, or even finding volunteering and shadowing opportunities you may want for your application.

You will also need letters of recommendation to apply to physician assistant school. By doing a good job, even when you’re not doing hands on medical work, you can start forging a successful path to healthcare. 

On our Dominican Republic program, we guarantee 40 hours of shadowing a doctor on hospital front lines and a personal letter of recommendation. You will observe, in a safe and ethical way, alongside a medical doctor as they treat patients and perform medical procedures. We have specifically chosen doctors who will serve as good mentors and references for you. You are placed with peers and a mentor that are in line with your interests, whether that’s physician assistant, nursing, midwifery, or medicine. 

Does shadowing qualify as healthcare experience? 

Shadowing tends to be a more hands-off experience, as most students are not qualified to perform any direct patient care. This means shadowing lends itself more to the definition of healthcare experience for PA school. 

If you are using the CASPA application to apply to physician assistant school, you will only be able to record experiences in one of two categories – healthcare or patient care. You can not “double dip” and record an experience in both categories. You must choose one. In that respect, shadowing hours do fall into healthcare experience. 

An effective shadowing experience may not include hands-on patient care, but you should be able to observe how doctors or physician assistants are interacting with patients. You may see surgeries, treatment plans, or other medical procedures depending on the physician assistant or doctor’s specialty. 

Most PA schools like to see shadowing hours listed on your application because it shows that you have an understanding of the profession. While you should spend time shadowing a physician assistant specifically, it is also helpful to shadow other professionals. Just make sure you verify the requirements with your program.

At Global Pre-Meds, we are able to safely put students on the front lines of international hospitals and clinics. While you will be shadowing a doctor, and not a physician assistant, you will be observing cases that will benefit you. A PA’s job is to assist the doctor with the work they do, which means you have to have a similar degree of medical knowledge. With our program, you will see a variety of cases, which will help you on your path.

When you observe on the frontlines of a hospital with us, you get to see how the entire hospital works together. Your mentor may even have you observe with other colleagues of different specialities if there is an interesting case or procedure. Shadowing abroad on one of our Global Pre-Meds programs gives you a diverse experience and global health perspective that not many PA students will have. You will be able to confidently write your essays and show that you are committed to becoming a physician assistant.

If you want your application to stand out from the crowd, you should join us for one of our programs. Check out our program dates here!