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My Top Tips for Navigating Physician Assistant Programs as an FSU Student

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at FSU chapter.

When I got to college, I knew I wanted to be a Physician Assistant (PA). However, I found it almost impossible to find a streamlined guide that explained everything I needed to know. It felt like I was constantly Googling and reading article after article, trying to decipher the steps I needed to take to be ready to apply. Especially at FSU, I had advisors telling me a bunch of different things. I’ll be applying in April of this year, so I had to get my act together quickly. Here is my guide to all the steps I wish I had known when I first started here at FSU.

You Will Use CASPA For Everything.

CASPA is the Physician Assistant application portal. Make an account early, even if you don’t intend to apply in the coming cycle. I made one for the 2023-2024 cycle and was able to start getting comfortable with the application before I had to apply. No matter the school you apply for, CASPA will be the way you submit.

Start On Your Prerequisite Classes Early.

There are a lot of them, so start early! Most of the classes you take for Pre-PA are in a linear order, meaning you can’t take Chemistry 2 without first taking Chemistry 1. Some schools are different, but here’s a linear timeline for FSU: Chemistry 1, Chemistry 2, Organic Chemistry 1, Organic Chemistry 2, Biochemistry.

As you can see, there’s a lot of chemistry required. Start that sequence early on. Feel overwhelmed? Here are some resources that helped me succeed on campus.

Start On Your Healthcare Hours Early!

Most PA programs require a minimum of 1K patient care hours to be competitive. Don’t be scared! You’ll have plenty of time if you start in sophomore or even junior year. Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare (TMH) holds the monopoly of healthcare jobs in the area. They also are super awful at responding to job applicants. Your best bet on getting a job is to go to a job fair they host where they hire you on the spot.

You can also apply for TCC’s EMT semester-long program and become a certified EMT! You can do it over the summer, too. Also, check out MRU at FSU; they provide great hours that may lead to EMT certification! It’s also great experience for healthcare workers.

There Are Two Different Types of Healthcare Hours on CASPA.

One thing I don’t think was ever clear to me was that PA schools want Patient Care Experience (PCE) and Healthcare Experience (HCE). PA schools want to see more PCE than HCE. At TMH specifically, aim for positions such as Patient Care Assistant, Surgical Care Tech, Endoscopy Tech, and Emergency Center Tech — these are PCEs. These positions have hands-on care that counts. Positions like Patient Resource Assistant (Transportation) count as HCE. Track your hours via ADP Pay, which is your pay stub.

Volunteering is Also Important!

Though not as important as your patient care, be sure to be well-rounded. I suggest applying to be a volunteer at Big Bend Hospice. They are a well-run and important organization. You can volunteer two or more hours a week (and it counts as HCE depending on your role!).

Take the GRE and PACAT.

PA programs are currently phasing out the GRE and using the PACAT as a more reflective test for the program. The GRE is super generalized. It’s like a big-boy SAT. I recommend three to six months to study for it, but a lower score is not the end of the world. Schedule through ETS.

When you register for the PACAT, they’ll give you free study resources. Utilize these! Treat this exam like an MCAT and study for five or so months for the best results. First, buy your eligibility. Then, using your eligibility code, schedule through Prometric. It’s a little convoluted. You got this!

Keep Your Hobbies!

These schools want to know that you are more than just your academics. Most interviews will probably ask you to talk about who you are outside of your application, so be sure to retain some personality outside of studying for orgo.

Quick Tips and Tricks

  • This book will help with interviews.
  • Keep an Excel spreadsheet of your hours for everything!
  • Use the Career Center’s pamphlet to guide your personal statement.
  • To find shadow opportunities, don’t be afraid to email your PAs back home, or just talk to one at your job!

Remember that you got this! Cast your net wide, hope for the best, and don’t be scared to take a gap year. Gap years can help you build your PCE and make you a more experienced applicant. Take a deep breath and get back to studying!

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Bailey Collier is a staff writer with the Florida State Her Campus chapter. Bailey intends to focus her articles on the STEM side of college life and make STEM not so scary (even though it's always written in caps)! In addition to writing for Her Campus, Bailey works as an Emergency Care Technician and Scribe at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. Bailey is a senior majoring in Athletic Training and Editing, Writing, and Media at Florida State University. When she’s not saving the city on fire, she enjoys re-reading the Percy Jackson series whilst sitting next to her two beautiful orange cats, Zuko and Izumi. She plans to apply to Physician Assistant programs in the Spring and is biting her nails at even the thought of this.