Pre-Physician Assistant Admissions Process
Physician Assistant schools seek students who they believe will make a good student and more importantly, a competent, caring physician assistant. There is a huge investment made by the physician assistant school and the taxpayers in the training of a physician assistants (believe it or not, the $11,000-15,000/year tuition of public physician assistant schools cover only a portion of the total costs) and consequently decisions are made very carefully, using information from a variety of sources including: overall undergraduate GPA, science (BCMP) GPA, GPA trend, GRE score, letter(s) of evaluation, personal statement, health related experience, extracurricular activities, and the interview. These factors are assessed by the admissions committee, usually appointed by the Dean of the Physician Assistant School, that typically include faculty from both basic and clinical science departments, as well as practitioners.
The Evaluation Process-
Admission committees strive for objectivity in their decision making. Physician Assistant schools are looking for students who present evidence of strong intellectual ability, a record of accomplishments, and personal traits indicative of the ability to communicate and relate to patients in a realistic and compassionate manner. The five most important factors used in making the decision are:
1) undergraduate academic record - Studies indicate that an important predictor of success in the basic science classes in physician school is the quality of work in subjects leading to the baccalaureate degree. It is evidence of your motivation and ability. The academic record includes the overall GPA, science (BCMP) GPA, non-science GPA, performance in some individual courses, and the overall trend. For instance, a poor freshmen year followed by improvements over the next 2 years may be somewhat overlooked, whereas a declining record may not be. The difficulty of your chosen curriculum is also noted. If you consistently take the path of least resistance and avoid the tough classes, this will negatively impact your record.
2) GRE score - The GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) has been shown to be the best single predictor of physician assistant school academic performance used by admissions committees (virtually every school in the nation requires it). National standardized tests, like them or not, are a fact of life in physician assistant school and beyond (eg. PANCE a.k.a "the boards"). There is a significant positive correlation between GRE scores and board exam scores.
3) letter of evaluation - You will typically need to request three letters of evaluation, one should be composed by a Professor (Science). Your second should be composed by a Physician Assistant. Please verify the institutions requirements on the third letter if one is required. LOEs most often times are sent directly to CASPA.
4) personal statement (essay) - The CASPA application forms include a one page essay. The essay should describe your motivation or desire to become a physician assistant. This can be a very difficult and introspective part of the process. This is the student's opportunity to really let the admission committee know who they are, to focus on their special strengths that they feel they can offer the profession. After all, you want to somehow distinguish yourself from all the other applicants with good grades and high test scores. What interesting experiences or skills do you possess? What interesting personal anecdotes can you relate that illustrate these experiences, skills, or traits? Be yourself and write about your best points. Be prepared to discuss these points at your interview.
5) supplemental (secondary) application - Almost all physician assistant schools, including UK, require a supplemental application in addition to CASPA. They vary significantly in their content and reflect the questions that particular school considers important. It is recommended that the applicant review the mission statement of the school and other on-line information before completing the secondary for that school. Submit your secondary in a timely fashion to get an early interview.
6) impression made in the interview - Typically the candidate will be interviewed by faculty members, practitioners, and current students, each for 30 minutes. Interviewers will evaluate the student candidate according to: a.) experience and knowledge of the profession; b.) interpersonal skills; c.) motivation for seeking admission; and d.) responsibility and commitment. Once an interview is scheduled, students may take advantage of a mock interview conducted by the staff of the South Central AHEC on WKU's campus. The AHEC office can be reached by calling 270-745-3325.
Extracurricular activities are important in that they are indications that you can juggle a rigorous curriculum and still participate in outside activities be they work, athletics, volunteer experience, or research experience. The CASPA application allows you to list such activities. The level of your participation is more important than the number and diversity of your activities. It is better to be immersed in a few activities, and achieve increased levels of responsibility and leadership than to gain a shallow experience in dozens of arenas. It is important to realize that time spent outside of your academic pursuits is not a substitution for a modest academic record. It may instead be an indication of poor judgement, poor time management or skewed priorities. If your time spent in extracurricular activities is negatively impacting your coursework, you would be best advised to scale it back a bit.
Health Related Experience-
It is crucial that you gain some experience in a health related activity. Whether you volunteer in a hospital, clinic, physician's office, hospice or nursing home, this activity will serve three important purposes. First, it will help you clarify your decision to pursue a career as a physician assistant. You may find out that being around injured and sick people makes you uncomfortable, that it is too stressful, or that you faint at the sight of blood. Better to find this out now than after you get to physician assistant school. Second, admissions committees view this as a sign of your dedication and motivation to a career as a physician assistant and service to your community. It will show that you have tested your career choice and have reinforced your commitment. Third, it will give you experiences to draw on for your personal statements and interviews. While arranging volunteer/shadowing experiences is completely the responsibility of the student, information on willing physicians/agencies/hospital contacts can be obtained from the South Central AHEC on WKU's campus (270-745-3325).