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Successful Applicants—Physician Associate

Successful Applicant Profiles for Physician Associate Programs

Success Stories by Year of Matriculation

2023 Matriculants

Name: Alba Trepca
Major: Human Biology
Minor: Chemistry
Overall GPA: 3.76
Graduation Year: 2022
Matriculation Year: 2023

Q: Which school will you be attending?
A: Pace University's Physician Assistant Program.

Q: What drew you to this particular health field?
A: I was first drawn to the PA field in my freshman year through shadowing experiences where I was able to see what a PA does on a day-to-day basis. During my sophomore year, I started working in Urgent Care alongside physician assistants who helped further solidify my decision. Through my experiences, I was able to see how the PA profession is the best fit for me.

I want to start practicing in the field as soon as possible, so the shorter academic path of PA programs was one component that initially drew me to the field. PAs are also able to maintain a healthy work-life balance while also maintaining a high job satisfaction. Additionally, the job market for PAs is rapidly growing, which helps to ensure job security for the future. These are just a few of the reasons why I chose the PA profession.

Q: What extracurriculars did you participate in?

  1. I joined the Pre-Health Mentoring Initiative (PHMI) as a mentee during my freshman year and then became a PHMI mentor in my sophomore year. During my junior year, I joined the PHMI Advisory Board as the Social Media Director. In my senior year, I became the PHMI Program Director.
  2. I completed 158 hours volunteering at New York Presbyterian Hospital's L&D department.
  3. During the COVID pandemic, I started virtual shadowing through two different organizations. Together, I completed approximately 140 virtual shadowing hours.
  4. In the beginning of my sophomore year, I started working as a MA at a medical office, completing approximately 800 hours.
  5. I completed the majority of my patient care experience as a scribe and medical assistant in urgent care, accumulating approximately 2,600 hours at the time of submitting my CASPA application.
  6. I spent 96 hours as a Physical Therapy office intern.
  7. I accumulated 192 hours as a volunteer research assistant for the Microbe Directory run by Weill Cornell Medicine.
  8. I spent 810 hours shadowing a PA in the Emergency Department.

Q: How many hours on average did you spend studying for your courses per week?
A: This varied heavily based on each course and whether or not I had exams coming up. I would say I spent around 15 hours a week, with the majority of my time spent on biology and chemistry classes.

Q: Did you use a test prep course?
A: I did not take the GRE as most PA programs do not require it

Q: Did you take a GAP year? If so, why?
A: No, I did not. However, I did graduate one semester early in the fall, which gave me the spring semester off before starting PA school.

Q: What do you consider to be your strengths in your application?
A: I believe my patient care experiences were the strongest point of my application. My personal statement and interview focused heavily on my clinical experiences and how they influenced the person that I am today. I learned so much from my clinical experiences and also met many PA's who served as mentors to me and eventually ended up writing me a letter of recommendation.

Q: Did you apply nationally?
A: I only applied to programs in New York with the exception of one program in Philadelphia.

Q: How did the Pre-Health Advising Office help you achieve your goals?
A: I was fortunate enough to work closely with Nina Ledis through the Pre-Health Mentoring Initiative. She has helped further edit my personal statement and offered advice for interviews and supplemental applications. I was also grateful to have Nina Ledis write me a strong letter of recommendation to support my application.

Q: What advice do you have for others?
A: Start early! If you are not sure which field you want to go in, I highly advise shadowing different health professions to see which best aligns with your future goals. Once you are set on your decision to go to PA school, start your clinical experiences early. The more hours of experience that you have, the stronger applicant you become. Your clinical experiences will not only be an opportunity to learn but they will also become points of discussion for interviews and supplemental applications A: You should aim for high overall stats, but also keep in mind that schools look at your applications holistically. For example, a strong personal statement can compensate for a weaker GPA, and vice versa. Do not rush the application process and only apply when you feel ready. The application process is time consuming and expensive, depending on how many schools you choose to apply to. Don't be afraid to take a gap year to make yourself a more competitive applicant. Good luck!

Headshot: [Applicant Name]

Name: Feda Hammood
Major: Biological Sciences
Minor: Arabic Studies
Overall GPA: 3.578
Graduation Year: 2022
Matriculation Year: 2023

Q: Which school will you be attending?
A: I will be attending SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University’s PA program.

Q: What drew you to this particular health field?
A: I was drawn to the Physician Assistant (PA) profession after shadowing a PA and observing the flexibility of practice and medical knowledge obtained in a roughly 2-year degree. Being a PA also allows for a good work/life balance. Team-based care and collaboration is another aspect of the PA profession that interests me.

Q: What extracurriculars did you participate in?

    Healthcare Experience
  • Medical scribe at a private internal medicine practice for 2 years.
  • Shadowed a PA in an urgent care center for 256 hours.
  • Volunteered at two NYP Hospitals (Weill Cornell ED, Brooklyn Methodist Hemodialysis Unit).
  • I was an undergraduate research assistant at The Rockefeller University for 2 years. I presented my research at numerous conferences including the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) where I received an award.
  • I participated in the Summer Travelers Research Fellowship at Weill Cornell in 2021.
  • I participated in the Clinical Genetics and Bioinformatics Online Program, Keck Graduate Institute in 2020.
  • I was a member of Advancing Arab American Health Network and Allies Research Group (AAHNA) where my research was published in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities—“A National Survey Assessing COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Among Arab Americans.”
  • In my gap year, I worked as a Visiting Scholar at The Feinstein Institutes of Northwell Health on a kidney disease clinical trial.
  • I volunteered for Muslims Understanding & Helping Special Education (MUHSEN).
  • I volunteered for the Muslim American Society (MAS) Youth Center.
  • I was a Health Educator with Peer Health Exchange for 1 semester.
    On-Campus Involvement
  • E-Board member for Palestine Solidarity Alliance Club.
  • E-Board member for Southwest Asian North African Women Association Club.
  • Executive Committee Member/Student Peer Leader for the Yalow Scholar Honors Program.
    Healthcare Experience
  • John P. McNulty Scholar (Women in STEM)
  • Yalow Scholar Honors Program


Q: How many hours on average did you spend studying for your courses per week?
A: The number of hours varied depending on the course load, but I would say between 10-25 hours per week.

Q: Did you use a test prep course?
A: No. The GRE is optional for most PA programs.

Q: Did you take a GAP year? If so, why?
A: I took a gap year because I did not finish my pre-requisites until the end of my senior year.

Q: What do you consider to be your strengths in your application?
A: My story as an aspiring PA, and my commitment to support the Arab-American patient community by acknowledging their cultural background and values while also addressing their medical needs. In my interviews, I would connect my experiences to how I want to deepen my commitment to Arab-American health by increasing their representation in published literature so that all clinicians can readily access data pertaining to our medical needs. While research is not required, I had strong research experience. This distinguished me as an applicant, and my research is a topic I was asked about during interviews.

Q: Did you apply nationally?
A: No.

Q: How did the Pre-Health Advising Office help you achieve your goals?
A: They helped me prepare for my PA school interviews.

Q: What advice do you have for others?
A: If you are applying through CASPA, apply EARLY, since many PA Programs are rolling admissions even if they do not say so on their website. Also, do not compare yourself to others while applying, and avoid all online forums. Each person has their own application journey. It only takes only acceptance from a PA program to start your journey as a PA so do not give up!

2020 Matriculants

Headshot: Mauricio Vallejo

Name: Mauricio Vallejo
Major: Biology
Minor: Focus Study in Studio Art
Overall GPA: 3.57
Graduation Year: 2018
Matriculation Year: 2020

Q: Which school will you be attending?
A: I will be attending Stony Brook University's PA program.

Q: What drew you to this particular health field?
A: I was drawn to the physician assistant profession by the training and flexibility of practice. Training and education to become a PA is condensed into two years. This fast-tracked training appealed to me in many ways because it would mean a lower debt burden after graduation and meant I would enter the workforce sooner.

Moreover, a PA, unlike any other health professional, is capable of moving laterally without the need for retraining. This means that at one point in one's career an individual can work in emergency medicine and later switch to pediatrics if they wanted to. This versatility made me feel comfortable in knowing that I could change fields should I not enjoy a given field or simply because I wanted to learn another field or if a situation demanded it (unexpected move or over-saturation of a field).

Q: What extracurriculars did you participate in?
A: I participated in research in Dr. Ortiz's research lab at Hunter College for two years through the MARC program and also performed research in Dr. Fischetti's lab at The Rockefeller University for one summer through SURF. In addition, I mentored college freshman through Sunnyside's Community Services College Readiness Program.

During my senior year and gap year I volunteered at Montefiore's Center for Child Health and Resiliency where I worked closely with the medical-legal partnership Terra Firma, which facilitates access to healthcare for undocumented minors. At the clinic, I had the opportunity to perform chart reviews and compile data as well as lead a host of youth enrichment programs.

Unlike admission to other healthcare professional programs, paid employment in the healthcare field is crucial to a successful PA application. Patient Care Experience (PCE) & Health Care Experience (HCE) are both metrics used to evaluate candidates. If your work is involving direct patient contact, it is considered PCE. However, if the work is in the healthcare field but does not involved direct patient contact, it is considered HCE. I worked about 30 hours per week as a Laboratory Assistant in a Clinical laboratory for HCE and accumulated around 2400 HCE hours at the time of submission of my application.

After graduation, I focused on acquiring PCE, which I obtained by working as an inter-facility transport EMT-B and soon after as an EMT-B in 911 operations. By the time of submission of my application, I had 650 PCE hours, which is above the typical minimum of 500 hours but is still considered low as most applicants tend to have 2000 or more PCE hours. Moreover, I had not shadowed a PA, which is another critical part of the application. These two areas were by far the weakest parts of my application and if I could do it all again, I would have worked to accumulate PCE hours sooner and would have made time to shadow a PA.

In addition, I did photography in my spare time and published some photos as well as entered and won a photo competition. If you have any hobbies that you can take advantage of and show off your mastery by way of awards or competition, I highly recommend doing so as it will make you a more rounded candidate.

Q: How many hours on average did you spend studying for your courses per week?
A: This depended on how difficult I perceived the courses. For my strong subjects like mathematics and most of my elective and core requirements, I estimate that I studied about 4 hours per week for each course. For more challenging courses like Orogo II and Physics I & II, I might have spent 10-20 hours per week for each course.

Q: Did you use a test prep course?
A: I participated in a two week GRE prep course because it was offered through the MARC program for free. Had I not been fortunate enough to become a MARC scholar I am almost certain I would have not taken a prep course due to high cost. The pre courses offered through MARC utilized materials from The Princeton Review.

Q: Did you take a GAP year? If so, why?
A: I took a GAP year after graduating because my application was not competitive at the time of graduating and had I applied I would have wasted money and time that could have been spent improving my application. At the time I had 0 PCE hours, about 50 hours of volunteering and much less HCE hours than at the time I applied. In order to be more competitive I needed to acquire more hours and have more time to prepare my personal statement and supplemental responses.

Q: What do you consider to be your strengths in your application?
A: I consider my GPA, GRE score, and recommendation letters to be the strong points of my application. My GPA and GRE scores are above the minimums and slightly above the average for most of the programs I applied to. My recommendation letters came from individuals with whom I established a rapport, and I believe they were able to write enthusiastically about me as an applicant. Lastly, I felt that my application was quite well rounded in terms of involvement in different areas of healthcare, from research to volunteer work, and work experience as a provider. Each of my experiences connected well to create an image of how I perceived and described myself as a candidate. I don't think my personal statement was one of my strong points because I believe it may be well received by some institutions but not by others, based on their mission statements.

Q: Did you apply nationally?
A: I did not apply nationally. I only applied to New York State programs with the exception of one program in Connecticut. My reasoning for this decision was based on my financial situation, which did not allow for me to purchase or lease a car. In retrospect, I understand that my choice not to apply nationally was a huge risk because the schools in NYC are highly competitive. Additionally, it is likely that I will rely on student loans for the duration of my program. I would highly recommend applying nationally to other applicants.

Q: How did the Pre-Health Advising Office help you achieve your goals?
A: The Pre-Health Advising Office helped me achieve my goals by offering advice on my application's strong and weak points, informing me of programs to apply to, and aiding in the improvement of my application. Most of my writing material for the CASPA application, such as my personal statement and experiences were reviewed and edited and further reviewed before submission by the Pre-Health Advising Office. Additionally, the mock interview I had helped me learn what to expect and offered me an opportunity to know if my responses were lacking in any way. Most importantly, the support from the members of the Pre-Health Advising Office kept me motivated to keep pushing and stay focused during the months-long application process. Without their help, I could not have gotten to where I am now.

Q: What advice do you have for others?
A: The best advice I have for others is not to rush. I know many of us want to get into a program directly after graduating, but I urge applicants to reflect on themselves honestly before committing to applying. Not only will this save you money, but it will also save you emotionally from potential rejection that could negatively affect your desire to apply a second time.

I would advise doing everything right the first time around to avoid having to repeat the process the following year. Additionally, from what I've heard, if you apply to the same university twice, they will compare your first application to the second. They will make sure changes were made to writing prompts such as your personal statement and supplemental responses, and having not rewritten these might be detrimental. One of the most challenging parts of applying for me was writing these responses, and it would be unfortunate and time-consuming to have to rewrite them simply because I decided to apply when I was not competitive.

My second piece of advice for students pursuing PA school is understanding that it is functionally different from applying to medical school. Medical schools strongly emphasize involvement in research and strong academic grades and volunteering and, while strong grades are necessary for PA school, research and volunteering are not necessary. Research can make you stand out, but you do not want to focus on it. Prospective applicants will want to focus on these parts of their application in this order:

  1. GPA: Keep it as high as possible. Most schools look for a GPA of > 3.5; the minimum is 3.0 for most schools.
  2. PCE: Aim for 3,000 hours or more. It is also important to mention that some experiences are looked at as better than others. For instance, experience as a Nurse > Paramedic > EMT.
  3. HCE: It is not necessary to have, since PCE is required and the preferred experience, but this can be used to compensate for low PCE hours.
  4. Shadowing: You can shadow an MD, DO, PA or NP, but shadowing a PA is preferred and, for some schools, is required.
  5. Volunteering: Preferably try to volunteer in a healthcare environment if you can, but volunteering outside of healthcare is also acceptable. This experience carries much more weight at schools that value working in underserved communities.
  6. Research: This is not required, but if you have this experience, it can work to your favor to make you look unique. To my knowledge, the only schools that emphasize research for PA admissions are Yale and Stanford.

My last piece of advice would be to pick one dream school no matter how far off your stats are and add it to your list, because you never know what could happen.

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