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Successful Applicants—Physician Assistant

Successful Applicant Profiles for Physician Assistant Programs

Success Stories by Year of Matriculation

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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