Updated: Jul 7, 2020
I got into physician assistant school!
One thing I’ve realized during this process is that a lot of people don’t know what a physician assistant is, so let me start with that.
Like doctors, physician assistants (PAs) see their own patients, prescribe medication, order and interpret lab tests, and create treatment plans. A distinguishing feature of PAs, however, is that they always do so in collaboration with a supervising physician. Though individual programs vary somewhat, PA school is usually just a semester shorter than med school, but (unlike med school) usually runs year-round. Also unlike physicians, PAs are not required to complete an internship before practicing (though some do). PAs also have the option of lateral mobility and can move between specialties if they choose.
The profession has recently been ranking as one of the top career options in the country, as well as one of the fastest-growing professions in the country. Perhaps for this reason, getting into PA school is currently actually more competitive than getting into med school. Part of the profession’s rapid growth also has to do with how PAs are a practical solution to help remedy the “provider gap” shortage of healthcare providers in the US.
I started working towards this goal full-time at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. I was finishing up my seventh year teaching junior high and high school. I was working at a small charter school, where I taught French, Spanish, and a smattering of electives that I was asked to teach but wasn’t qualified for. I had started looking into PA school for a whole range of reasons. It was when the principal told me there was no budget for me to come back the following year that it affirmed the decision.
I went back to school full-time to Salt Lake Community College, taking legit, for-majors science classes for the first time. And I took a lot of them—enough that I got my diploma for an associate’s of science in “Pre-Medical Health Sciences” in the mail last June. Taking those classes—and succeeding at them—really felt like a triumph.
Still, I was never very open about what I was doing. I didn’t post much about being back in school, or about the goal of going to PA school. Besides with close family, I tried not to talk about it. I’m not totally sure why this is. I think part of it was that I thought it sounded ridiculous—a humanities major, a secondary-level foreign language teacher all of a sudden becoming a healthcare provider. I think part of it was also because I had worked so hard at that field. I had only finished my MA in foreign language teaching in 2017.
Part of it was that I felt like a failure as a teacher. I knew from when I was in high school that I wanted to teach foreign languages, and I worked so hard at becoming a good teacher. I love foreign languages, and tried hard to communicate to my students the benefits of studying a language, even for a short time. I thought I was decent at it, too—better than a good number of the teachers I had in junior high and high school, I felt. Despite all my passion and hard work, though, I was asked to resign from a teaching job when I was a couple of years in. Being told I wasn’t good enough at something I loved so much and worked so hard at was one of the hardest things that has ever happened to me. That’s probably been the main reason I haven’t been very vocal about this transition. Just…fear. Honestly, if I wasn’t good enough at one profession, I don’t know if I’ll be good enough at another.
When I finished a year of full-time classes at SLCC, it was time to apply. I submitted my application to nine programs last May. I was invited to interview at four. I received an acceptance to two, and was waitlisted at one.
The first call, incredibly, came from the University of Southern California, whose program ranks in the top ten in the nation. Much to my husband’s chagrin, however, I rejected their offer in favor of Idaho State University, and will be attending starting in August at their Pocatello campus.
On the PA blogs and podcasts I follow, I hear PAs who talk about PA school as one of the most difficult things they’ve ever done, and I’m nervous about what’s ahead of me. I feel like I won’t ever be able to keep enough information in my head to be a good provider. Still, I feel I have a few things to offer—I speak decent Spanish, for one thing. And one area I know about is mental health—an area I feel that is often neglected and misunderstood.
For Christmas, my mother-in-law, got me a stethoscope. She chose a pretty color, got it engraved with my name, and even bought a case for it, and a little sparkly bead that goes on the tubing. I was excited when I opened it. Even with my nervousness, I am looking forward to officially starting the journey when school starts in August—though there are some things I am sad about in the past, I don’t regret any of it. It’s all part of the journey. And so will be this next chapter. An adventure, and a journey.