Okay so this is the question EVERY pre-PA student asks at one point. How are you supposed to know what you want to do to get experience, when many of you have just started truly pursuing your future career of becoming a Physician Assistant.
Well have no fear, as I’ve put together some information on the top (well at least out of my classmates at GWU) choices of what do to for Patient Care Hours
So this is the percentages of what people in my class did! Some people did more than one thing, and I combined the different aspects of research together (we had research scientists and coordinators).
*One very important thing to remember here is that NOT every school will accept Scribing or Research as PCE. You will have a better chance with Scribing being accepted than Research though*
So, I’m going to talk about my 3 recommendations of what to do for PCE:
- Medical Assistant
I’ve also heard wonderful things about Scribing, so I’ll talk about that too.
I was a CNA and I loved it. I was a PCA (which is just the fancy title my Hospital gave CNAs) for about two years. I spent over a year on an adult Medical/Surgical Floor and 8 months on a Pediatric Floor. I was lucky enough that I got to experience those two totally different worlds as I think it has really made me grown as a person.
Firstly, Med/Surg. I literally think this was the BEST unit I could have ever worked on. It was awful, my back hurt, my knees swelled by the end of the day, my patients were smelly and old and sometimes mean. But I loved every second of it. I was also lucky enough to have gotten hired at a teaching hospital, which meant there was tons of Doctors, Residents, Interns, Med Students/PA Students that I could ask random questions to and learn from. I watched pelvic exams, spinal taps, helped preform neuro exams, and learned how to read X-rays/CTs and other tests. I had patients who had crazy diseases like Calciphylaxis (which I only suggest Googling if you have a strong stomach) and patients who had run of the mill diabetes. I had patients who had the most amazing life stories. It was fascinating and I learned so very much
Then, Peds. Eventually I got tired of my, well, very large patients. And I decided to go with the opposite end of the spectrum and work with babies. Little, adorable, oh so squishy babies who made me fall in love with them every day. And it was wonderful. And VERY different. I had to deal with parents-who I don’t love. I also had to deal with NAS babies-which if you don’t know what that means it stands for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, aka their mom did drugs when they were pregnant. While this was the hardest part of my job, I loved watching how much simple love and cuddles could improve their symptoms. But, I also learned a lot. Overall, I loved both of these floors for different reasons.
So, how do you become a CNA? You obtain a license, which comes from taking the State Exam. Most people take a CNA prep course, I did, but I do have friends who instead choose to watch online videos and “challenge” the exam. At least in Florida, it consists of a written portion and then a practical.
What kind of job should you look for? This is IMPORTANT. Do not, I repeat DO NOT go with a home-health job. This would be something were you work for a company and go out to take care of the elderly or ill at home. Most of these jobs are more social in a way. So, schools normally don’t look at these in the same light of other CNA jobs. Also, if you can avoid retirement homes, I would. These aren’t as bad as home-health jobs but I have heard awful stories from my fiends who have worked in them. So, I would go with a hospital! This may be harder to get a job at, but just keep applying! Also, you could consider working another CNA jobs before hand so you can have experience
So, I never had the option of being an EMT/Paramedic, and most of my friends until I got to school also did not get their hours this way. But, I have heard wonderful, wonderful things about this job. Most of my classmates RAVE about how much they learned as EMTs/Paramedics. And honestly, I can say that I think they do have a really amazing base knowledge. They have a good understanding of medications, different symptoms a disease can have, and how to assess a patient. But, I don’t necessarily think that they have a better knowledge than I do.
How do you become an EMT or Paramedic? This is a LOT more time consuming that being a CNA. The class is required and much longer to take. Another downfall is trying to get a job. I have heard that most places are difficult to get in to and that the shifts are weird/random at first.
A quote from a classmate: “EMTing was great because it’s hands on and the decision-making/responsibility are on you. You learn how to establish rapport with patients and how to be patient centered in your history/exam while still getting the information you need. Not to mention, at least with my gig, I got to do tons of cool shit (working in Haiti, concerts, tons of sports)”
This is a pretty common route as well. I have LOTS of friends who did this. Working in an office, 9-5, is pretty great. They got to work closely with providers, which allowed them to learn a lot. But normally, the practices they worked at were more of a narrow practice. You’re not going to see as much as you would at a hospital or as an EMT. But, they got great at taking histories, working with EMR, and vitals.
I worked as a MA in a free clinic for a couple of months and it was super interesting. I also had the pleasure of being able to different labs such as a urine dip test and I would draw blood. So I think how much you get out of being an MA depends on what kind of environment you work in.
Do you have to have a license? Eh, not necessarily. Some offices will hire you and train you on site for the job. Some places do want you to have the MA license which takes longer to get than a CNA. So I would do so research before deciding if you want to be an MA
The reason I included this after my top three is that not every school accepts it as patient contact hours (i.e. Northeastern). Technically, you’re not touching the patient. Its more of you following around a provider and writing down in the EMR what they are doing and finding in the patient. However, you learn a TON about how to take a history, how to write a note, what kind of questions to ask a patient, and what different diseases present as.
Normally, you need no kind of special education for Scribing. You would just apply for the job and be trained on site
A quote from my classmate: “Scribing is great to just absorb medical knowledge by osmosis and depending on where you work can potentially give you a lot of exposure to different patients/providers/medical environments. At least for me, it was through scribing that I decided to become a PA. Also great for networking if you want to work as a provider in the same area you scribed.You also have the very first-world problem of having too *many* people you could ask for letters of recommendation.”
SO, what does that mean for you? Well, it means you have lots of options to consider before deciding what route to go when getting your patient care experience.
Obviously, I didn’t talk about every pro and con related to the job, and there are a lot of different things I didn’t mention. But this should hopefully give you a basic idea of what each job is like.
If there is something specific you think I should talk about, feel free to reach me through the contact page.