This is the question that EVERY future PA asks at one point. How are you supposed to know what you want to do to get experience when so many of you have just started actively pursuing your future career of becoming a physician assistant?
Most schools require or strongly encourage that applicants have PCE. Originally, it started out as a requirement because PA school was so quick when compared to Medical school, and the admissions committee wanted to feel confident that applicants already had some medical knowledge and experience interacting with patients. This has kind of become outdated, but schools do still use it for these purposes!
To help all y’all figure out the best route to take, I’ve put together some information on the most common choices of what people like to do for Patient Care Experience. I even polled my classmates to give y’all an idea of the distribution from my PA school (keep in mind this was application cycle of 2015-2016).
At the end of the day, it is so important that you do your own research to determine what the best route for YOU is!
** one very important thing to remember is that NOT every school will accept Scribing or Research as Patient care experience! Please double and triple check with the schools you wish to apply to
I’m going to talk about my three recommendations of what to do for PCE:
3. Medical Assistant
I’ve also heard wonderful things about Scribing, and its a very common pathway, so I’ll talk about that too
I went the CNA route when getting my PCE, which I’m incredibly thankful for. I was a CNA for 2 years, first on an adult Med/Surg floor and then spending the last 8 months of a general Pediatrics floor. I think having those two drastically different experience – which allowed me to experience the two extremes of the life spectrum – really allowed me to grow as a person and a provider. I was also fortunate to be in a teaching hospital with individuals who were more than happy to also teach me!
How do you become a CNA? This varies by state to state and hospital to hospital. So I highly recommend doing research for your state to figure out what the requirements are. Most schools have some sort of pre-pa or pre-med club – this is typically a GREAT source of information. In Florida, we obtained a license – which comes from taking the state exam. We were not required to take an exam prep course, but most people do. After passing the state exam, I applied for several different jobs. This ended up being the most challenging part of the whole experience. So many hospital jobs required experience, which means it can be hard to find a job to obtain that experience.
My recommendation is to look at large hospitals in your area and pick Med/Surg jobs to apply to. These jobs are incredibly hard and often have a high turnover rate, meaning that sometimes they take chances on individuals with no experience.
One thing I do recommend staying away from is Home-Health agencies. 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 and less medical – meaning that schools normally don’t look at these in the same light of other CNA jobs.
EMT or Paramedic
I never had the opportunity to becoming a paramedic or EMT. It typically requires a much longer certification process and I didn’t have the ability to fit it into my schedule. With that being said, the experience you get out of being an EMT or paramedic is amazing. My classmates who were EMTs/Paramedics had a great base knowledge, and a good understanding of medications, diseases, and how to assess a patient.
How to you become an EMT/paramedic? I’m just going to quickly discuss EMT because that is the BSL pre-hospital provider (most likely what y’all are doing). This is typically a longer process than becoming a CNA. Prospects will complete a course – typically about 1 semester or 4 months long – and then complete two examinations (Florida and National).
Make sure to do research on how EMT licenses are obtained in your state!
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)classmate who was an EMT
We’ve all seen MAs in doctors offices before and while some people do make a career out of it, a lot of individuals are pre-health applicants getting experience! I know lots of individuals who got their experience by working as a MA. Typically hours are office hours, and it tends to be a great deal less physically demanding than being a CNA or EMT. And MAs get to work closely with medical providers, which allows for a ton of learning opportunities. However, most practices have a more narrow patient population.
How do you become a MA? This is by far the most situational dependent! A lot of practices don’t require that you have a certification or even experience and will train you in office. There are also practices that require you to be a certified MA and go through a training process. It really just depends. I honestly think that this is the easiest kind of job to find – the biggest downfall is that you might not be able to take classes at the same time.
I worked as a MA in a family practice clinic. Originally it was just rooming patients, getting a brief history, and vitals, but the longer I worked there the more responsibilities I got. At the end, I was giving vaccines, drawing blood, doing ECGs, and splints. I learned so much and was able to really develop a relationship with the MDs and PAs I worked with – so much so I have a job waiting for me.classmate who was a MA
The reason I included this after my top three recommendation is that not every school accepts it as patient contact hours (i.e. Northeastern). Technically, you are not touching the patient in a medical way (or even at all). 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.
How do you become a Scribe? Normally there is no special certification process for scribing! There are some national companies – like Scribe America – or local companies, or even just doctor’s offices looking to employ someone. Most of the training with this is on-the-job, and having no experience can actually be viewed as a good thing (especially in private offices) because you can be molded to that persons expectations.
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.classmate who was a scribe
So what does all of this mean for you?
It’s time to do some research and self reflection to figure out what route is right for you to obtain PCE.
Obviously I didn’t talk about every pro and con related to the job, and there are a ton of different opportunities to get PCE hours that I did not mention. But this will hopefully give you some basics to go off of.
At the end of the day, I think that the experience and learning opportunities you get are specific to each situation and what you make out of it! I made an effort to learn as much as possible from being a CNA – I asked tons of questions and said “yes” any time I was asked to help with something new. Other friends didn’t do this, and didn’t get as much out of working on the same floor.
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