Tips On Getting Into PA School: Part 2- Paid Hands-On Experience

posted on: March 18, 2014

PA Orthopedic Rotation Ortho

Orthopedic rotation during PA school at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center where I put my Cast Tech knowledge to good use

So you decided you want to go to PA school? Well between trying to finish your pre-requesits, get some volunteer experience, pay your bills and manage your ever-shrinking social life these PA programs expect you to somehow get your “hands-on” paid working experience where you work directly with patients. You start to do your research and start pulling your hair out when you realize almost all paid hand-on jobs require some sort of extra schooling, certificate or licence. How are you suppose to squeeze that in with your current schedule? Well I’m here to give you a few ideas about what kinds of jobs are out there for Pre-PA students.

{every state is different when it comes to licensing requirements and the amount of schooling to complete these programs, make sure you check with your state for exact laws and requirements. These are only a few jobs that can get you that paid hands-on experience. If you’ve had luck with another type of job let us know about it by leaving a comment below}

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)– Commonly employed in nursing homes or in a hospital setting, take vital signs, collects specimens for medical tests, assist with personal hygiene and feeding of patients who need assistance. Schooling time: 6 weeks (full time) to 4 months (part time). Pros: Short schooling and usually pretty easy to find a job. Cons: This is a tough job. I worked as a CNA for 2 1/2 months the summer after my Freshman year.  As a CNA in a nursing home you are responsible for getting your patients ready for the day, bathing, getting dressed, feeding, ect… For me this was “back-breaking” work often with a large patient load.

Phlebotomist- People trained to draw blood from a patient for clinical or medical testing, transfusions, donations, or research. Schooling Time: 4 weeks- 4 months. Pros: Short schooling, usually easy to find job. Cons: Limited variety of medical treatments observed.

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)- EMTs are clinicians trained to respond quickly to emergency situations such as medical issues, traumatic injuries and accident scenes. Often employed by ambulance services, hospitals, fire departments, schools, etc… Schooling Time: 3 weeks-4months. Pros: Exciting variety in medical situations you will be exposed to. Cons: Not for the faint of heart, involved in traumatic and emergency situations.

Medical Assistant (MA)- Typically work in a doctors office, check-in patients, take vitals, preform injections, handle instruments, collect specimens for lab testing, etc… Schooling Time: 6-9 months Pros: works directly with a physician/PA and is exposed to a variety of medicine. Cons: Long schooling process. Can be difficult to find part-time Medical Assistant jobs. *you can sometimes find a MA job without a certificate if they are willing to train you. I was able to do this. Check with your state for specific regulations. 

Medical Scribe- A Medical Scribe is essentially a personal assistant to the physician/PA performing electronic dictation and gathering information for the patient’s visit. Schooling Time: 1-4 months. Pros: Literally see everything the practioner sees, you become very familiar with medical terminology. Cons: Not exactly “hands-on” as you are not touching patients but most PA programs accept this as paid hands-on experience.

Elderly Caregiver- Help the elderly in their own homes with taking medications, daily hygiene, running errands, etc… Schooling Time: CPR Course; 1 day.  Pros: No schooling necessary. Flexible part-time or full-time work. Cons: Not as “medical” as other jobs.

Cast Technologist- Works in a hospital or private office setting with an orthopedic surgeon applying casts to patients. In an office setting you work as a medical assistant but also apply casts. I am partial to this job because this I worked as a cast tech for a year between undergrad and PA school. Schooling: 1-3 day casting work shop + possible medical assistant schooling requirement. Pros: FUN job (if you like hands on stuff). I loved casting, working with my hands, cutting of casts , etc… While I currently work in Derm I have always found Orthopedics so interesting. Cons: Limited job availability.

My best advice is not to wait for one of these jobs to pop up on craigslist or monster. Network, pound the pavement and get your name out there! Get your resume in tip-top shape but also provide a cover letter indicating you are a pre-pa student and are highly motivated for the job and why YOU are the best one for the job (even if you have zero experience). I was able to find a Cast Tech job, zero experience and they knew I’d likely be leaving in a year. I did that by networking. Many medical jobs are not posted anywhere. While you may only get 1-2 call backs from dropping off 100+ resumes you only need that one job to get that experience you need.

  • Hannah

    Hey! thank you for your post.
    What was your overall GPA and science GPA for acceptance into PA school? How many acceptances did you receive?
    I am worried about how competitive it is to land a seat in a PA school. I am still working on finishing up my pre-requisite courses and volunteering hours to apply to PA school!
    Thanks so much!

  • Laura

    Thank you so much for your post! I am a recent college graduate who has returned to school to fulfill a few requirements, hoping to apply to PA schools next year. Since deciding to enter the healthcare field, I have had little trouble with the education side of things but trying to gain experience has been very challenging. Your blog has helped immensely.