Below is an interview with Rebecca Coryell, a 2015 Graduate of Virginia Tech, who is currently attending Shenandoah University’s Physician Assistant Program in Winchester, VA She plans to graduate in 2019.
What led to your interest in being a Physician Assistant?
I loved my biology class in high school, and went into college thinking I wanted to go to medical school. After shadowing and talking with doctors and PA’s throughout my Freshman year, I found that the PA lifestyle was a better fit for me.
Who or what inspired you to pursue being a Physician Assistant?
I was impressed when shadowing and talking with medical professionals, that every PA I talked to seemed to genuinely love their work and their life, whether they’d been in the field for 3 or 30 years. I look forward to a career that will be so fulfilling.
What experiences did you have that confirmed being a Physician Assistant was the right career for you?
Throughout undergrad I found that each science class just made me more curious about medicine and the science of the human body. Outside of the classroom, my favorite jobs always involved lots of interaction with a variety of other people. Being a PA seemed like a perfect blend of those two interests, and every step I’ve taken in that direction has felt right.
What did you major in and what inspired you to choose this/these areas of study?
I was a German major at Virginia Tech. I’ve always had fun learning languages, and knowing that I wanted to pursue a career in medicine, I figured college would be my last chance to devote a large amount of time to learning a language. My German studies also allowed me to get all of my PA school prerequisites during my four years of undergrad.
What activities did you participate in as an undergrad that shaped your preparation for Physician Assistant program?
My Freshman year at VT I went on a medical mission trip to the Dominican Republic with Medical Ministry International. Interacting with clinicians who embody servant leadership gave me a vision of what my career could look like.
How did you prepare for the Physician Assistant program application process?
Honestly when I decided to go the PA school route, I made a giant Excel spreadsheet of all the schools I could possibly imagine wanting to apply to, and all of their application requirements. After that I made a plan for taking all prerequisites before graduation. I also took an EMT-B class the summer between my Junior and Senior years, and then worked as a nursing assistant for two years after graduating.
Were you successful on your first attempt at application and would you like to share your story with the students on how you recovered/planned for the reapplication?
I was successful on my first attempt at application.
What are some words of wisdom about the application process? What would you have liked to know ahead of time? What do you wish someone would have told you before you began applying?
My biggest piece of advice is to start the application process as soon as possible, so you can get your application in early, so you can get in the earlier interview spots.
How do you balance the demands of Physician Assistant program with additional obligations and challenges?
I was lucky to have a number of people warn me ahead of time that PA school would consume my life for two years. Knowing that, I made sure to invest in my relationships with friends and family, and go on some trips before PA school started, so that I can focus my full energy on PA school while I’m in it. That being said, it’s also important to find those things which ground you and keep you sane, and hold on to those even while in school so that you don’t burn out.
Do you feel that you were prepared for the Physician Assistant program interview? What preparation advice would you give?
I attribute my success at PA interviews to two factors:
1) Andrew J. Rodican’s book “How To ‘Ace’ The Physician Assistant School Interview”
2) All the PA’s who talked with me about what their job is like, what they enjoy about their career, and what they would want to hear from a future colleague.
What obstacles did you overcome in your Physician Assistant program journey?
My biggest obstacle was in deciding how to get my clinical experience hours before PA school. While I was at Virginia Tech I was a full-time student with a part time job, and didn’t feel that I had to time to take on another job while in school to meet clinical requirements. I thought I wanted to work as an EMT after graduation, but after taking an EMT summer course between my junior and senior year, I didn’t pass the certification exam. Rather than give up on my goal of PA school however, I started looking for other ways to get patient contact hours, and ended up working as a nursing assistant (clinical associate) in Morgantown, WV. The two years I worked there following graduation gave me experience that I wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere else, and I’m so glad that that’s what I ended up doing.
What surprised you the most about Physician Assistant program?
After preparing myself for PA school to completely take over my life, I have been pleasantly surprised that I do have time to do other things, have fun, and be myself outside of the program. I see my family at least as much as I did when I was in undergrad (they live 9hrs away, so it’s not like I go home every weekend), and was maid of honor in my best friend’s wedding last fall. It’s helpful to have that balance to remind myself of who I am outside of being a PA student, since no one can actually study 24/7.
What do you enjoy most about Physician Assistant program?
I love how supportive my entire class is of each other. It’s so different than the competitive atmosphere of some undergrad science classes. We all want each other to graduate and be successful PA’s, and we really care about each other’s mental, emotional, and spiritual health, so we support each other’s academic progress.