PA Alumni Interview Part 2

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. This is the second part of her interview.

What was your favorite undergraduate class outside of the Physician Assistant program prerequisite classes?

I took an Intro to Poetry class with Gyorgyi Voros that I loved.  It was a completely different group of people than any of my science or language classes, so that was fun, and the professor taught in so many creative ways to engage every learning style.

Is there any advice or feedback that you received regarding personal statements that you would like to share?

Don’t make up stories (I feel like this should be obvious, but apparently there are people who do this).  Re-read your personal statement before your interview, in case they ask you a specific question about something you wrote.

How many programs did you apply to and what criteria or resources did you use to select these programs?

I think I applied to 6 different programs, interviewed at 2, and was accepted at 2.  My selection was based on geography (VT made me fall in love with the mountains of the east coast), application requirements (I was not interested in taking more classes after graduating), and the way the programs described themselves.  For my initial list of potential schools to apply to, I used to US News & World Report list of the top PA schools.  I then looked those programs up in the PAEA program directory, and perused each program’s website.

What made the Physician Assistant program you chose the right fit for you?

The fact that I got in! That’s only half a joke.  Honestly all you need is one school to let you in and you have your chance to learn and graduate and become a PA.

Since I got accepted at two schools, my choice came down to the priorities and mission statement of each program, and the cost of attendance.  Shenandoah’s program emphasizes servant leadership and practicing medicine in underserved areas, which really appealed to me.

Did anyone encourage or discourage you from applying to Physician Assistant program?

My mom was the first one to support me in applying to PA school, and my dad provided lots of encouragement throughout the application process.  All of the medical personnel at my job were really supportive too, including my manager and nursing staff and PA’s who worked on our floor.  I’ve also had a crazy number of random people who when I told them I was applying or now when II tell them I’m in PA school, they always say “Oh I love my PA!  That’s such a great career!”  So that’s encouraging.

Did you have to change any of your study habits when you entered Physician Assistant program?

Studying for PA school is very different than studying in undergrad, so I had to basically reinvent how to study.  I do still use a lot of Quizlets though.

What memory stands out the most from your first few weeks of Physician Assistant program?

My program started with a five-week summer semester, so the” first few weeks” of PA school were basically my first semester of PA school.  One moment that stands out is after our first exam, whereas in undergrad you might compare specific grades with classmates, we all realized that in PA school the only question that matters is “did you pass?”, and that if the answer was no, then it was all of our responsibility to step up and help that person do better next time.

What advice do you have for applicants considering a career in being a Physician Assistant?

Shadow a lot!  There are some careers where if you’ve shadowed once or met one person who does that, then you have a pretty good idea of what that career is.  Being a PA is not like that all.  The PA career is so flexible that each career, job style, employment arrangement, practice style, etc. is unique to that specific PA.  So, the more PA’s you can shadow or talk with, the better idea you will have of whether it’s the right career path for you.

What is your top tip for applicants preparing to take the GRE exam?

I would recommend finding an official study plan that works for you. I used Magoosh and it worked great for me, but honestly the most helpful thing about it was that it held me accountable to do lots of practice questions every single day.

What kind of financial aid did you need to pay for Physician Assistant program?

I and most of my classmates are taking out loans to pay for the majority of PA school.  There are also some scholarships available.

Did you have any fears going into Physician Assistant program?

I was a little worried after taking two years off between undergrad and PA school that I wouldn’t remember enough of my undergrad sciences, but they really teach you everything you need to know in PA school.

What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?

After two semesters of PA school, I got a dog, and she’s the biggest stress reliever in my life.  I think it’s also important to keep some element of “normal” in my life, whether it’s going to church every Sunday, or working out every day, or making time to have dinner with friends, it’s important to stay balanced. 

I stay motivated by focusing on the end goal of getting to be a practicing PA.  Shenandoah’s program does a good job of getting us clinical experiences throughout the school year, which are always a good reminder of what I am working towards.

If you had the opportunity to talk to a potential Physician Assistant student, what would you tell them off the top of your head?

Being a PA is a great career, but graduate school isn’t cheap, so make sure you maximize the number of pre-requisites you can get out of the way while in undergrad, find clinical experience that pays enough to support yourself through PA school applications, and make sure you shadow a lot so you know what you’re getting yourself into.  Also, every PA and PA student loves what they do, so don’t be afraid to approach one and ask to shadow or get a cup of coffee, they’ll be happy to share their passion with you.

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