Physician Assistant Alumna Interview

Amy Chen is a 2018 graduate of Virginia Tech.  She took a gap year after graduation and is now attending Wake Forest’s PA program.

  1. What did you major in and what inspired you to choose this/these areas of study?

 I was a Biology major in undergrad, and I chose this major because I really enjoyed all science classes and in particular, found the upper-level classes to be very interesting. As a Biology major, the pre-requisites required for those upper-level courses (e.g. Cancer Biology, Pathogenic Bacteriology) were satisfied during my first two years, and it worked out that I was able to knock all the pre-requisites for PA school. That is NOT to say you can’t major in anything else; pre-requisites for PA school can always be completed with any other major.

  1. What activities did you participate in as an undergrad that shaped your preparation for PA school?

In undergrad, I was an active member of the Pre-PA Club and was also the President of the Pre-PA Club for 2017-18. I found this club to be very informative with its monthly meetings, which would either involve current PA students sharing their thoughts and inputs to the club members as well as having admission committees from various PA programs talk to us. We also organized trips to PA programs during their Open Houses to see them in person. It was definitely an organization that had provided me with plenty of resources.

  1. How did you prepare for your PA application process?

First and foremost, it is so important to find out the pre-requisite courses that are required by your PA program(s). Because they vary from program to program, I had to make sure that I took the courses that are required by some but not by others; that way, I was covering all of my ground. Secondly, racking up clinical hours. I worked both as a CNA and a medical scribe to achieve all of my hours as required by the programs, which was a huge component of the application process. Lastly, start CASPA early! It always opens in late April, and I started filling it out right away. Most programs are rolling admissions, so early is better!

  1. Were you successful on your first application attempt and if not, 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, and my biggest advice is to know exactly which programs you’re applying for, have a strong personal statement (get as many people that you TRUST to edit it as possible), and truly be yourself during those interviews!

  1. What was your favorite undergraduate class outside of the PA prerequisite classes?

I’d probably give it to Pathogenic Bacteriology. It was a 4000-level class that I thought most closely mimicked what PA school classes might looked like. Dr. Melville was the professor for the course (he was phenomenal), and I enjoyed the challenges the class brought and the relevancy it was to real life!

  1. How many schools did you apply to and what criteria or resources did you use to select these schools?

I applied to 8 different PA programs, and some of the factors that went into coming down to these 8 programs were the curriculum, distance away from home, cost of attendance, and of least importance, prestige. At Wake Forest, it is one of the most renowned programs for incorporating the IBL curriculum, and this was the ultimate factor over choosing to attend other programs.

  1. Did you have to change any of your study habits when you entered PA school?

I have yet to change my study habits during this past first month of PA school. However, I expect some changes to take place as everyone has said that you continue to learn of other people’s habits/strategies that you may find beneficial and more efficient, and thus, incorporating those into your own study habits.

  1. What is your top tip for applicants preparing to take the admissions exam required for PA school?

Make sure you have a plan! I devoted a solid two months into studying and prepping for the GRE. A similar day would look like this: 2 hours of verbal, 2 hours of quant, an hour of reviewing the missed practice questions. I used Kaplan and ETS prep books.

  1. What helps you manage your stress and stay motivated?

I am a big outdoorsy person, and to de-stress, I usually take a little walk on the trails near campus or go on hikes. It is definitely important to engage in your interests and hobbies while in PA school so that you learn to balance school with personal and physical wellbeing. To stay motivated, I constantly remind myself that I am in PA school and am surrounded by all the classmates who are passionate about medicine and hope to one day become PAs. I am lucky!

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

Be passionate and compassionate. Medicine isn’t for everyone, and you truly have to have the heart for medicine, for healthcare, for patients, and for the community to be a passionate provider. Have a meaningful purpose for everything you do and be intentional in the things you do. Going to PA school and becoming a PA is most definitely achievable; be sure to use all the resources that are out there – talk to PA students and shadow PAs!

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