The Physician Assistant Life

Physician Assistant Recruiting Video: Spoiler Alert, There’s a Dolphin!

Why become a physician assistant? Find out from a guy with a beard and cool posters. Spoiler alert: there's a dolphin!

Key Points in their order of appearance:

First and foremost it is important to understand that physician assistant is the greatest profession known to humankind!

What do you do? Follow the doctor along all day? Why don't you just go to medical school?

The name is confusing I get it.  Physician assistants work under the supervision of a physician or some fancy legal mumbo jumbo called respondeat superior that means physician assistants can do most and, in some states, almost everything a doctor can do but the doctor is ultimately responsible for the actions of the physician assistant.

They're doctors, they're not doctors, what does a PA even do?

PAs do just about everything a doctor does, including giving medical interviews and performing high "Kuality" physical exams:


Making diagnoses, ordering and interpreting tests and prescribing medications (warning coffee may not be covered by many insurance providers).


PAs also assist in surgeries and use penlights (refer to the video for an example of correct penlight usage time 2:38).

So do PAs only work in hospitals? Or what?

You can find PAs working in just about any healthcare setting and in just about any specialty.  The majority work in primary care and many work in rural or inner city areas helping out the medically underserved.

I am already a "fancy" medical professional what does the PA career have to offer me?


The physician assistant career started in 1965 when there was an influx of people coming back from the Vietnam War who had a lot of medical training.  At the same time there was a critical need for more primary care providers in the United States. So the physician assistant career was designed for people who already have a great deal of medical experience. That way they can become providers quicker and get out and help people much sooner.

As a "fancy pants" medical provider you might be interested in the core competencies that the physician assistant profession has defined for themselves to make sure we get the best patient care.

The American Academy of Physician Assistants defines its core competencies as follows:

  • Medical Knowledge
  • Interpersonal & Communication Skills
  • Patient Care
  • Professionalism
  • Practice-based Learning & Improvement
  • Systems-based Practice

For more information visit

I am just not buying the whole "greatest career known to humankind". What kind of hat-wearing beard-having man would say something like that getting my hopes up?

The Math


The bureau of labor statistics predicts that between 2012 and 2022 there will be a 38% growth in the PA profession, that's much higher than average and I read that in this "fancy pants" book. This is  going to keep going up because doctors are leaving areas where PAs tend to specialize such as primary care. Not to mention the median annual salary for physician assistants is over $90,000.

PAs also report very high levels of job satisfaction, much higher than most other careers so it's a good job.

So how do I do this? I'm in college now what can I expect if I apply to PA school?


The best thing you can do if you want to go to PA school is find out about the programs you are interested in. Comb their websites see what their prerequisites are - do they require prior healthcare experience. Hint - They probably do.

It's a good idea to become an EMT of maybe a medical assistant

Then, you will have to go to a school that is accredited by the ARC-PA.

Most accredited programs last 2-3 years and bestow a master's degree upon completion. PA school education is intense!

The first year is called the didactic year and you will take courses on everything from pathophysiology to giving patient exams to completing recruiting videos during your ample spear time. Then, you will go onto the clinical year where you will go to rotations in various fields of medicine then you will sit for the certification exam called the PANCE.

Physician Assistant Taking off his PANCE

PANCE stands for "Physician Assistant National Certification Exam" it's not the things you wear so you don't get arrested.

Pass the PANCE and you will be a PA but you have to recertify every 10 years.

There you have it, why the PA profession is the greatest career known to humankind spoken by a hat wearing beard having man... Who also happens to be a PA student. 

What do you think? Is the PA profession the greatest career known to humankind? If you have an opinion feel free to share it in the comments section.

My hat goes off to Mike West for this hilarious and brilliantly informative video. You rock!

A Surgeon Speaks: 7 Reasons Why You Should Choose PA Over MD

A Fellowship Trained Surgeon Shares 7 Reasons You Should Choose PA over MD

I am a fellowship-trained surgeon.

Besides the financial aspect, the following 7 points will make your decision of PA vs. MD easy:

1.  It takes on an average at least 15 years (after high school) of head in the sand (books) to complete fellowship and reach the $200,000 debt figure that you are quoting.

2.  A 40-50 hour work week is a dream for most MDs. Most of my colleagues work 60 hrs and some up to 80 hours a week.

3.  Not counting the hours after you go home and come back for ’emergencies’.

4.  Family life is a ‘possibility’ for PAs. Look around and see how many MDs have kids before 30. You will be surprised by the small number.

5.  Most of my PA friends work two jobs (totaling 60-80hrs/week), so their salaries go up accordingly. Ever heard of an MD working two jobs. I guess 120-160 hrs/week is kinda difficult. Huh..

6.  PAs work just as well and earn just as much respect by their patients and colleagues.

7.  The only trajectory this trend is going is upwards. Mid-level providers’ need and utilization has been increasing exponentially.

I am totally happy with what I am doing. But if I were to advise an aspiring student for MD vs. PA, I would totally refer him/her to this post. I think the round 1 showdown is won by PAs, not MDs.

- Dr. S

Dr. S is a fellowship trained surgeon who was kind enough to weigh in on the PA vs. MD debate in the comments section of this blog.

What do you think? Is Dr. S spot on or dead wrong? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.  You probably know where I stand on this debate. :-)

The Audio PANCE and PANRE Board Review Podcast Episode 21

Welcome to episode 21 of the FREE Audio PANCE and PANRE Physician Assistant Board Review Podcast.

The Audio PANCE and PANRE is an audio board review series that includes 10 Multiple Choice PANCE and PANRE Board Review Questions in each episode.

I hope you enjoy this free audio component to the examination portion of this site. The full series is available to all members of the PANCE and PANRE Academy.

  • You can download and listen to past FREE episodes here, on iTunes or Stitcher Radio.
  • You can listen to the latest episode, download the transcript and take an interactive quiz of the questions below.

adobe pdfDownload the FREE PDF transcript for FREE here or on  Scribd.

Listen Carefully Then Take The Quiz

If you can't see the audio player click here to listen to the full episode.

Questions 1-10

The Audio PANCE and PANRE Episode 21

1. A 28-year-old female, who has experienced occasional painful migratory arthralgias, complains now of a tender, swollen, and hot left ankle. The joint was aspirated and the synovial fluid showed 55,000 WBCs, 75% polymorphonuclear lymphocytes, low glucose level, and no crystals. Which of the following would be the most likely diagnosis?

A. Rheumatoid arthritis
B. Septic arthritis
C. Gouty arthritis
D. Osteoarthritis

Click here to see the answer

2. When the diagnosis of gonococcal urethritis is confirmed, which of the following is the treatment of choice?

A. Ceftriaxone (Rocephin)
B. Azithromycin 1g orally in a single dose
C. Ceftriaxone 250 mg IM in a single dose PLUS Azithromycin 1g orally in a single dose
D. Doxycycline (Vibramycin)

Click here to see the answer

3. Erythema nodosum is characterized by

A. subcutaneous red tender nodules.
B. brown pigmentation on the lower extremities.
C. tender lymph nodes in the groin.
D. scaling red macules.

Click here to see the answer

4. Use of systemic corticosteroids can cause which of the following adverse effects in the eye?

A. Cortical blindness
B. Optic atrophy
C. Glaucoma
D. Papilledema

Click here to see the answer

5. It is determined that a woman has a nonexistent rubella titer level during her first trimester of pregnancy. When should she receive the rubella vaccine?

A. During the first trimester of pregnancy
B. During the second trimester of pregnancy
C. During the third trimester of pregnancy
D. After delivery of the infant

Click here to see the answer

6. A patient with which of the following is at highest risk for coronary artery disease?

A. Congenital heart disease
B. Polycystic ovary syndrome
C. Acute renal failure
D. Diabetes mellitus

Click here to see the answer

7. A 44-year-old female presents with ongoing arthralgias and myalgias with intermittent flares of arthritis. She is found to have a malar rash that worsens with sun exposure. She is known to have progressive renal damage and has recurrent infections that are slow to respond to therapy. She takes ibuprofen (Motrin) as needed for her joint pain and takes no other medication. Which of the following tests would be the initial test recommended to screen for this diagnosis?

A. Rheumatoid factor
B. Antihistone antibodies
C. Anti-Smith (Anti-Sm) antibodies
D. Anti-nuclear antibodies (ANA)

Click here to see the answer

8. Upon stroking of the lateral aspect of the sole from the heel to the ball of the foot, the great toe dorsiflexes and the other toes fan. This is a positive

A. Kernig's sign.
B. Brudzinski's sign.
C. Babinski's sign.
D. Gower's sign.

Click here to see the answer

9. Which of the following strategies promotes improved carbohydrate metabolism and is recommended for all Type 2 diabetic patients?

A. Low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet
B. Routine aerobic exercise
C. Metformin (Glucophage)
D. Acupuncture

Click here to see the answer

10. Acute rebound hypertensive episodes have been reported to occur with the sudden withdrawal of

A. verapamil (Calan).
B. lisinopril (Prinivil).
C. clonidine (Catapres).
D. hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ)

Click here to see the answer

Looking for all the episodes?

This FREE series is limited to every other episode, you can download and enjoy the complete audio series by joining The PANCE and PANRE Exam Academy.

I will be be releasing new episodes every two weeks. The Academy is currently discounted, so sign up now.

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  1. iTunes: The Audio PANCE AND PANRE Podcast iTunes
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While you are over there, download and subscribe to Brian Wallaces' excellent Physician Assistant Exam Review Podcast. Follow along with Brian who covers new topics twice monthly and really does an amazing job!


Stephen Pasquini PA-C

PA Personal Statement Workshop: Essay 7, “I Want to Take People From Dying to Living, I Want to Get Them Down From the Cliff.”


In this seventh (and final) installment of our special week-long personal statement workshop, we continue to pull essays submitted from the comments section through our free essay submission process and provide you, and our users, with a more detailed analysis of their essays.

This seventh submission is by Jordan and is a real cliffhanger. Jordan, a rock climber, finds himself on the edge of a cliff both in the Canadian Rockies and while facing the diagnosis of a pulmonary embolism in his wife who is 6 months pregnant. At the edge of his rope, he finds solace in the medical team that saves her life. In a matter of time, his purpose becomes clear:  "I want to treat and care for patients. I want to change lives. I want to take people from dying to living. I want to get them down from the cliff."

We will present you with his original essay and our suggestions.

As always, use this as a guide to see where you can improve your own writing, and respect the work of others. It should go without saying this is not your essay, so don’t plagiarize.

Essay 7: "I Want to Take People From Dying to Living, I Want to Get Them Down From the Cliff"

By: Jordan

100px-Essay.svgSo here is my first draft. I know it lacks some cohesion and can certainly be tidied up but I mostly want to know if I am first, headed in the right direction and second, where I should go from here. Thanks

When I looked down all I could see were dark clouds sweeping up the valley like a tsunami of cold and rain; bad news for two rock climbers a thousand feet off the ground in the Canadian Rockies. Decision time. Do we risk the weather and try to finish the last 500 feet to the summit or do we pack it in and rappel down 5 hours work climbing up Ha Ling Peak with little chance of attempting the climb again. We argued for too long and soon realized we were now subject to the whims of the fickle spring weather in the Rockies. We headed down in the cold and the wet, wishing we had left sooner. While in the uncomfortable embrace of disappointment and a climbing harness, I had no idea that this moment would set the foundation on which I would decide to become a Physician Assistant (PA). I thought to myself, If I can change a life, even just one, how many others will benefit as a result? Each decision we make has a ripple effect that changes not only our lives but also the lives of people around us.

Several years later I found myself stuck on the side of a very different cliff. My wife, who was 6 months pregnant, had developed bilateral pulmonary emboli (PE). It was uncommon for me to find her with tears in her eyes but one Sunday night she woke me up and while struggling to breath, told me that she couldn’t lie down because her back hurt too much. Frightened and unsure what to do, I did my best to diagnose the problem. I had been trained as an EMT but that provided only a little help under such circumstances. I was suspicious that she had developed a PE but her legs showed no signs of deep vein thrombosis. We made the decision to visit the emergency department and after many hours and many tests, the diagnosis was confirmed and treatment began. It was exactly one week later that my wife called me from work with identical symptoms. At this point I had learned much more about PEs and according to the statistics, I became fairly certain I would soon have to say goodbye to my dear wife. I distinctly remember this terrible, wrenching feeling in my gut, the kind you get when your big brother punches you for being his little brother. Never in my life had I a wished that I could do more for a person than at that moment. I didn’t have to say goodbye. The doctors and PAs changed her life. They took her from dying to living. They got her down from the cliff.

It certainly wasn’t a light bulb moment. In fact, I had decided I wanted to be a PA almost a year prior. At the time I was the director of clinical research for a small industry research company. I worked with patients in nearly all-therapeutic areas and together with our doctors and PAs we did our best to provide comfortable quality care to our patients as we investigated new medications. While my career was going well, I soon recognized that the part of my job I enjoyed most was the time I spent with my patients, conducting interviews, drawing blood, answering questions and providing education. I wanted more of that and while dodging traffic on the way to the ER, I realized that my desire to help my wife was a magnified version of what I had felt with all of my patients. Each interaction we have provides an opportunity for us to react and our reactions can change the lives of countless people even if we just start with one. Getting stuck on a cliff taught me that. I wanted desperately to finish Ha Ling Peak, but even more I wanted to be safe. I wanted a good professional career, but even more I want to treat and care for patients. I want to change lives. I want to take people from dying to living. I want to get them down from the cliff.

I never finished climbing Ha Ling Peak and finishing was probably never the point. Everyday there are limitless factors that are out of our control that will get us stuck on the cliff. Our job is to react and adapt to those changes in our circumstance. We are all shaped by moments, tiny portions of our everyday lives that form the majority of who we will become. I guess if you put these moments together you might call it experience. Whatever it’s called, my moments have fixed in my mind a determined resolution to become PA.

Suggestions and Revisions

By: Sue Edmondson (personal statement collaborative)


Hi Jordan,

You’re a good writer, a huge plus, and have an excellent, easy to read yet sophisticated style. All those are sure to grab the attention of admissions folks. You’ve improved the essay, but it still needs work.

You open with a literal cliffhanger, and I see that you’re tied to the mountain climbing experience. The problem is that it doesn’t work with the essay — it just doesn’t fit in with the points you’re making about wanting to be a PA. I think it’s most apparent at the beginning and ends of the essay which are general philosophical statements. You’re straining to tie the climbing experience with your work/life experiences because you like it so much. (I understand — what a dramatic, scary, thrilling adventure). But if you are determined to open with the climbing experience, you need to rethink how you’ll make it work thematically. Right now, it’s like reading about an apple in one sentence, about broccoli in the next. It’s that disconnected.

Have a couple of friends or relatives read this part: “While in the uncomfortable embrace of disappointment and a climbing harness, I had no idea that this moment would set the foundation on which I would decide to become a Physician Assistant (PA). I thought to myself, If I can change a life, even just one, how many others will benefit as a result? Each decision we make has a ripple effect that changes not only our lives but also the lives of people around us,” and ask if they see how you get from the disappointment of leaving the mountain to wanting to change lives by becoming a PA.

The other issue is that you talk in depth about your wife’s experience but then say it wasn’t a light bulb moment, that you’d already decided to be a PA. That undermines the whole episode (which by the way, is too long, although I was relieved to learn she survived).

Skip generalities. They don’t help admissions folks know you, and that’s what they’re looking for. It’s tempting to philosophize, but this essay is not the place.

You are on track when you start to talk about your work experiences, and when you talk about how the PAs and doctors impacted your wife’s treatment. In those places you touch on why you want to be a PA. If you’re going to use your wife’s experience, focus more on the PA interactions and delete the beginning of the next paragraph. Otherwise, pick a patient that you treated and worked on with a PA.

Keep going. Writing is rewriting!

Sue Edmondson

Is your mom or dad really giving you honest feedback on your personal statement?

Parents are full of great advice, but when it comes to your personal statement family and friends don't make the best editorial team.

mom giving adviceWe offer a bit of free guidance to anyone who takes the time to submit their essay in the comments section of the blog. But your essay needs more than the sympathetic feedback provided by a friendly relative.

For as little as $59 you can have:

  1. Personal guidance from our team of professional (unbiased) writers, with inside knowledge of the PA school personal statement. (We have personally interviewed 12 of the top PA school admissions directors from across the country.)
  2. Telephone consultations are included with all purchases above the single edit level. It's often hard to communicate exactly what you want hundreds of miles away; for this reason, we offer the option to edit right alongside us over the telephone while sharing in real-time over Google Docs.
  3. We provide feedback, advice and help with brainstorming and topic creation.
  4. We will help with a "final touch up" before the big day just in case your essay needs a bit of polish.

Click here to learn more.

Here is what one of our recent clients had to say: 

I wanted to give a brief update: I have had 4 interviews, 2 acceptances, 1 wait-list, and waiting on one more. Right now I have a deposit down at Univ. of Texas Medical Branch. Thanks for all your help. It really did make a difference, and I was even complimented on my narrative during a few interviews.Andrew S. PA-S

We are currently accepting essays in all iterations. We have flexible pricing and can do everything from a single one-time edit to a full-service review that will take you from beginning to a finished product.  Hurry, as we can only accept a few essays each month.

Click here to post your essay or learn more about our service.

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Who Gets Into PA School? Here’s What You Need to Know

what does it take to get into pa school The Physician Assistant Life 2Leslie Mean is a 27 year old white female who presents to the PA school admissions committee on her first attempt to get into PA school.

She has a 3.5 overall GPA and a 3.4 science GPA. She is holding a bachelors of science degree in biochemistry, had an SAT score in the 1000-1100 range and above average GRE scores.

She has 4 years of hands-on clinical experience working as a CNA and a long history of volunteer work which exemplifies her desire to help her fellow man.

She is kind and considerate and has reference letters which demonstrate her maturity and strong interpersonal skills.

She was accepted into PA school on her first attempt.

Who is Leslie and Why did she get into PA School?

When asking the question: What do I need to do to get into PA school? You would be smart to talk to Leslie.

Leslie is a hypothetical PA school applicant who went on to become a PA school student, a perfectly average PA school student.

She also embodies what PA school's all across the country are looking for at this very moment.

How do I know this?

Because the most recent data from the PAEA semi annual report, representing responses from over 85% of PA programs detailing characteristics of applicants and students enrolled in PA school, show that they are filling their seats with Leslie.

As much as I like to talk about not being average and differentiating yourself from the pack it is good to know what average is. Average provides a baseline by which you can measure your own progress, set goals and develop an application timeline.

Does this mean you have to be just like Leslie to get into PA school?

Absolutely not, first of all, factors such as race, age, ethnicity, etc. are of no importance and you certainly don't have to be female to get into PA school  (I myself am living proof).

But, it is safe to assume that most schools are looking to keep their graduation and certifying exam pass rates high. They have an incentive to take less risks and because of this, anything below average is considered a risk.

Thus, take a good look at Leslie and focus on factors that you can control to differentiate yourself, like your academic standing, your experience, your volunteer activities, your references and your essay.

If you set the bar at Leslie, and end up being a Mother Theresa, I am pretty sure you will be accepted into PA School, although I have no data on religious preference and PA school acceptance rates. :-)

So what does an average PA school applicant who is admitted to PA school (i.e student) look like?

Let's take a look:

→ The average PA school students age is 27 years old

The average age of first-year students ranged between 25 and 28 for all categories.

Average age of Physician Assistant School Applicant

→ The average PA school student is female

The gender distribution of first-year students has started to stabilize after nearly a 20-year trend of a gradually increasing proportion of females:

  • Female: 72.4%
  • Male: 27.6% (mean)

First Year Enrollment in PA School by Gender

→ The Average PA school applicant has a bachelor’s degree

The majority of PA school applicants hold a baccalaureate degree.

  • No academic degree: 8.1%
  • Certificate: 0.2%
  • Associates Degree: 2.6%
  • Baccalaureate Degree: 70.5%
  • Master’s Degree: 6.6%
  • Doctoral Degree: 0.9%

→ Most students had four to five years of hands-on clinical experience prior to applying

PA school applicants come to the table with a variety of medical experience, especially if they are strong applicants. On average, four years of prior experience in one of the following areas is common:

  • Nursing
    • Registered Nurse (RN)
    • Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
    • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
  • Allied Health
    • Physical Therapist
    • Occupational Therapist
    • X-ray Technician
  • Emergency Services
    • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
    • Paramedic
    • Emergency Room Technician
  • Miscellaneous
    • Phlebotomist (that was me!)
    • Athletic Traner
    • Medical Researcher
    • Medical Volunteer


Average healthcare experience years and hours of PA School Student or Applicant

→ SAT/GRE scores of those accepted tend to be in the above-average range

SAT scores are in the 1000-1100 range.

→ The average PA school student has between a 3.36 and 3.47 overall GPA and an undergraduate science GPA between 3.36 and 3.47

The average undergraduate overall GPA for PA school applicants accepted into PA school was 3.47, undergraduate science GPA was 3.36 and non science GPA was 3.56.

Average GPA for PA School Student Undergraduate and Science

→ Most PA school students are White

Skin color has nothing to do with acceptance rates, but it is interesting (and maybe a bit sad) to know that the vast majority of first year students were White (86.5%) followed by Asian (11.1%) and Black or African American 4.1%.

First Year Student PA School By Race and Ethnicity

→ What are your chances of being accepted into PA school?

Roughly 5 out of every 100 applicants will be accepted into PA school or, if you like percentages, you have a 5% chance of being accepted.

→ PA school students don't smoke pot and are not drug dealers or part of the Italian Mafia

Over three-quarters of programs reported that students were required to have a background check upon matriculation to the program, while 47.1% of responding programs mandated drug testing during the 2011–2012 academic year.

Some Important Points

It's not Rocket Science: It is important that a candidate demonstrates reasonable aptitude in the hard sciences such as anatomy and physiology, chemistry and biology. It is more likely that the committee may overlook a grade of C in U.S History or Spanish I. They will be less tolerant of a marginal grade in the sciences.

Show compassion: Your GPA is stellar and you've amassed an impressive amount of medical work experience in the little spare time you have while keeping your grades pristine, but you still get that dreaded rejection letter. Why? You didn't do enough volunteer work. Volunteering exemplifies your desire to help your fellow man—the attribute identified by schools as one of the most integral to becoming a successful PA. "Students who have had experience in working with underserved populations, rural or diverse populations, performing volunteer service or disaster relief, or other experiences that illustrate a drive and compassion for others often stand out to the admissions committee,"

Quote Run of a Ladder Thomas Henry HuxleyIt's an easy race to the bottom, so set your sights at the top: Many people will be set aback when they read that only 5% of applicants will be accepted into PA school on any given year, but this should actually be good news. Being in the top 5% in any field is not nearly as hard as it sounds, simply because the majority of the competition is in the bottom 95% and has bottom 95% qualifications. For example, you have read this entire post so you now know what the average PA school applicant who has had some success looks like. You understand what a top 5 percent applicant looks like. Your goal now is to be better than the average 95% and exceed the top 5%.  If you aim high, you will be competing with a much smaller minority, and your odds of getting an acceptance letter will increase dramatically.

Tables and data were sourced from:

The 28'th PAEA Annual Report


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