The Physician Assistant Life

Your Main Goal on Your Path to PA Shouldn’t be Immediate Success or Money, But to Learn as Much as Possible


Your main goal as a new physician assistant or as someone hoping to become one should not be immediate success or money, but to learn as much as possible.

When people look for a “way in” to a particular field – an internship or first job – they often search for positions which promise the greatest prestige or financial reward.

But there are other, more important rewards to consider

For one, a job that gives you an opportunity to learn can be worth doing, even if it doesn’t pay well.

Other more prestigious, well-paid positions will be available to you later, and the practical knowledge you gain from those early, poorly paid jobs will ultimately pay off for decades to come.

Consider my first job in the medical field

The only position available when I applied at the campus health clinic in 1996 was an hourly position in the basement,  far removed from patients, working for minimum wage (which at the time was a whopping $4.25 an hour) as a medical records clerk.

This “entry level” position gave me my foot in the door and after a couple of months of filing records in the evenings I transitioned to a float.

Soon I was “kicking it” with the doctors, PA’s and medical staff. I later met a college senior who was working in the laboratory as a student phlebotomist and technician.  She became a close friend who would eventually pass her time-honored position on to me.

It was here, in the lab, that I worked alongside a medical doctor turned lab technician from India who took me under his wing and showed me the ropes.

I became close acquaintances with a Physician Assistant who ran the campus orthopedic clinic and let me hang out from time to time.

Later, it was these phlebotomy credentials (not my 4 year degree in Biology mind you) that I used to obtain employment after graduation.  It was the amazing campus health center staff that would go on to write the letters of recommendation that were surely a part of my acceptance into PA school.

I never made enough money to buy more than my annual bus pass and pay part of my living expenses. But the knowledge, the resources and the connections I gained were priceless.

Stop Acting Entitled – It’s Time to Rethink The Meaning of Work!

Take a look at this 2011 TED talk by Charlie Hoehn  author of The Recession Proof Graduate – How to Land The Job You Want by Doing FREE WORK (FREE download)


My entire life, I’ve done what everyone told me I should do. From kindergarten to my senior year of college, I had a high GPA. I volunteered. I played sports. I was in groups, extracurricular activities, student council. I did all that stuff. I was checking off the boxes in order to become a successful American. So by the time I graduated in 2008, after 12 weeks of applying for jobs to dozens of companies – maybe even a hundred – I had been turned down by every single one of them with the exception of two. One was a staging company whose only job requirements were have a pulse and be a chain smoker. And the other company was a pyramid scheme, so thank you And my friends were all going through the same thing. It wasn’t just me. Charlie Hoehn

Many masters made a similar choice in their early years

Consider boxer Freddie Roach: he chose to take an unpaid position at a boxing center, using his time there to develop the skills necessary to his professional career. Ultimately, his decision paid off; Roach eventually earned far more money than if he’d taken a different, paid job early on.

For example, in his youth, Charles Darwin rejected both a place at medical school and a well-paid job in the church. Instead, he convinced his father to allow him to work as an unpaid naturalist on the HMS Beagle, where he could study exotic plants and animals. The observations he made during that voyage helped him to develop his famous theory of evolution.

Or consider Benjamin Franklin, who – rather than taking over his father’s lucrative candle-making business – chose to work at a printing business. This meant a far longer apprenticeship, and financial uncertainty, but Franklin recognized he could use this position to learn how texts were composed – a skill that would later benefit him greatly.

Your Inner Calling


Have you ever had the feeling that a discipline or field was tailor-made just for you, and that working in that field is your destiny?

Then you need to trust that feeling and do whatever it takes to make your destiny a reality.

Each of us is unique – an original, through and through.  Due to the endless possible combinations of DNA in our bodies, we are a one-of phenomenon.

Like snowflakes, no two humans are exactly alike.

So why is it, then, that we don’t all act unique?

Due to incredible social pressure to blend in, we suppress our uniqueness in the vain hope that just doing what everyone else does will keep us out of trouble.

Rather than using your energy to blend in with the crowd, recognise instead that you’re unique, and that you have a specific calling in life which can be found quite simply by listening to – and following – your inner voice.

As I write this now I sound bold and fearless but when I first approached the campus health center in hopes of finding a job and some medical experience I was terrified. 

I lacked self-confidence, I was doubting my inner calling. 

But what I didn’t doubt was my desire to help other people.

My “calling” or whatever you want to call it, that led me to believe that a career in medicine was even a possibility.

A lot of people spend their time making excuses instead of making solutions!


Some excuses I hear all the time:

  • There are no jobs out there to gain experience – Then do what I like to do – offer to work for free. Then see where you are in a month, if you play your cards right this may be the best investment of time you have ever made.
  • PA’s don’t want to let me shadow – Call one up and invite them out for coffee. Or if that sounds scary, write a personal hand-written letter and drop it off at their office. Explain to them how much you want to help others, why you dream of being a PA, how you admire them and their position and value their work. Hell (although this might come across as stocking so be careful :-)) you could even schedule to make an appointment then work it in to the conversation. Then ask them if you could buy them a cup of coffee and pick their brain – Maybe this is best for the follow-up appointment!
  • I am not smart enough – This is fear taking over. If you struggle (I hate math for example) then do whatever it takes to figure out how to get through it. In 2014 with the dawn of the Khan, Udemy, Coursera, EdX etc. etc. There should be no more excuses!
  • I have a family – Granted I didn’t have kids when I attended PA school although I have two now and a wife that works. Having a family doesn’t mean life should stop, it just means you need to get serious about time management, assess your priorities, turn off the TV and make the time.
  • I am too old – I attended PA school with a 56-year-old post doctorate student with a previous degree in psychology. I work with a 62-year-old NP who decided he needed a new challenge. I work with a 75-year-old PA who loves her job.  Life is about learning, it is never too late.

I can’t, I don’t, but I, I’m not – These are self-limiting words that will hold you back.

Next time you see yourself making excuses stop! Just stop, and reframe your thinking.

Instead of thinking of all the ways you can’t do something start thinking about the ways you can instead.

Change your worldview and the view of the world will change with you!

I am not even sure where this blog post started but I like the way it turned out…

The point is this:

  1. Your main goal as a new physician assistant or as someone hoping to become one shouldn’t be immediate success or money, but to learn as much as possible.
  2. Follow the advice of Charlie Hoehn – Rethink your definition of work, stop acting entitled, choose an area you’d like to work in and get some skills then contact “targets and prove your worth!
  3. Listen to your inner calling.
  4. Be Unique… i.e. Be yourself.
  5. And finally stop making excuses! As my dad always says “excuses are like armpits and they all stink”. Change from a limited to a limitless mindset.

That is a lot to absorb in a blog post, but hey, life is short – So get GOING!

Thank you again to everyone who has taken the time to read this blog post. I wish you the best on your journey, and I hope you have a wonderful day!

- Stephen @thepalife

Beautiful photo credits: Mark Brannan shoothead woodleywonderworks

My PA School Rejection Letters – How to Turn Your “Set Back” into a “Set Up”


“If I fail more often than you, I win.” – Seth Godin

I have written before about the importance of becoming an epic failure and how this is a fundamental part of becoming an epic success.

I was cleaning out some of my old file cabinets today and came across my PA school application documents from 2001.

I will be sharing three of them below.

If you are experiencing setbacks on your path to becoming a Physician Assistant I want you to know that this is a normal part of the process.

Do not be discouraged: failure, met with perseverance, is the key to long-term, sustainable success.

My PA School Rejection Letter #1 (Ouch!)


In order to help you reach your goals it is important that you see my failures along with my successes.

Otherwise, you will be fooled into believing that success is a simple, pain-free process, when in reality the path to each of my successes has been lined with the road kill of my many epic failures.

Got a Moment for Some Inspiration?

Weather it is God or otherwise, how we perceive a setback matters!  (Listen 25 minutes)

This week, I won two free tickets as part of my daughters kindergarten raffle to see James Durbin, an American Idol “outcast”, play here on our shared home town stage of Santa Cruz, California.

Although I am not that familiar with all of James’ music, last night as he stood on stage I realized just how much I respected this 25-year-old rocker.

Knowing all the public criticism he had to endure during his time on the Idol stage, the sting of being “voted off” and rejected by his peers, not to mention the many obstacles he had to overcome in a lifelong battle with Tourette’s and Asperger’s syndrome.

Last night, he spoke to the sold out crowd (many of whom were young, screaming teenage girls) and divulged his story of how his pediatrician told his parents to keep their expectations low. Just goes to show what you can do with a dream and a whole lot of grit.

Don’t even get me started on the Olympics!

It may sound cliché to say that we learn more from our failures than from our successes, but nevertheless this is true.

Because life is a process of trial and error, and error, and even more error until finally you succeed!

The key is to hang in their long enough, don’t give up with the struggling masses, there is light at the end of the tunnel no matter how dim and distant it may seem.

PA Rejection Letter #2 (Your Killing me)


So success is simply the end result of a long series of epic failures if you have done things right.

Reading the above rejection letter so many years later I am almost embarrassed to admit that I didn’t have a 3.0 GPA, but there is a back-story not written on this rejection letter. This proves the point that an isolated number outside of any context is just a point along a curve that when seen alone is pretty much useless.

Don’t become a point on a curve, the trend is what matters! In what direction are you trending?

And just when you thought the pain and suffering couldn’t go on…

My Rejection Letter to the National Health Service Corps (The kick in my proverbial balls)


Yes, I was even rejected by the National Health Service Corps the first time I applied. Although not the second

And yes, I received even another rejection letter from OHSU, but I must have thrown that one into the fire.

My Acceptance Letter to PA School

At first it seemed odd to me that among this stack of failed attempts I could not find my acceptance letter into pa school.

I remember it so well, that simple single sheet of white paper with red and black-ink letterhead, about 4 sentences long sporting an official UMDNJ seal.

I read it in the rain, on a cold Seattle evening by streetlight, heart beating, exhausted after a long day of work. The feeling of nausea rose to my chest as I held the two corners of that letter, and I said a short prayer before I tore it open.

I made a promise to God and myself that if this dream would come true I would use my training always to relieve the suffering of others and to make the world a better place.

Spoiler alert… I was accepted and I am still working hard to keep my promise.

My Message to You

If you have received a rejection letter fear not my fellow epic failures, I too have stood demoralized in your shoes.

But do not let that define you, let it guide you, let it be the road kill that you can look back upon with pride years later when you are writing a blog post hanging out your dirty underwear with pride for all the world to see.

Here are my rejection letters. I am posting them as a reminder of what should make you stronger. I saved them because they gave me motivation, and I hope they can be a part of yours as well.

If you can learn to see adversity as a tool to help you reach your goals you can turn what seemed to be a “set back” into a “set up” for something truly wonderful.

Thank you for reading, and I wish you the best wherever you may be on your journey to PA-C.

-  Stephen

photo credit: venspired

MD Versus PA Showdown Round 1 – Show Me The Money!


Before you read this post I want you to take a quick survey.

What do you think?

Physician Assistant vs. MD – Show Me The Money

Often the decision between PA and MD is considered a difficult one, but should it be?

Today I am posting the first in a series of posts to help prove to you why this age-old debate is not a debate at all.

And since the biggest search phrase in Google following the word “Physician Assistant” is “Salary” I thought I would start by addressing the elephant in the room and show you the numbers.

Annual salary numbers themselves are useless, as they are not a good representation of salary in relation to all the hidden variables such as time spent in training, debt, residency, and average hours worked per week.

This post is going to address all of these variables using an elegant equation and we will calculate a more important indicator:

True Hourly Wage!

This post is heavy with numbers so you may need to grab your glasses (and a calculator), but as you will see the results are interesting!

So lets get going…


Medical Doctors (MD) – True Hourly Wage

Becoming a physician is expensive!

For the 2013-2014 academic year, the average total student budget for public and private undergraduate universities was $19,338 and $39,028, respectively.

If one attends an average priced institution, receives subsidized loans and graduates in four years they will have about $100,000 of student loan debt from undergraduate college.

For the 2013-2014 academic year, the median cost of tuition and fees for public and private medical schools was $24,384 and $43,002 per year, respectively.

This does not include the cost of rent, utilities, food, transportation, health insurance, books, professional attire, licensing exams fees or residency interview expenses.

Therefore, the average medical student budget is about $45,000 per year; $30,000 for tuition and $15,000 for living expenses.

If one attends an average priced medical school, receives 1/3 subsidized loans and graduates in 4 years; at a 7% APR they will have $200,527 of debt from medical school at graduation.

If one borrows $22,500 bi-annually and two-thirds of this accrues interest compounded bi-annually at 3.5% – their total student loan debt for both college and medical school will then be $300,527. Forbearing this debt through 5 years of residency and paying it off over 20 years will cost about $788,880 of one’s net income.

Loan repayment programs such as those offered by the military are not a solution for the majority. Each year, about 22,000 medical students graduate from U.S. allopathic and osteopathic medical schools. Each year the military matches 800 students into its residency training programs, because that is the military’s anticipated future need for physicians.

The U.S. tax code allows taxpayers to deduct a maximum of $2,500 per year of student loan interest paid to their lender.

This deduction is phased out between incomes of $115,000 and $145,000. Therefore, this benefit is of no help to most physicians.

If one were to start a business, they could deduct nearly all of their expenses. Yet for unclear reasons, one cannot deduct the cost of becoming a physician; not the tuition or even the interest on the money they borrowed to pay their tuition.

During residency, if one makes payments of $1,753 per month, or $21,037 per year, to pay off the accruing interest, their debt will be still be $300,527 at the end of residency.

However, they will have spent $63,111 over the course of a 3 year residency or $126,222 over the course of a 6 year residency to keep their debt from growing.

Though paying off the interest during residency is the responsible thing to do; coming up with $21,037 each year from one’s net pay of $40,000 may be quite difficult.

Time spent training, student loan debt and the U.S. tax code makes the income of physicians deceiving. A board certified internal medicine physician who is married with 2 children, living in California and earning the median internist annual salary of $205,441 will be left with $140,939 after income taxes and $106,571 after student loan payments.

This is assuming a federal Income tax rate of 28%, California state income tax rate of 6.6%, Social Security tax rate of 6.2% and Medicare tax rate of 1.45%.

You can go to to get an idea of what one’s net pay would be for different incomes, states of residence, marital status, number of children, etc. Paying off a debt of $369,425 over 20 years at a 7% APR will require annual payments of $34,368.

Those student loan payments will continue to consume about $34,000 of their net income for 20 years until they are finally paid off.

What started off as $300,527 in student loan debt will end up costing $687,360. This debt that consumes one-fourth of their net income for 20 years wasn’t accrued because they bought a house they couldn’t afford – it is because they chose to become a physician.

Believe it or not, the amount of money reaching a physician’s personal bank account per hour worked is only a few dollars more than that of a high school teacher.


In order to make this calculation we will neglect inflation of the U.S. dollar by assuming that inflation will increase at the same rate as the purchasing power of the U.S. dollar decreases.

We will also assume that physician incomes keep pace with inflation. We will also assume that tuition costs, student loan interest rates, resident stipends, physician reimbursements and the U.S. income tax structure are as described above and do not change.

The median gross income (income before taxes) among internal medicine physicians is $205,441.

The median net income (income after taxes) for an internist who is married with two children living in California is then $140,939.

Internal medicine is a three-year residency, so throughout residency they will earn a total net income of about $120,000 and spend about 34,000 hours training after high school.

The total cost of training including interest, forbeared for three years and paid off over 20 years as explained above is $687,260.

One study reported that the average hours worked per week by practicing Internal Medicine physicians was 57 hours per week. Another study reported the mean to be 55.5 hours per week. We will use 56 hours per week and assume they work 48 weeks per year.

If they finish residency at 29 years old and retire at 65 years old they will work for 36 years at that median income.

Lets Run The Numbers:

True Hourly Wage for a Medical Doctor

[(140,939 x 36) + (120,000) – (687,260)] / [(56 x 48 x 36) + (34,000)] = $34.46

The adjusted net hourly wage for an internal medicine physician is then 

$34.46 per hour


And Now The Moment You Have All Been Waiting For…


Physician Assistant – True Hourly Wage

The median gross income (income before taxes) among Physician Assistants is $100,000

The median net income (income after taxes) for a Physician Assistant who is married with two children living in California is then $76,277

Physician Assistants do not have a residency. They spend about 6,400 hours training after high school plus they will need roughly 2,000 hours of direct patient care experience prior to applying to PA School. PA school is roughly 4,300 hours of training. This is made up of 2,000 hours of didactic and 2,000 hours of clinical hours plus the amount of time it takes to get a bachelor’s degree.

The total hours of training for a Physician Assistant is roughly 12,400 hours of training after high school.

The total cost of training if one attends an averaged priced institution and pays off their debt over 20 years at a 6.8% interest rate is roughly $197,176. You can estimate your own payments here.

One study reported that the average hours worked per week by a practicing Physician Assistant was 40 hours per week. Another study reported the mean to be 42 hours per week. We will use 41 hours per week and assume they work 48 weeks per year.

If they finish PA School at 27 years old and retire at 65 years old they will work for 38 years at that median income.

Since most PA’s do not receive a pension we will say our hypothetical PA will get a 3% employer match for 38 years and I am going to ignore interest on this income so it is about $114,000.

Lets Run The Numbers:

True Hourly Wage for a Physician Assistant

[(100,000 x 38) + (114,000) – (197,176)] / [(41 x 48 x 38) + (12,400)] = 42.63

The adjusted net hourly wage for a Physician Assistant is then 

$42.63 per hour


And Just For The Fun of it Because Both of My Parents are Teachers


True Hourly Wage – High School Teacher

The median gross income among high school teachers, including the value of benefits but excluding their pension, is about $50,000.

The median net income for a high school teacher who is married with two children living in California is then $42,791.

This is assuming a federal Income tax rate of 15%, California state income tax rate of 6.6%, Social Security tax rate of 6.2% and Medicare tax rate of 1.45%. You can go to paycheckcity to get an idea of what one’s net pay would be for different incomes, states of residence, marital status, number of children, etc.

Teachers spend about 6,400 hours training after high school, the amount of time it takes to get a bachelor’s degree.

The total cost of training if one attends an averaged priced institution and pays off their debt over 20 years at a 7% interest rate is $186,072.

At this income one would be able to deduct the interest on their student loans from their income taxes; however, those savings are not accounted for in the calculation below.

High school teachers have about 10 weeks off each summer, 2 weeks off during Christmas, 1 week off for spring break and 1 week of personal paid time off. Therefore, high school teachers who work full time average of 40 hours per week for 38 weeks each year.

Yes, teachers spend time “off the clock” preparing for class, correcting papers, etc. However physicians also spend time “off the clock” reading, studying, going to conferences, etc. If a high school teacher finishes college at 22 years old and retires at 65 years old, they will work for 43 years.

Most teachers also receive a pension. We will assume their gross annual pension including the value of benefits is $40,000 which is a net pension of $35,507. If they die at 80 years old they will receive this pension for 15 years.

Lets Run The Numbers:

True Hourly Wage for Teacher

[(42,791 x 43) + (35,507 x 15) – (186,072)] / [(40 x 38 x 43) + (6,400)] = $30.47

The adjusted net hourly wage for a high school teacher is then

$30.47 per hour

For The Love of Money

The median gross income among internal medicine physicians is $205,441.

The median gross income among high school teachers, including the value of benefits but excluding their pension, is about $50,000 per year.

The Median gross income among physician assistants, including the value of benefits is around $115,000 per year.

Accounting for time spent training, student loan debt, years worked, hours worked per year and disproportionate income taxes – the net adjusted hourly wage of an internist is $34.46 per hour, while that of a high school teacher is $30.47 per hour and that of a physician assistant is $42.63.

Though the gross income of an internal medicine physician is 4 times that of a high school teacher, the adjusted net hourly wage of an internal medicine physician is only 1.13 times that of a high school teacher and 1.24 times less than that of a Physician Assistant! Click To Tweet

PA vs. MD Round 1 – goes to Physician Assistant! (sorry mom and dad)

*Oh yeah, and how about that stay at home 35-year-old living in the basement in our poll? If anybody has time to do that calculation please post it in the comments section… We may all be working way to hard!

If you liked this post please feel free to share with a like :-)

- Stephen


The Virtual PANCE and PANRE – It’s Like Having a Pearson VUE Testing Center in Your Living Room

The-Virtual-PANCE-and-PANRE--Pin-2When preparing for your PANCE or PANRE board exam it is hard to know what to expect on test day.

Yes, you can watch the preparatory NCCPA PANCE Video or PANRE Video and you should, because they are informative. Usually after I watch them 2 or maybe even 3 times I feel more knowledgeable but also increasingly anxious.

To make matters worse, if you are preparing for your PANRE exam, like I did just a few years ago, you are even further removed from the mindset of sitting still and taking a 4-hour exam.

While working with students, I have learned that Studying for your PANCE or PANRE is like preparing for the NBA finals: 

The best way to prepare for a sporting event is to replicate the actual situation as best as you can prior to game day. The same holds true for your PANCE or PANRE exam.

Which is why I created the Virtual PANCE and PANRE.

The Virtual PANCE and PANRE

The goal of this virtual experience is to replicate your actual test day as best as we can.

Although my virtual exams do not come with a fingerprint scanner, locker space or a 6×6 foot testing cubicle, I have done my very best to emulate the actual testing experience.  This is excellent preparation for “game day”.

The Virtual PANCE and PANRE is part of my PANCE and PANRE Academy, where you have instant access to:

  • Access to a ton of mobile flashcard sets
  • A 4-hour ECG video lecture series
  • Compiled PANCE and PANRE Review tables (thank you “Running PA“)
  • Two, 120 question “legacy” PANCE and PANRE exams
  • A developing mobile audio PANCE and PANRE exam to take in the car or to the gym
  • The 5 hour Virtual PANCE and/or PANRE
  • And a couple more surprising “goodies”

The Virtual PANCE and PANRE is my newest addition and one of my favorite parts of the Exam Academy.

The virtual exam is extremely simple in design, but if used correctly (i.e you schedule an actual 4 or 5 hour block of time) you will be able to replicate a “controlled” testing environment that simulates the time limits and exam blocks you will have to navigate on test day better than any other premium testing platform on the market.

My Virtual PANCE and PANRE is just like the Actual PANCE and PANRE

Exam Blocks

The exams are administered in multiple blocks of test questions.

Exam Length

The five-hour Virtual PANCE exam includes 300 multiple-choice questions administered in five blocks of 60 questions with 60 minutes to complete each block. There is a total of 45 minutes allotted for breaks between blocks and you will be responsible for managing your break time.

The four-hour Virtual PANRE exam includes 240 multiple-choice questions administered in four blocks of 60 questions with 60 minutes to complete each block. There is a total of 45 minutes allotted for breaks between blocks and you will be responsible for managing your break time.

Note: During the Virtual PANCE and PANRE you will have a chance to review the questions and answers as you complete each block and you will be scored immediately upon completion.

The Six-Years-Six-Attempts Rule

Don’t worry about this one, I give you as many attempts as you like.


If you are studying for your PANCE or PANRE the best way to prepare is to practice. The best way to know what to expect on game day is to play a game prior to game day. The Virtual PANCE and PANRE will allow you to play the game before you arrive at the arena.

The more you play in the arena, the better your chances are at winning come game day. As of now, the virtual PANCE and PANRE is really the only arena available in which to practice and as part of the Exam Academy you get a lot of bang for you buck.

My goal is always to help you succeed by creating the best resources I can at an amazingly affordable price.  The cost of most testing platforms is ridiculous!  As PAs we succeed together and I have created the Virtual PANCE and PANRE because it is what I needed when I was studying and I am happy to share it with you in hopes that it will help make your life easier, alleviate some of your anxiety on test day and prepare you in the best way humanly possible.

Thank you dearly to everyone for all the continued support, emails and kind words. It is what keeps this blog, this community and these resources flowing. I am so grateful every day for each and every one of you, and I wish you the best as you prepare for your board exams.

As always, if you ever have any pre-sale questions or you just want to say hi please drop me a line or leave a comment down below in the comments section, I always love to hear from readers!

Take Care,


Who is the Ideal PA School Candidate? Lessons From Olympic Ice Skating


I love Olympic ice skating.

It is the ultimate test of human grit. Here are people who have spent 4 years and countless hours practicing for what comes down to a life changing 2 minute event.

This is a lesson on life, it is a lot like preparing for your PA school interview, finally pressing submit and sending off your CASPA application, committing to a 2 year plan to complete your PA school prerequisites, and it is a lot like preparing for your PANCE or PANRE board exams. 

Lots of preparation time for what is often a huge, life changing, over-in-a-second event.

Falling Flat on Your Face

What  I love most about Olympic ice skating is also what is the most painful to watch: Setting up for the triple lutz and falling flat on your face.

The best part of the olympics is watching experts do this, which makes me feel better about myself. I often think to myself “Hey if they fall and they have professional coaches then I am not so bad.”

The true winners pick themeselves up from the ice, finish their skate, thank the crowd and then come back and kick ass in the long program.

In my last post I wrote about some of my failed application attempts to PA school.

I received quite a bit of feedback from this post. One of my favorites was as comment on Facebook from a very well-intentioned pre-physician assistant who said “It’s helpful to hear success stories from people who are not the “ideal” applicants.”

Which begs the question:

Who is the “ideal” PA School candidate?

This years Olympic ice skating was not without big surprises and lots of controversy. The Russian skater who was not even invited to compete in the team skating event ended up winning Gold.

We see this type of result beyond the sport of skating.

In the Olympic half-pipe, instead of flying tomatoes, we got rotten tomatoes and a gold medal winning iPod!

This proves the point that the ideal candidate may not always be the one who looks the best on paper. It could be, but more often than not it goes back to a theme you see me write a lot about on this blog:


  • It is about falling and getting back up.
  • It is about skating a gold medal winning performance when you made it on the team as an alternate.
  • It is about preparing like a champion because you know you are a champion.

Thus the gold medal winner is you, if you believe it to be the case.

Relentless Practice

Nobody is going to hand you your gold medal, just like nobody is going to hand you a valuable spot in their PA school.

It may be true that if you are an exceptionally brilliant valedictorian with stellar scores and an abundance of honors and awards under your belt, or if you are a snowboarder with lots of media attention you may have an easier path. But, as we see in the Olympics, even the most respected and talked about athletes can fall on the half-pipe.

So you must prepare and expect to win the gold.

When I was in college I took the premedical track at the University of Washington, which just happens to have one of the best medical programs in the country.

I was surrounded by Sean Whites and Bode Millers and I felt a lot like a big loser.

The premedical track is one of the biggest weed-out programs in the world. Designed with the sole intention of making you quit.

The curves are demoralizing, people fail all around you, the first year alone is like opening up the ships in Normandy on D-day. Your are met with a constant barrage of gunfire, and it is painful to watch your colleagues shot down.  These are people you know and love laying there, bleeding in the trenches, people who you often considered to be much better warriors than yourself.

But I chose to do the premedical track because I knew it was the biggest mountain I could climb on way to PA school.

Yes, as you can see from my rejection letter, I graduated with a 2.76 math/science GPA, but what you didn’t see is that I did this while taking the hardest science and math classes our University had to offer, working part time in the University Hospital, volunteering for various organizations and in the end I even made it on the Deans List.

Yes, it was more than a bit painful along the way,  it even came with it’s obvious setbacks. But, it was training for a spot on the podium, nothing less.

Going for gold

I guess you can decide what you want for your life. You can add jumps into your short program while in bonus to earn extra points or you can play it safe.

You can challenge yourself, or you can take it easy and just try to get the best grades possible with the least possible effort.

But to win at the Olympics you need more.

The Sean Whites and the Gracie Golds of this world know this. While they failed to medal this year, they are competing at Sochi, while the rest of us are at home watching it on TV.

Choose today

The point is: there is no “ideal” candidate.

The only ideal candidate I can think of is the one that shows up every day, that has a burning desire and a passion to make a difference in this world, the one who challenges themselves despite the potential for failure, who believes in themselves because they believe in others, who is never afraid to do what is right because it is what is right, regardless of the potential consequences.

If you are planning your career path to PA school don’t forget this. Don’t opt for the easy path because you think it is going to make you look good.

Challenge yourself, because when you do make it into PA school all those challenges will be the tool belt you need to be wearing when you are later making life and death decisions.

The easy road is a fools game, it is a “fools gold” it may look good, and attainable but, like most things in life, the harder the climb the stronger you will be when you reach the top of the mountain.

Just ask Adelina Sotnikova.

- Stephen