By Rebecca Jasulevicz
On October 14, ESU’s PrePhysician Assistant Club hosted a panel discussion in which current students considering the pursuit of graduate school programs to become physician’s assistants (PAs) could ask students from DeSales University for advice based on their firsthand experiences.
The panel consisted of Janine Umberger, an ESU alumna who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology with a pre-physician’s assistant concentration, and Jennie Dong, who completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Arizona, where she dual-majored.
Dong’s primary major was human physiology, and her secondary major was molecular and cellular biology. While attending the University of Arizona, she also completed a minor in psychology.
The two were willing to answer questions ranging from how to ace the graduate school interview to quelling students’ worries about how to handle cadavers.
“We usually do the PA panel every year just so students can come back and sit and talk. You guys are probably sitting there thinking, ‘Oh my goodness, I don’t know if I’m ever going to get in!’ But we actually can give you answers about how to get in and help you guys,” said Umberger.
Some students expressed fear that ESU would not be able to provide them with the skills needed to be accepted to graduate school. This year, out of DeSales University’s 1,200 applicants, only 80 were accepted.
Umberger, who graduated from ESU, said, “You will get all your classes that you need to get into graduate school. If you complete all your classes and you get decent grades in them, you will be able to get into a graduate school. I am 100 percent sure on that.”
“A lot of PA schools have the same recommendations — anatomy, chemistries, biology — but what really helped me here at East Stroudsburg was Animal Physiology, Histology, and Anatomy & Physiology…I felt really prepared after taking classes here at East Stroudsburg,” said Umberger.
Choosing a graduate school program depends on the specific needs of the student, as well as what type of coursework he or she thinks to be the right fit.
“It makes a difference what your priorities are because when you go through a four year program, you have the room to do things other than your regimented major,” said Dr. Jennifer White, an assistant professor in ESU’s biology department and advisor to the Pre-Physician’s Assistant Club.
She continued, “I’ve actually had several students transfer to ESU out of [shorter] programs because they were too pigeonholed to their particular pathway. If they wanted to take an art class, they couldn’t because it just didn’t fit in.”
Some schools do not require the GRE, but even if applying to a graduate program that does, the panelists suggested not stressing about the test. If studying, they advocated for learning time management skills and brushing up on mathematical concepts that may have been forgotten.
Both attested to the importance of taking practice tests, as they can be the best indicators to what one needs to focus on while reviewing. GRE scores are valid for five years, and so if one needs to take a year off between undergraduate and graduate studies, the scores can still be accessed.
“I took a year off and I thought it was very beneficial for me because I got to learn what it’s like to be in an ER, what PAs get to do on a day to day basis, and I also got to learn billing and a lot of other things,” said Dong.
Umberger added, “I finished my four years and went right to PA school. If you feel like you’ve got enough [clinical] hours and your grades are fine…go for it. It’s not going to hurt to try to get into PA school right away, and if you feel like you’re not ready, just take the year off and gain more hours and more experience.”
To avoid overspending on applications, Umberger recommended only applying to schools that you know you want to go to. Once the application is in, the next step toward acceptance is undergoing an interview.
Umberger attested, “The interview is not as bad as it seems. People say horror stories…but my interview was the total opposite.”
After a group interview with the university’s president, they sat down individually with different professors to discuss academics, clinical hours, and to get to know one another.
As for what to discuss during the interview and what to include in a personal statement, both panelists recommended tying together a personal story with the work of PAs.
“I recommend a great personal story…Make it your story. At your interview, you want to talk about your experiences and how they led to you wanting to become a PA,” said Umberger.
Dong added, “If you just give run of the mill answers, how are they going to remember you?”
The panelists then recommended learning how to prioritize studying for classes and figuring out one’s strengths and weaknesses once actually having been accepted.
“After class you have to go through what you already went over. I know that maybe sometimes you can’t because you want to study for another exam, but you’ve just got to try to prioritize. You honestly need to keep up the pace,” said Umberger.
However, even with being in classes eight hours each day, the students at DeSales University all work to help each other achieve success.
“We all try to get to know each other’s names. We’re there to have a good experience and help each other,” said Dong.
She continued, “It’s really different from medical school, where your rank really matters for what residencies you’re going to get into. We share everything. It’s a really communal effort.”
The goal of the Pre-Physician Assistant Club is to help students learn what they need to accomplish in order to be accepted by a PA graduate program.
Curtis Webb, a senior at ESU who attended the discussion, said, “I thought it was an excellent presentation. It answered a lot of questions and concerns I had about getting into PA school. I have to apply soon, so it really helped.”
Any students interested in attending Pre-Physician Assistant Club’s meetings should contact the club president, Kimberly Arendt, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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