Previous Healthcare Experience may Enhance Your Physicians Assistant (PA) School Experience
Health Care Experience is either preferred or required from PA programs. It may be a great way to find out exactly what a PA does. It may also be a good way to demonstrate that you can work well with patients. Having a real world context for what you will learn could help you process and retain lessons in anatomy and physiology. A short course and basic certification may open the door for you to get hands on experience with patients, helping provide you with a deeper understanding of the day in-day out dynamics of the health care environment.
(1) Emergency Medical Technician/ParamedicEMT
Training may be a very practical introduction to health care. You could learn some anatomy and physiology basics, some treatment basics, and some ethical/legal concerns that can occur. All of these subjects get just enough attention to get you working. The skills you learn may be useful in a variety of situations and with another year of training you could pursue a career as a paramedic. Paramedics can give over 100 drugs, perform Advanced Cardiac Life Support, do invasive procedures in emergencies, and hold more responsibility. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012 most EMTs/Paramedics worked for ambulance companies or the government.
(2) Certified Nursing Aid
This is a very popular option. You could learn the basics of caring for patients, mostly focusing on the inpatient experience. Cleaning, turning, body mechanics when lifting, etc. CNAs often work in nursing homes or hospitals and provide much needed care to patients. They often assist nurses with their duties.
Scribes may see from the provider perspective better than any other role. They follow a doctor/PA/NP and input their notes and orders into the computer. The observe everything that the provider does, often talking through the decisions during note entry later. While Scribes do not get to directly interact with patients, they may get a better view at the decisions made in treatment.
(4) Pharmacy Technician
Pharmacology is a cornerstone of treatment in modern medicine. As a pharmacy technician, you may get exposure to the myriad of drugs we use to help patients. Learning major categories and families of drugs, generic vs trade names, and seeing how dosing works for different drugs may help jump start your career.
(5) Physical Therapy Assistant
PT assistants get to help in the therapy, educate patients, and see the recovery process that the body goes through after a major event. You may be able to learn which muscles function together, which bones make up each joint, and even muscle innervation. My classmate who was a PTA tutored most of us in Anatomy because he was already so familiar with the muscles.
Whatever career path you pursue, make sure you make the most of your health care experience. Here’s some tips:
- Try to pick up shifts in other areas/departments to learn what they do. Things can vary greatly from one unit to another.
- Ask to help with any procedure or advanced situation and later ask questions about anything you didn’t understand. Make sure whoever you ask isn’t busy with something else.
- Every time you hear a word you don’t recognize, write it down and look it up later. Learning the healthcare vocabulary is a great benefit you don’t want to miss.
- Ask everyone what their role is on the team. Health care is becoming more team based and knowing what other people do will help you integrate into teams.
- Do your job well. People will be much more willing to teach you if they know you’ve taken care of your duties.
About the Author: Ryan English is currently pursuing a graduate degree in physician assistant studies.