Best Extracurriculars for PA School - The Complete Guide

January 26, 2024
7 min read
Contents

”Rohan

Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Chief Resident in Anesthesiology, Weill Cornell Medicine, & Admissions Officer, Columbia University

Reviewed: 1/22/24

Exploring the best extracurriculars for PA school is your key to unlocking a successful journey toward becoming a physician assistant.

Are you on the path to becoming a physical assistant? Well, you're not alone, but here's the catch—getting into PA school can be fiercely competitive. That's where the right extracurricular activities come in, helping you stand out and prove you're ready for the challenge.

So, if you're wondering which extracurriculars will make your PA school application shine, you've landed in the right place. We'll walk you through the why, how, and what of selecting the best extracurriculars for PA school. 

Whether you're a future PA eager to stand out or a prospective PA student seeking guidance, keep reading to learn the secrets to success in the world of PA school extracurriculars.

image of dots background

Importance of Extracurriculars in PA School Applications

When it comes to applying to PA school, your academic achievements, like test scores and GPA, are crucial, but they're not the whole story. PA program admission committees are looking for candidates who bring more to the table than just academic prowess. They want individuals who possess a range of skills and qualities that go beyond textbooks and exams.

Demonstrating Non-Cognitive Skills

PA programs are not just interested in your ability to ace exams; they also want to ensure you have the non-cognitive skills necessary to excel in the healthcare field. 

These skills include effective communication, teamwork, adaptability, problem-solving, and ethical decision-making. Extracurricular activities provide a platform to develop and showcase these skills, allowing you to demonstrate your readiness for the challenges of PA school and your future career.

Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

Being a successful PA involves more than just medical knowledge; it requires a high level of emotional intelligence. Extracurricular involvement, such as volunteer work or leadership roles in healthcare-related organizations, can help you cultivate qualities like empathy, compassion, and strong interpersonal skills. 

These attributes are essential for building trusting and meaningful relationships with patients—a cornerstone of effective healthcare practice.

Highlighting Dedication and Time Management

PA programs are rigorous, and they want to know that you can handle the demanding workload. Balancing extracurricular activities alongside your academic responsibilities demonstrates your dedication and time-management skills. It shows that you can juggle multiple commitments successfully, a valuable trait for PA students.

Navigating a Highly Competitive Landscape

Securing admission to a PA program in the United States is highly competitive, often more so than medical school. The average acceptance rate for medical schools hovers around 42%, while for PA programs, it's only about 20%. 

To stand out and secure a spot in your preferred PA program, you need an application that grabs attention. Well-chosen extracurricular activities can set you apart and bolster the overall strength of your application.

Proving Your Readiness

When selecting extracurriculars for your PA school application, choose activities that align with the values and demands of the profession. Clinical experience, volunteer work in healthcare settings, and involvement in student organizations related to medicine can demonstrate your genuine interest and readiness for a career as a PA.

Importance of Extracurriculars in PA School Applications

When it comes to applying to PA school, your academic achievements, like test scores and GPA, are crucial, but they're not the whole story. PA program admission committees are looking for candidates who bring more to the table than just academic prowess. They want individuals who possess a range of skills and qualities that go beyond textbooks and exams.

Demonstrating Non-Cognitive Skills

PA programs are not just interested in your ability to ace exams; they also want to ensure you have the non-cognitive skills necessary to excel in the healthcare field. 

These skills include effective communication, teamwork, adaptability, problem-solving, and ethical decision-making. Extracurricular activities provide a platform to develop and showcase these skills, allowing you to demonstrate your readiness for the challenges of PA school and your future career.

Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

Being a successful PA involves more than just medical knowledge; it requires a high level of emotional intelligence. Extracurricular involvement, such as volunteer work or leadership roles in healthcare-related organizations, can help you cultivate qualities like empathy, compassion, and strong interpersonal skills. 

These attributes are essential for building trusting and meaningful relationships with patients—a cornerstone of effective healthcare practice.

Highlighting Dedication and Time Management

PA programs are rigorous, and they want to know that you can handle the demanding workload. Balancing extracurricular activities alongside your academic responsibilities demonstrates your dedication and time-management skills. It shows that you can juggle multiple commitments successfully, a valuable trait for PA students.

Navigating a Highly Competitive Landscape

Securing admission to a PA program in the United States is highly competitive, often more so than medical school. The average acceptance rate for medical schools hovers around 42%, while for PA programs, it's only about 20%. 

To stand out and secure a spot in your preferred PA program, you need an application that grabs attention. Well-chosen extracurricular activities can set you apart and bolster the overall strength of your application.

Proving Your Readiness

When selecting extracurriculars for your PA school application, choose activities that align with the values and demands of the profession. Clinical experience, volunteer work in healthcare settings, and involvement in student organizations related to medicine can demonstrate your genuine interest and readiness for a career as a PA.

Required Extracurriculars for PA Schools

Let's talk about a crucial aspect of your PA school journey—the required extracurricular activities.

Patient Care Experience (PCE)

This is often a cornerstone of PA school prerequisites. Patience care experience is about getting your hands dirty, figuratively speaking, in healthcare roles where you directly care for patients. These experiences provide valuable exposure to the healthcare environment, helping you develop critical skills in patient interaction, clinical decision-making, and teamwork. 

The number of PCE hours required can vary significantly among PA programs, with some demanding thousands of hours and others being more flexible. However, aiming for a substantial number of hours, ideally around 2,000 or more, is advisable to stand out in the competitive applicant pool.

female PA with female patient

Healthcare Experience

This category encompasses both paid and unpaid roles within healthcare settings where you may not be directly responsible for patient care. It includes positions like a medical scribe, roles in medical billing, or working in administrative healthcare roles. 

While these roles do not typically involve hands-on patient care, they provide exposure to the healthcare industry and can enhance your understanding of healthcare operations. Here are some examples of Healthcare-Related Experience (HRE):

  • Shadowing: Yep, just like a healthcare detective, you shadow professionals to see how they work their medical magic.
  • Patient Transport: Helping move patients within the hospital—a bit like a healthcare chauffeur.
  • Patient Education: Sharing your health wisdom with patients, helping them understand their conditions and treatment options.
  • Clinical Trials: Getting involved in research, not necessarily the hands-on patient care part, but the behind-the-scenes work.
  • Lab Work: Donning the lab coat and doing experiments or sample analysis.
  • Telephoning Patients: Giving patients a friendly call for follow-ups or scheduling appointments.
  • Non-Nursing Healthcare: Think home healthcare or community health roles, where you're still in the healthcare game but not in a hospital.
  • Clerical Work: Tackling admin tasks and keeping things running smoothly.
  • Electronic Medical Records (EMRs): Working with digital patient records, maybe not directly with patients, but still vital.
  • Office Work: Doing the paperwork and keeping the healthcare ship afloat.

Remember, some of the best extracurriculars for PA school may not always involve hands-on patient care, but they play an important role in the bigger picture of healthcare.

Practitioner Shadowing

While not universally mandated, shadowing PAs is often encouraged or preferred by PA programs. Shadowing offers invaluable insights into the day-to-day responsibilities and challenges faced by PAs. It demonstrates your commitment to understanding the profession thoroughly before embarking on the PA journey.

If you've shadowed PAs in unique settings, such as rural healthcare or community clinics, you bring a unique perspective to your application. You can emphasize your awareness of healthcare disparities and your commitment to addressing the healthcare needs of underserved populations.

Here are examples of practitioner shadowing experiences for your PA school application, along with explanations of what they might entail:

  • Primary Care PA Shadowing: You'll observe a PA in a family or internal medicine clinic, where they assess patients, diagnose common health problems, prescribe treatments, and emphasize preventive care, highlighting the vital role of primary care in healthcare.
  • Emergency Medicine PA Shadowing: Shadowing in the emergency department would involve observing PAs as they assess and triage patients arriving with various medical conditions and injuries. You'd witness their role in stabilizing patients, ordering diagnostic tests, assisting with procedures, and collaborating with a team of healthcare professionals in a fast-paced environment.
  • Surgical PA Shadowing: This experience would take you into the operating room alongside a surgical PA. You'd observe surgical procedures, assist with patient preparation and post-operative care, and gain insights into the intricacies of surgical specialties. It would highlight the precision and attention to detail required in surgical settings.
  • Pediatric PA Shadowing: Shadowing a pediatric PA would involve observing healthcare delivery specifically tailored to children. You'd see how PAs interact with young patients, conduct pediatric assessments, diagnose common childhood illnesses, and emphasize the importance of vaccinations and well-child visits.
  • Specialty PA Shadowing (e.g., Dermatology, Orthopedics): Depending on the specialty, you might shadow a PA in dermatology, orthopedics, or another specialized field. These experiences would give you a glimpse into the unique patient populations, conditions, and treatments associated with the chosen specialty.
  • Rural Healthcare PA Shadowing: In a rural healthcare setting, you'd observe how PAs provide care in underserved communities. This might involve traveling to remote clinics or hospitals. You'd see how PAs address the healthcare needs of patients who may have limited access to medical services, emphasizing the importance of rural healthcare.
  • Community Health Clinic PA Shadowing: This experience would take you to a community health clinic, where PAs focus on preventive care and health education. You'd witness how PAs serve vulnerable populations, offer screenings and vaccinations, and promote overall well-being within the community.

Each of these shadowing opportunities provides a unique perspective on the role of PAs in different healthcare settings. They allow you to gain valuable insights into the responsibilities, challenges, and rewards associated with various specialties and patient populations, enhancing your understanding of the PA profession.

female PA shadowing doctor in hospital room

Volunteering

Volunteering in non-healthcare settings is a testament to your commitment to serving the community and making a positive impact beyond the clinical realm. It demonstrates your compassion, altruism, and dedication to improving the lives of others.

Research

While not a strict requirement for PA programs, participation in scientific or medical research outside of your regular coursework showcases your intellectual curiosity and your drive to contribute to the advancement of medical knowledge. It signifies your commitment to evidence-based practice, a fundamental aspect of healthcare.

Leadership Experience

PA programs value leadership qualities. If you've taken charge of a student organization, led a club, or been the driving force behind a community project, these experiences are like a bright spotlight on your ability to step up, make informed decisions, and collaborate effectively with others. 

These skills are valuable for a future PA because the role involves taking charge of patient care, making important decisions, and working closely with a healthcare team. By talking about your leadership roles, you're telling PA programs that you're ready to handle the challenges of PA school and the responsibilities of a PA.

Teaching Experience

Teaching is another skill that PA programs love to see. If you've been a teaching assistant or a tutor, it's like waving a flag that says you can explain complex stuff in a way that's easy to understand.

That's important in healthcare, where you'll need to communicate medical information and treatment plans to patients in a way that makes sense to them. Your teaching experience shows that you're good at breaking down complicated ideas, which is a big part of providing great healthcare.

Non-Paid Experience

The "non-paid experience" category serves as a catch-all for activities that may not neatly fit into the other defined categories but still hold value. However, it's important to be selective and include only those experiences that genuinely contribute depth and value to your application. 

This category allows you to showcase a wide range of experiences, from volunteering in your community to pursuing personal interests and hobbies that have enriched your life. Each of these experiences offers a unique perspective on your character, skills, and personal growth, helping admissions committees gain a more comprehensive understanding of who you are beyond your academic achievements.

Non-Healthcare Employment

Don't underestimate the power of non-healthcare jobs when it comes to your application. These jobs might not be directly related to healthcare, but they've given you valuable life experiences. 

You've learned about time management, professionalism, and adaptability, which are all important in any healthcare setting. In healthcare, you'll be working with all kinds of people in different situations, and the skills you've gained from non-healthcare employment can help you connect with patients and handle whatever comes your way.

Overall, extracurricular activities go beyond mere checkboxes on your PA school application. They serve as a comprehensive reflection of your dedication, experiences, and abilities, helping admissions committees evaluate your readiness for the rigors of PA education and practice. 

A well-rounded portfolio of extracurricular involvement not only makes you a more competitive applicant but also demonstrates your commitment to the PA profession and your potential to excel as a future healthcare provider.

How to Select Extracurriculars for PA School

Choosing the right extracurricular activities for your PA school application is a strategic decision that can significantly impact your candidacy. These activities provide a window into your character, skills, and readiness for a career as a PA. Here's how to navigate the process of selecting the best extracurriculars to enhance your application:

Prioritize Quality Over Quantity

It's a common misconception that casting a wide net with numerous extracurriculars will impress PA program admission committees. However, the quality of your experiences holds more weight than the quantity. Enrolling in too many activities can backfire, making it appear that you struggle to commit or that you're merely checking boxes to boost your chances of admission.

Admission committees value commitment and dedication. While you don't need to be completely devoted to every activity, focus on those you can engage with for a substantial period—ideally, around six months or more. 

This duration allows you to demonstrate progress, growth, and take on leadership roles. Your level of involvement tells the committee about your dedication and who you are as a person.

Consider the Relevance

When selecting experience for PA school, think about their relevance to your future role as a PA. While not every activity needs to be directly related to healthcare, you should have some experience in the healthcare industry. 

Ask yourself how an activity could help your personal development, your understanding of healthcare, and your ability to contribute to the diverse and rich tapestry of a PA program.

volunteer healthcare workers

Understand the 10-Year Rule

The Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) suggests focusing on experiences within the last ten years and at the collegiate level or above. This rule helps guide what to exclude from your application rather than what to include. 

Generally, omit activities from your high school years and those beyond the 10-year mark unless there are compelling reasons to include them, such as ongoing long-term commitments.

Assess Indirectly Relevant Activities

Consider how indirectly relevant activities have equipped you with skills that can benefit you as a PA. Activities that may not seem healthcare-related on the surface, such as being a student-athlete or working as a waitress, can contribute valuable skills like communication, time management, and multitasking—qualities that align with the demands of a PA's role.

Focus on What You Enjoy and Can Learn From

Ultimately, choose extracurricular activities you genuinely enjoy and believe you can learn from. Your experiences should be more than just resume fillers; they should reflect your personal and professional growth. 

Remember that you'll need to discuss these activities in your PA school application, such as your personal statement and essay, so select ones that you can speak passionately about and relate to your journey toward becoming a PA.

Overall, selecting the best extracurriculars for your PA school application involves strategic thinking, a focus on quality over quantity, and consideration of relevance and personal growth. Your choices should align with your goals and contribute meaningfully to your candidacy as you pursue a career as a physician assistant.

Final Thoughts

In the competitive world of PA school admissions, your choice of extracurricular activities is vital. These experiences show your skills and commitment, proving you're ready for a PA career. Whether you're an aspiring PA or a prospective student, we've explored the best extracurriculars for PA school. 

Extracurriculars highlight your skills and dedication, helping you stand out. When choosing them, go for quality over quantity, consider their relevance, and focus on what you enjoy and can learn from.

In your journey to PA school, these extracurricular experiences create a clear picture of your abilities, setting you on the path to success as a future physician assistant. So, choose wisely, and let them guide you toward a PA career.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Schedule A Free Consultation

Plan Smart. Execute Strong. Get Into Your Dream School.
Get Free Consultation
image of dots background

You May Also Like