Gaining Relevant Experience

Professional Shadowing

Professional shadowing, or job shadowing, is another means of career exploration in which you observe a professional at work. With a professional shadow, you can learn more about a profession before you invest too much time preparing for a career that may not be right for you.

For more information on job shadowing, visit our Job Shadowing Page. There you can download a free copy of our Professional Development Directory for a list of professional shadowing contacts. 

Direct Patient Care Experience

What "direct patient care experience" is, and why you need it

"Patient care" is not the same thing as shadowing or clinical observation. "Direct patient care" is exactly what it sounds like: You are literally providing healthcare of some kind to patients or clients in a healthcare setting, in either a paid or volunteer capacity.

  • The amount and type of patient care necessary for admission varies greatly from one program to another!
  • All physician assistant programs either require or strongly recommend that applicants garner patient care experience.
  • Direct patient care experience is important to developing skills necessary for success in PA school. Applicants without adequate direct patient care experience are not likely to be competitive for admission, nor likely to have developed the level of comfort and skill necessary to thrive in a PA program's clinical settings.
  • Patient care experiences can help you build your credibility with program admission committees by demonstrating that you are committed to a career in healthcare, and are comfortable working in a healthcare setting.
  • Along the same lines, extensive patient care experience can greatly strengthen your personal statement, letters of recommendation, and admission interview.
  • Patient care experiences can help you determine whether a career in healthcare and the PA profession is a good fit for you.

Amount and type of patient care

  • Requirements vary dramatically across programs!
  • The only way to confirm a program's patient care requirement or preference is to check their webpage, and call them if you need clarification.
  • Some programs express no preference as to whether the work is paid or voluntary, but some do have a preference. Still others may express a preference for paid work, but might still consider applicants with extensive volunteer direct patient care experience (especially if the work stems from some kind of certification; for example, CNA,  Medical Scribe, EMT, or hospice certification). Check websites and call programs if you need clarification.
  • The required number of direct patient care hours varies widely among programs that require patient care, ranging literally from 0 to 3000. What these numbers mean in practical terms can also vary, so if a program's website does not make it quite clear how you should tally patient care hours, and what kind of experiences will meet the requirement or recommendation, we suggest you contact them and politely inquire.