I became a Physician Assistant, but that’s not without its own set of failures along the way. For instance, having to withdraw from a pre-req and take it all over again or having to redo a practical because your first try wasn’t good enough.

Even the fact that the first time I applied to PA schools, I didn’t get in. Imagine if I just called it quits there instead of assessing where my application was weak and improving upon it.

There are little failures and big failures. If you can learn from your mistakes and change habits, they do not define you.

Not Getting into PA School the First Time

As you know the PA school cycle is competitive. Schools will get thousands of qualified applicants vying for about 25-50 PA school spots.

It was the winter of 2014. I was currently living abroad in France where I was teaching English in a French high school. Since I completed the undergraduate requirements for PA school, I figured I should try to apply.

So I did. I went through CASPA, I notified those providing supporting letters, I entered in all my courses.

My GPA was strong and my GRE complete. Unfortunately since it was nearing November, many of the application deadlines already passed. The second problem was that I only applied to five schools, primarily those located near my home.

Despite these shortcomings, I heard back from a school and they set a tentative interview date in January. I spent money on a round-trip Paris-NYC flight, I bought a nice suit, and boarded my flight. I felt as though the interview went well…

Waitlisted. 

And that waitlist spot never materialized into anything. I technically applied to PA school and did not get into a school.

Improvements?

I finished my year teaching in France and moved my life back to the US that summer. I decided to try again. This time, with 100% of my energy into the application.

I reviewed my stats and noticed the most glaring problem of my dossier was my low amount of patient care hours. I was an EMT-B for healthcare experience and volunteered near my university at the time. I also had some hours from a healthcare mission trip in Africa.

On my second go-round, I did not change much. I used the same references, had the same GPA and did not take any more classes. Rewriting my personal statement and working part-time as an EMT added some depth to my application.

In the end I had about 1,600 total hours of patient care experience recorded.

And what do you know? That cycle, I got more interviews and I even got accepted into a program. All I needed was some persistence.

This is part of the reason why I recommend to everyone to apply earlier in the CASPA cycle if you want to maximize your chances of PA school admission. It’s also why I recommend applying to as many schools you can while reaching their minimum requirements.

Failing an Exam or Course

Faculty say this to you a lot: you’ll need to adjust to the new pace, workload, and expectations that PA school demands.

And you don’t have to fail to experience disappointment, you could just underperform.

There comes a moment when you fail an exam and you’re pretty sure you’re the only person who failed or did poorly. It may be true, or other people may share your pain.

After doing poorly, it’s hard to reach out and ask for help. But sometimes it’s worth swallowing your pride and looking at why you failed. Did you have a rough week? Was there a family emergency? Could you study or prepare better?

Talk to somebody, whether that be your best friend, your professor, or even a family member. Get help through tutoring (if offered) or ask other students how they attained success. Ask around for study resources, ask to join study groups, ask for help in identifying what was important from the lecture.

You can learn from your successes and you can also learn from situations where you were weak. Place an emphasis on those areas in the future and attempt to do better the next time.

If you assess and analyze your failure the first time, it likely won’t be catastrophic. If you fail to learn from failures and they continue to mount… that’s when you’ll find yourself in trouble or in situations you cannot repair.

Inexperience Shows

Remember the first time someone asks you to suture something? Despite practicing during your didactic year – it’s a daunting task to close somebody’s gaping laceration for the first time.

You’ll fumble with instruments and still hold it wrong. Your sutures won’t line up nicely. Your patient will question if you’ve ever done this before.. but you don’t have to respond because the forehead sweat gives that away.

And sometimes if feels like you’ll never improve. But then you do.

You suture more, you collect tips from preceptors, and you practice surgical knots in your off-time. Before you know it, you’re suturing a patient’s face under the guidance of the plastic surgeon (who’s closing something much more complicated). And he gives you that satisfactory “A-OK” once you finished.

You’ll never get good at everything, but you don’t grow if you don’t tackle your fears, your failures, and your inexperience with a positive attitude and an eager mind.

Conclusion

PA school will keep you humble. You’ll never get good at everything and you will certainly fail at some point along the way.

But without failure you won’t grow and manage to tackle your fears. Hit PA school with a positive attitude and an eager mind. Be resilient. Before you know it, you’ll be done with PA school. And the cycle repeats itself with your first job.

John Elkhoury
John Elkhoury

Physician Assistant – Founder

John is a current Physician Assistant. He attended The Pennsylvania State University (2014) for a double major and Salus University (2018) for his PA education. John is an avid lover of France and the French language.

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