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Applying to Physician Assistant School?

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  • A complete accounting of your health care experience, including job descriptions, number of hours accumulated, and dates of employment. Document dates and duties of all volunteer experiences and shadowing experiences.

  • Obtain a personal copy of required test scores.

  • Collect copies of any certificates that you may have earned, including awards, certifications, and any specialized training you may have completed.

  • Decide whom you will choose to write your letters of recommendation (see chapter 6 for specifics.) Be sure to ask people who know you well and you feel confident that they will write a positive recommendation and will submit it on time.

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The CASPA Application


 For the vast majority of PA school applicants, the process of applying to PA school will start with the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA) application.


Background on the CASPA Application

In 1991, I applied to three PA programs; Yale, University of Florida, and Wake Forest. Each program had its own application forms and application fees. I probably invested over six hundred dollars (or more) applying to these three schools. Each of these three programs also had unique requirements relative to prerequisites, health care experience, GPA, and essay questions. If you wanted to apply to ten PA programs in 1991, you would have to accomplish ten separate applications along with the accompanying fees. The process was costly and extremely time consuming.

In 2001, the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) began using the first centralized application service for physician assistant school applicants—the Central Application Service for Physician Assistants (CASPA.) This service allows applicants to complete a single online application, and will send this application to any PA program designated by the applicant. In 2016, the cost for a CASPA application is $175, and $50 dollars (2016) for each additional program that utilizes the CASPA application.

Not all PA programs participate with CASPA, and you will need to accomplish separate applications for these schools.

Currently, applicants can obtain detailed information about the CASPA application at https://help.unicas.com:88/caspahelpPages/about-caspaoverview/index.html and on the CASPA website at https://portal.caspaonline.org. These addresses may change in the future, so I recommend using a search engine and plug in “Central Application Service for Physician Assistants Application” if these sites aren’t valid at the time of your application.


Benefits of the CASPA Application

Since 2001, I’ve coached thousands of PA school applicants and reviewed hundreds of CASPA applications. I’ve listened to the applicants’ feedback on the application process and why they like using this service. Here are some of the benefits they appreciate most:

  • The ability to apply to multiple PA programs using a single online application.

  • The checklist and instructions provided on the CASPA website, which simplifies the accomplishment of the CASPA application.

  • The fact that they only have to provide transcripts, letters of recommendation, health care experience hours, and demographic data once. They do not have to gather and repeat this data for each program they apply to.

  • The ability to access their CASPA application from any computer and update and save data right up until  the time they actually submit their application.



PAY STRICT ATTENTION TO DETAIL WHEN ACCOMPLISHING YOUR CASPA APPLICATION


At first glance, the CASPA application looks extremely intimidating. There is so much information to gather and so many deadlines to meet before an application is considered complete.  But don’t worry, if you methodically go through the instructions and complete one task at a time, you will make it to the finish line. Think about how many of your predecessors completed this application and believe that you can do it too.

The most valuable piece of advice I can provide to you is to make sure that you follow instructions and pay strict attention to detail. After all, these are the traits of a good PA. I know that you’ll be excited to get the application process started and completed, but if you rush and don’t pay attention to every detail you will regret it later. Here is an example of what I mean regarding paying attention to detail:

After graduating from college in 1984, I made the decision to become an air force officer. I signed up with a recruiter, and headed off to Officer Training School (OTS) in San Antonio, Texas. OTS was an intense twelve week program. In order to complete the program, we had to pass certain “measurements”, or physical, academic, and military bearing requirements, during the twelve week process. If you failed three measurements along the way, you were discharged from the air force. 

 In the very first week, I had to complete a measurement in the form of a simple test. We had only five minutes to complete 50 questions. Looking at the test, the sheer volume of questions and the strict time limit placed on us made me extremely anxious. I didn’t want to fail a measurement in my first week.

The proctor advised us that we could begin immediately after he said “Start”, and when he said “Stop”, we were to drop our pencils immediately. My heart was racing as he said, “Begin.”

I noticed a small paragraph at the top of the first page and after a quick glance; I decided the information was just a repeat of what he told us before the exam began. I didn’t want to waste any time. With sweaty palms, I quickly began reading and answering the questions. I started to relax when I realized the questions were very basic and easy to answer. I thought to myself, “piece of cake.” It almost seemed too simple.

After I realized I was going to finish the exam with plenty of time to spare, I began to relax and I happened to look up at some of the other candidates. Some were feverishly answering the questions, and some were sitting still in their seats not doing anything. I looked at them curiously and initially thought that perhaps they already finished the exam.


​Then I started to get a little knot in my stomach. Something wasn’t right. I went on to complete the exam and finished in plenty of time. The proctor said “Stop”, and I was confident I had done well. Then he spoke the words that I will never forget, “Those of you who answered any of the questions on this exam failed this measurement.” My heart sank, and I went into panic mode. Why is he saying this? He then went on to read that paragraph (paraphrased) at the top of the page:

"This measurement is to be completed in five minutes. Be sure to read all of the questions carefully. Once the proctor says begin, you will have five minutes to complete the exam. Do not answer any of the questions or check any of the boxes."

Now it made sense why some of the candidates were sitting still; they read that first paragraph in its entirety and I simply glanced over it to save time.

So I flunked my first measurement in my first week of training. If I failed two more measurements in the next eleven weeks I was out.

I learned a valuable lesson that day; always pay strict attention to detail! Failure to pay strict attention to   detail in the military can lead to a loss of life and failing to pay strict attention to detail on your CASPA application can lead to a rejection letter from the PA school(s) you are applying to.

Seven Tips for Using the CASPA Application

Here are some tips to follow before and during the process of accomplishing the CASPA application:

  1. Follow instructions. Be sure to read all of the instructions on the CASPA application prior to submitting it.
  2. Be sure to know exactly who you will need to obtain letters of recommendation from; a physician, a physician assistant, a supervisor, a professor, etc.
  3. Be sure to request all of your transcripts early and have them sent directly to you. This will help you accomplish the course-work portion of the application.
  4. Be sure that your essay does not exceed the 5000 character limit. If your essay is more than 5000 characters it will be cut off. Make sure that your essay is error free. Read the essay backwards to catch spelling errors; read the essay from the last word in the last paragraph to the first word in the first paragraph. By using this technique, you will find that spelling errors will pop right out at you. Also, be sure to have your essay reviewed for spelling and grammar before you submit it. One spelling or grammatical error can spell disaster.
  5. Make sure that you meet the deadlines for all of the programs that you are applying to, because each program has its own deadline.
  6. Make sure you visit the websites of the programs you are applying to, and be sure that you meet, or exceed, all of the requirements if you want to be a competitive applicant.
  7. Apply Early. Register as soon as you decide to apply to PA school, and try to get your CASPA application in several weeks before each programs’ deadline. Start acquiring the following information that you will need to accomplish the application: