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The Unexpected Beginning of a Physician Assistant

Updated: Oct 24, 2020

By Connor Clark, PA-C, MSPAS

This isn’t a success story; this is more of an “I got lucky” story. Sometimes luck is more important than skill. Sometimes it’s not whatcha know, it’s who ya know. You get it. Going into college I wanted to be a physician, a doctor. I thought I wanted to be a doctor. I liked the idea of being called doctor, and I wanted to make a lot of money. So, of course, I wanted to be a doctor. In college that changed, for a multitude of reasons, some of which I’m going to attempt to explain below.

I grew up in New Jersey, about 20 minutes outside Manhattan. I was an above average student in high school, I was never the smartest in the class, but I was never the dumbest. I was very interested in science and math, and I took most of the honors classes my high school provided. I was an athlete, baseball being my sport of choice (I still love baseball, Lets Go Mets). I had the opportunity to play at West Liberty University, and I knew they had a Biology/Pre-Medicine program, so that’s pretty much how this journey all started.

In college I stumbled through my freshman and sophomore years but didn’t ruin myself – some A’s and C’s peppered in between mainly B’s. Now I could say that it was just an adjustment period, but I think it might have more to do with too many Thirsty Thursdays or Sunday Fundays and not enough time spent in the library. You live, and you learn. It was at this point that I started to panic a little. Considered switching my major to nursing. Considered retaking classes. Considered going to for a PhD in some other science, or becoming a high school teacher and coaching sports. I did none of these. Coincidentally, this is around the same time I met my wonderful girlfriend. She helped me get organized, quelled some of my panic attacks/existential crises, and pushed me to be a better student and person overall. I highly recommend getting a partner that helps you get your shit together. I started to perform better.

During my junior year, I picked up a part-time job as a Medical Scribe in the local Emergency Department. Needless to say, I was fairly busy between baseball, classes and a part time job, but I felt that packing my resumé and doing well in school would look better on an application and maybe fill some question marks that my early college career might have left. While I started this job to get more patient experience, it introduced me to the role of the Physician Assistant. I was able to see how a PA functioned as a part of the healthcare team in a busy Emergency Department. I was instantly intrigued. I knew they had a role, and I knew West Liberty had a program, but I didn’t really knowabout them. My research began very shortly after my first few shifts. I began thinking that maybe this was the career for me.

But what about the people I told I was going to be a doctor?

Feeling like you let people down hurts, especially when those people are the ones closest to you. I remember when I told my parents for the first time that I would be applying to PA school. I was met with more questions than support – understandable, but still somewhat frustrating. Even after I explained about how PAs have solid careers, only require a Master’s degree, allow me to work in healthcare, and make well above a livable wage, they were still skeptical. To be honest, I think I might have been a little skeptical as well. This is what lead me to take the MCAT and apply to both medical school and PA school, although I knew my applications could have been stronger.

I filled out 5 medical school applications, and 5 PA applications (much less than the recommended 15-20 applications I should have been sending out). For those of you that don’t know, this is a major faux pas. PAs are only supposed to want to go to PA school, and anyone who applies to both are simply not smart enough to get into medical school, or at least that’s what I’ve heard. I received 5 denials from medical school. I received 4 denials from PA schools. Out of the 10 spots I applied for, I received one (1) interview, and that was from West Liberty University.

I went into the interview fully expecting it to be a formality, a pity interview. “Oh, he went here so we have to give him an interview” type of thing. I went into it just trying to be myself, only preparing by looking up some of the most common PA school interview questions and I tried to be confident. I was probably more than a little underprepared (about a year later I found out that I should have worn a suit, not just a shirt and tie, whoops). I left feeling much like I did before I went in: hopeful, but uncertain about my life a year later. I took my “Hi, My Name is” sticker, with the West Liberty PA program emblem on it, and stuck it on my car dashboard as I pulled away.

December 14, 2016 – I received a call I never really expected. It caught me completely off-guard. It was from the PA program director at West Liberty University. I had gotten in.

June 2017 – PA school begins. This could be hundreds of different posts and might be better off that way. This post is getting long already, without going into imposter syndrome and the everyday grind of PA school. Better saved for another time.

June 14, 2019 – Graduated. Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies.

June 27, 2019 – Certified. PA-C.

I wasn’t really supposed to have those letters at the end of my name. I didn’t feel like the most qualified applicant, and I definitely didn’t feel like I deserved to be there. But once I got there, I took the opportunity I was given, and I ran with it. I said earlier, this is an “I got lucky” story... but everyone needs some luck on their side every once in a while, right? I thought this was called Science Underdog.

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