Sunday, October 25, 2015

Student Success Story: Megan Scarton, UVa '14


1.  What led to your interest in physician assistant profession? 
The medical field intrigued me since childhood. I was unaware of the physician assistant career and knew I wanted to care for patients, so growing up I told people I wanted to become a doctor. However, the older I grew the more daunting years of school, paying back debt and residency became to me and began to weigh on me. The summer before first year at UVa I was seen by a dermatology PA. I was amazed by her knowledge, but even more so by her communication and her thoroughness in my plan of care. I inquired more about her career while at the office, went home to do more research and have not looked back since.

2. Who or what inspired you to pursue the PA profession?
The PA profession is the perfect mix of everything I was looking for in a career: patient care, flexibility, job security. As a PA program graduate, you can choose to practice in any area of medicine and can switch your field throughout your career without returning to school or residency. The program length also drew me to the PA field because I have always wanted to have a career and a family simultaneously. I believe that being a PA will be the best way to juggle all I want to do in life. I am very passionate about the career and am excited to make a difference in my patients' lives. 

3. What did you major in and what inspired you to choose this/these area(s) of study? 
I majored in Kinesiology and I really cannot say enough good things about the major. I actually did not know about the major until one day during second year, my boyfriend had picked up a flyer for me about the program. He had heard impressive things about Kinesiology from older students and thought it would be a great fit for achieving my career plans. I am very happy I applied to the program as I felt more passionate about the field of study and the coursework was more applicable to my career goals. The practicum was also a major draw for me. The opportunity to gain patient time and enhance your communication skills through a school program is phenomenal. My practicum was in cardiac rehabilitation at Martha Jefferson Hospital- which was not only an invaluable experience as a student, person and future health care provider, but also allowed me to obtain patient care hours for PA program applications. Through my experience at Martha Jefferson, I worked with patients who recently had a serious cardiac event, such as a heart attack. I learned to read EKGs and cardiac monitoring and to perform nutrition counseling and exercise planning. The chance to obtain hands-on patient care and improve my communication skills as a provider was an incredible experience. The material covered in the Kinesiology curriculum has immensely benefited me in PA school thus far. We are currently covering the cardiovascular system and I feel so much more prepared with those experiences under my belt. I am very grateful for all my experiences at UVa and in my life that have prepared me for my current course of study.
4. What activities did you participate in at U.Va? 
Future Physician Assistant Society, Kinesiology Club, Agape, Alternative Spring Break, Pancake’s for Parkinson’s, Madison House, Biology Club, Project SERVE and I am currently a mentor for the Virginia Alumni Mentoring Program.
5. How did you prepare for the PA application process? 
I researched the various programs to find what pre-requisites I needed. Each year, I would re-assess my interest in those programs and if their requirements had changed, as well as new programs. I made a spreadsheet containing significant information from my top programs: pre-requisites, start date, program length, GPA, patient care hour requirements, location, class size and estimated cost. I spoke with students who had previously applied to PA school to get a better idea of the application process. I attended open houses and the PAEA Virtual Fair that allowed me to speak with representatives from different programs. I shadowed PAs in numerous fields to gain a better understanding of the job. While shadowing at UVa, I had the amazing opportunity to watch an open heart bypass surgery. Making connections in the community is a wonderful way to learn more about the career and how it impacts each person individually. I also focused my school activities, major and job decisions around strengthening my medical knowledge and resume. Serving as president for the Future Physician Assistant Society (FPAS) was advantageous for the application process. I was able to connect with programs through bringing them to UVa to speak with the society. Throughout my time at UVa, I made sure to document my experiences so I was prepared when it came time to apply. 
6. How did you balance the demands of applying to PA school with additional obligations and challenges? 
I have been very blessed to have such supportive family and friends. They were there for me throughout the application process, interviews and are now through PA school. It is important to make time for family and friends while in school, but also very helpful to be surrounded by people who are understanding when free time is sparse. While at UVa and currently, I always make time to exercise a few times a week. I try to call my mom at least weekly and stay in touch with my friends. I focused my extracurriculars on strengthening myself as an applicant but also made time for fun- like IM floor hockey. Time management is imperative for success at UVa and in PA school. 

7. Have you been accepted to a PA school thus far // Where do you attend PA school? 
I am currently attending Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine’s PA program in East Tennessee. 
8. What advice do you have for new applicants considering a career as a PA? 
Shadow PAs in several different specialties to ensure that this is the right career choice for you. In terms of applying- research, research, research. Narrow down your programs- what you are looking for in a program, pre-requisite courses, patient care hours, etc. Each PA program has different pre-requisite requirements so attempting to complete them all would be impossible. Look into each program’s mission statement as some programs emphasize primary care while others focus on subspecialties. Know whether the program offers rotations around that area or will have you move around, and make sure you are okay with that. Think long term about your career- taking a gap year to complete outstanding pre-reqs or obtain patient care hours will not be a huge deal in the long run. Make a document or spreadsheet of each program’s location, length, pre-reqs, patient contact hours, estimated cost, class size, etc. Manage your time wisely, be prepared and use your resources! 
9. In what ways did Pre-Health Advising support you in your journey? What was most helpful?
Pre-Health Advising reviewed my resumes and offered advice while job searching for my bridge year. Receiving guidance from experienced professionals about my qualifications and program options was very helpful. I wish I had utilized Pre-Health Advising more during my time at UVa. I was very independent in my research about PA schools and this was an arduous undertaking. Having access to resources such as Pre-Health Advising is an important facet in the success of a student, especially a student on such a demanding trajectory.

10.   Is there anything else you would like to share?
Applying and attending PA school is strenuous but it is so worth it. Two to three years of stress is worth doing what you love for the rest of your life. Stay positive and don’t get discouraged! I would be happy to answer any questions you may have- my email is mms4bw@virginia.edu. Good luck and Go Hoos!