CASPA Tips & Tricks # 2- Use Resources

With an awesome ten days to go until Opening Day (hehehe-see what I did there?) here is my second round of tips and tricks:

USE RESOURCES! For those of you applying now you are SO fortunate (I don’t want to say lucky because none of this entire process ever has to do with luck) but there have been so many great books and blogs and people coming out of the woodwork since my first application in 2014. This is good news: meaning you don’t have to do this alone!

The best websites/blogs/coaches I used during my TWO rounds of applying were as follows (and not a single one of these people has asked me to talk about them, this is 100% my own opinion)

-All things Physician Assistant: Ms. Danielle Kepics PA-C in her infinite wisdom and true life stories. This is the first true PA blog I started following and I love all the resources tabs she has (the BEST Pre-PA advice, her favorite apps and e-media for PAs and students, favorite books, what to NOT say during an interview)… @all_things_pa_c 

-Inside PA Training: Mr. Paul Kubin PA-C. I started talking to Paul back in 2013 before I had even submitted my first application: I bought his Ebook on writing a “winning personal statement” (and let me tell you, I really think mine was a winner) as well as paid for his coaching services regarding my application overview. He gets very busy as he is incredibly popular, but if you’re going to pay someone, he’s the guy to hire. My favorite part about Paul was that he was VERY honest with me- no sugar coating whatsoever.  Helped me see my application red flags (ahem, like that big fat F in Chem lab…. more on that another day) and made sure I knew how to explain every last one of them. He also gave great advice for applying with a low GPA (like, a really low GPA) and made sure I was covering my bases the second time around, part of which meant applying to 26 schools.

-PA Trek: These guys and their website were new to me right at the tail end of my second application, but they have incredible reviews (and some of my personal friends have used their services and been thrilled) and they are very well versed in the ins and outs of all things CASPA!  @patrek  

-The Applicant’s Manual of Physician Assistant Programs 2016:  HOLY. BEANS.  If this had been around when I applied… would have saved me some major Excel spreadsheet headaches, that’s for sure. While I don’t personally own this book, my suggestion if you haven’t already is purchase it. Mark A. Volpe PA-C (Author), Brittany Hogan (Contributor) @paprogrammanual

-Life With a Stethoscope and Some Sparkle:  I found Erin’s page a little bit more recently, but she has done an awesome job documenting her journey and her didactic year at George Washington! It has been so much fun following her blog and her IG @stethoscopeandsparkle during my last application season. She gave me such a great glimpse into what I could be expecting during my first year as a PA-S and seeing her posts really kept me going!


To be fair… ten days away means you’ve probably already invested in a lot of resources! But just in case you haven’t yet, or if you’re waiting until next year to apply (or for your Spring grades to post this year etc)… these are my top recommendations. I recommend them because I used them myself, and I also made it a point to use these resources way more during my second application. Wouldn’t you know, that’s the time I got accepted. But in no way do I mean to suggest you HAVE to go use all these resources. There are plenty of you who can probably write a killer personal statement in your sleep and have an almost (or actually) 4.0 … and if that’s you, I salute you and wish you well (and ask you to please share your secrets!)  For the rest of us- and I feel pretty confident that “us” is a big “us”… resources. Use ‘em. You’ll be amazed at what a fresh perspective (or two or three) can do for you and your application.

HCE and PCE- What counts and how to get it

HCE= Healthcare Experience. In my opinion this is hands down one of the tougher aspects of preparing a great CASPA application.  There is a difference between what is considered HCE (healthcare experience) and PCE (patient care experience). Programs have tightened up on what “counts” as PCE (apparently at some programs now being a scribe doesn’t count?! I definitely don’t agree with that) but that being said, an excellent thing to do is check each program’s website to make sure your type of experience is on their list. My first healthcare job was a non-patient care job (so HCE hours), but nonetheless I was in a hospital which I loved.  I applied to be a Clinical Laboratory Technician (working alongside Clinical Laboratory Technologists, which is a GREAT profession for those of you who like research and lab medicine) in the Hematology department. This was my first job straight out of undergrad and I Ioved every minute of it. My favorite thing to this day is doing the Kleihauer-Betke test (yes, this is my super nerd side-look it up it’s a really awesome lab test) – so much beauty in staining slides! That and the coag cascade- definitely my favorite things to learn about (okay nerd moment over).


However- as many of you know- the programs are truly focused on experience where you are DIRECTLY working with patients (PCE!). Handling their blood samples didn’t count. This is where I started kicking myself for not getting my EMT license sooner when I was first interested in doing it at UCLA. Regardless, I knew after a year of working in the lab that I had to find a way to be involved in direct patient care. For me, the fastest and most intriguing route was still to get my EMT license and then try my best to find an ER Tech job.  I enrolled in the EMT accelerated course at the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care, meaning I took three weeks off from work to get the fast and furious version of the course. In hindsight, I might have opted to do the weekend or night course (they just take a lot longer to complete) but at the time, I was focused on moving forward as fast as I humanly could.


What I didn’t know was that it would take a while after completing the course to actually get my license and find a job. I had this idea in my head that it could happen all seamlessly- I would interview with ambulance companies and tell them I was still in class, but that I would be certified soon, etc- this was not at all how it worked out. I ended up continuing to work in the lab, taking ambulance interviews on the weekends and in the late afternoon, and a couple of months later I was finally offered an ambulance job (after a ton of paperwork and background checks)!


What happened next was truly the stars aligning- the hospital I already worked at had an opening for an ER tech that I saw in an online job posting board. On my lunch break at the lab, I walked up to the ER and point blank asked the nursing director for the job. She appreciated me coming to her in person and being confident in myself. The next thing I knew, the job was mine! I will be very honest when I say this is a rare course of events. Most hospitals want to see a minimum of six months ambulance experience before they will even offer you an interview at the ER (at least in Southern California). That being said- don’t ever be afraid to ask anyway! The show-up-in-person routine (and a great cover letter) is actually how I’ve gotten most of my jobs so far in life.


So – what does this mean for you? Start gaining hours as soon as you are able. The more you have, the stronger your application. I had 2,000 PCE hours when I applied the first time and approximately 5,500 PCE hours the second time. I am confident that big of a difference in my PCE hours is what helped me get interviews the second time around. Check with each individual program (via their website) for what kind of experience applies. Typically it means directly interacting with patients, whether you’re an EMT, a CNA, an RN, an ER Tech, a paramedic, a dental hygenist, a surgical assistant… the list goes on! The more and more I reach out to the Instagram current PA-C and Pre-PA community, the more I learn about awesome patient care jobs people have had! The good news is there are many ways to tackle getting the hours in. It just takes time and dedication.

BLS- What it is and who it’s for (hint: everyone)

A year and a half ago I was driving to class during  that very scary hour in the Fall when dusk mixes with LA haze and basically makes it impossible to see. As I turned the corner near my house and squinted through the sea of headlights, my eyes fixed on a dark lump in the center of the road, and as I got closer it was exactly what I feared it to be: a pedestrian that had been stuck by a vehicle, lying in a growing pool of their own blood.


I calmly pulled my car to the side of the road, put on my hazard lights and assessed the scene. I dropped into immediate EMT brain: scene and person-partner-patient safety. Based on the shocked look of the driver and maybe one or two other people starting to come out of their houses, I realized I had arrived basically just moments after the accident. When I knew it was safe to approach, I went over to the pedestrian and went on to the next steps: I asked the driver to come assist me and hold C-spine. Then the ABCs: intact, but barely. Ds: absolutely. Es: not any that I could see at the moment. I then went straight on down the list to do a rapid trauma head to toe exam, noting some pretty significant injuries that required immediate transport to the hospital (bleeding from the eyes and ears, step-offs in the spine and a badly deformed ankle) and a low GCS (they were unable to speak back to me or move any extremities in a meaningful way). After about twenty seconds went by I realized a crowd had formed but everyone was just standing in stunned silence. This is when I started commanding the crowd: instructed one person to call 911, another to go look for the dog that had apparently been with the pedestrian, another to go inside to get me some towels to attempt to control some of the bleeding (I now carry a full jump bag in my car at all times, just in case) and another few bystanders to help direct oncoming traffic away from us. Based on the condition of the pedestrian I was fully prepared for them to drop into respiratory or cardiac arrest. Fortunately, the paramedics were only a few minutes away and they quickly rushed them to the hospital. I stayed with the driver until the police arrived, cleaned my hands and went on my way to class.


Did my interventions help determine whether or not that pedestrian lived? Maybe, but probably not. Did my ability to help instruct the crowd in a time of panic and give a semi-report to the paramedics when they arrived feel great? You bet it did.


If anything in that paragraph above doesn’t make sense to you: that’s okay! That’s years of work experience as an EMT and ER Tech. Yes, I shamelessly admit that any time I’m in a big crowded place like a basketball game or concert venue the first thing I do is look around for an AED.  I owe my ability to calmly assess and act in those situations all to my great education at the UCLA Center for Prehospital Care.  However– my point is that we’ve all been in a situation with someone who’s had way too much to drink, is in a terrible car accident, or simply (and frighteningly) goes into cardiac arrest. EVERYONE should learn the basic steps of how to help control and intervene in that kind of situation. Maybe it just means you’re the first one to call 911, or the one to step up to say you’ve had some CPR training. Maybe it just means you reach out to help comfort an anxious mother when their child falls and hits their head.  You CAN help make a difference in those situations, no matter what level of healthcare or medical training you’re at.  My request is that you spread the word of how important basic First Aid and CPR/BLS training truly are and that you go get certfied- you’ll never know when you might need to step up!

CASPA- It’s finally time! Tips & Tricks # 1

It’s finally here this year- CASPA season! There’s just over two weeks to go before this year’s cycle opens up. Let me tell you- the portal they use now is SO much better than when I first applied back in 2014- it got a massive face lift during the 2015-2016 cycle.

SO- full disclosure- I was a reapplicant last year. During my second time applying I had learned some things the hard way and I want to help make sure you don’t have to go through that yourself. Here are my quick intro tips to applying to CASPA :

  1. If you’re a first time applicant: APPLY EARLY. BE THOROUGH. When you get into the portal it looks like a lot- I suggest carving out a block of time set aside for just getting to know how the website works. Then take a break (it really helps I swear) and come back to tackle each piece at a time.
  2. If you’re a reapplicant- you know the drill now but STILL APPLY EARLY. Some programs work on rolling admissions and others don’t, but it never hurts to be ahead of the curve no matter what. Remind your references writing your letters that the cycle starts in TWO WEEKS- bug them again and again if you must. Last year I had my entire (*primary*)application submitted 6 days after the portal opened (and had my first letters of recommendation in an hour after I had reactivated my application) and while it took a lot of patience waiting to hear back from programs, it was so worth it to have it all wrapped up.
  • Sidenote- some of you noticed I said “reactivated” just now. Using the “reactivate” feature of CASPA was the best move I ever made. I took a year off in between application cycles, so during the 2015-2016 cycle I created an application (this was when they made the portal switch so my 2014 data no longer worked) simply to just enter all my grades and experiences (these definitely take the longest). Then, when April 2016 rolled around I just had to reactivate my application and BOOM there it all was. Not all data rolls over though, so be careful (like your personal statement and letters of rec). If you’re considering taking this year off I HIGHLY recommend doing this. Seriously. DO it.

3. Make time for the application process and stay dedicated to that time. There will be days where the last thing on Earth you want to think about is how to write yet ANOTHER secondary application essay. But as someone who has spent countless hours on this process in two separate instances, I can tell you whole-heartedly it is ALL WORTH IT once you’re through the other side. Stay hungry and stay humble. Own the process, take responsibility, and make it happen for yourself.


Let’s start from the very beginning! My name is Hannah, which is a palindrome! What’s a palindrome you ask? A palindrome is a word, phrase or sequence that is spelled the same backwards or forwards- and it makes for a fun conversation starter whenever I meet someone new.

About me- I am a soon-to-be PA-S heading to USC this August! But before I became a soon-to-be, I was many other things- an EMT-B, an ER Tech, an ambulance attendant, a volunteer undergrad research associate, a proud UCLA Bruin… and most importantly, a persistent second-time applicant.

You heard that right- I didn’t get in the first time around!  I know I’m not alone and I’m here to tell you all about it. My goal here is to reach all aspiring healthcare professionals and to provide motivation and support for those of us who didn’t necessarily find success on their first attempt.  What I have found over these past many years is that the journey is what helps define us- it challenges us, it teaches us, it scares us, and most of all it shapes us into the amazing healthcare providers we will ultimately end up being. My original plan was to take one year “off” in between undergrad and starting a PA program. Now, it’s been five years and I wouldn’t change a single minute of it. I am proud of my accomplishments, however unconventional some of them may have been. I have seen my friends fly past me as they start and finish nursing and medical school and at times I have definitely felt behind. What can be difficult is trying to remember that YOUR start line is all that matters.  Comparison is very truly the thief of joy, so find your joy in your journey. And if you’ve found my page because you’re starting your journey- I could not be more excited for you!