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.