My journey to becoming a pre-physician assistant

Image of PA Training Class
Photo by Ohiodominican under CC BY SA 4.0 ./Creative Commons

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Coming into UC Berkeley with absolutely no idea what major I wanted to pursue should have been an exciting venture. I was just starting college and had so much discovery ahead of me. But instead of feeling like I could explore my options and figure my major out along the way, I constantly felt stressed that I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life — especially when most of my friends already knew what they wanted to study and were already checking their major prerequisites off the list. 

The one thing I knew coming into UC Berkeley was that I had zero interest in pursuing a STEM major. So freshman year I decided to get my biology breadth requirement out of the way, expecting to hate every second of it. But to this day, Molecular and Cell Biology 32, “Introduction to Human Physiology” is my favorite class I’ve taken thus far at UC Berkeley. This class wasn’t just enjoyable — it practically made me change my entire idea of what kind of career I thought I would pursue. I fell in love with the human body and how it works. I finally had something I was passionate about. But before I could even feel excited about it, my brain shut the idea down with thoughts such as, “you could never get into med school” or “you would do horrible in the biology prerequisite classes.”

So I put the idea out of my mind and trudged on in my search for a major I liked and thought I could do well in. But class after class, nothing made me feel like that biology class did freshman year. I was stuck: I felt like my only option if I pursued a medical career was going to medical school. And as much as I sometimes want to be the extremely driven person that goes through the medical school process, I just knew it wasn’t for me. I hated the cutthroat environment of medical school culture, and I had no desire to spend that much more time in school. 

And like a gift from the universe itself, that’s when I discovered the physician assistant, or PA, profession. Don’t be fooled by the name — PAs are not assistants at all. They have their own patients, can prescribe and diagnose and ultimately have a lot of similar roles to a regular physician. PA school is only two to three years while medical school is at least seven, and it’s substantially less expensive. 

The PA profession was just rated the number one job of 2021 by the U.S. News and World Report, and even with that title, I’m shocked by the lack of knowledge surrounding the profession. It is such a great option for people who want to pursue medicine but don’t want to spend seven or more years in school before even starting their career. As a PA, you aren’t tied to a single specialty like physicians are after they finish their residency. This means you can practice in a multitude of different areas, which is a big reason it’s believed that PAs experience less burnout in comparison to traditional physicians. 

While the PA career has amazing benefits and offers a very similar career to practicing medicine as a physician, you will also have to accept that you will always be working under a practicing physician. For most, it’s a collaborative environment in that PAs can use their supervising physician as a tool when they need to. However, you will ultimately have to be okay with not being guaranteed the final say in a patient’s treatment. 

As a PA, you will also have to deal with a lot of stigma and backlash from those who don’t appreciate and understand your role in health care. At first, this terrified me. I hated the idea that people would think I “wasn’t smart enough to be a doctor,” or something along those lines. In reality, pre-PA is also an extremely competitive process, and PA school is no breeze itself. 

I love the benefits that going the pre-PA route offers me over pre-med, and I have decided that those benefits highly outweigh any potential judgments people may have about my career choice. But even with how excited I am, I was nervous I would still be put on the back burner to the pre-med community at UC Berkeley. 

I looked for pre-PA clubs to join here amid all the pre-med clubs and was bummed to find out none were active. So I took matters into my own hands and am starting a club myself! I can’t wait to find other students who are on the same path as me, educate others about the profession and build this community here at UC Berkeley.  And I’m even more excited that I found a major and career I am passionate about — I’m a proud pre-PA! It’s easier said than done to follow your heart, and it takes more courage than I imagined, but in the end, it most definitely pays off.

Contact Jackie Amendola at [email protected].