Getting into PA School—Feedback from ACR Employees Who Made It! 

The competition to get into PA school is intense, with only about 25% of applicants making the cut. Your PA school application and interview need to stand out to be successful. 

Sarah Abbott, ACR’s Director of Staff Development and Internships, recently interviewed 14 former ACR employees who have been accepted into a PA program, are in PA school, or have graduated from a PA program and are now in the profession. 

ACR often hires pre-PA students because of their high aptitude and motivation, and because they need the hands-on patient care experience they gain at ACR. ACR offers unique experience since we specialize in serving people with disabilities who are medically involved. Over 75% of ACR clients have more than five medical diagnoses with conditions like paraplegia/quadriplegia, traumatic brain injury, seizure disorders, cerebral palsy, autism, and moderate to profound intellectual disabilities. 

The 14 former ACR employees who were interviewed were accepted into PA programs at Augsburg University, Bethel University, St. Catherine University, Red Rocks PA Program in Colorado, Marquette University, Florida International University, UW-Madison, and the University of Dubuque. Five have graduated and are now practicing PAs. Following are some of their insights for the pre-PA process. 

What Opportunities did you list as your Healthcare Experience and/or Patient Care Experience on your PA school applications? 

Patient care experience at ACR Homes: the 14 respondents averaged 34 months of patient experience working at ACR. Former ACR employee Natalie Ikeman, PA, who is currently working as Lead Advanced Practice Provider in the Family Medicine Department and as a PA at Hennepin Healthcare wrote,

“I ONLY listed ACR, and I was proud to do so. I didn’t need anything else to prepare. Looking back, it was THE perfect experience to prepare me. This is why I feel so passionate about continuing to recruit for ACR at the U.”

Internships: 8 of the 14 also completed internships with ACR Homes. 

Volunteering: In addition to patient care experience at ACR, many also volunteered for organizations such as Special Olympics, UMN Medical Center, ER-various hospitals, or as counselors at MDA Summer camp 

Shadowing: Most cited shadowing other physician’s assistants in a variety of clinics, the ERs and hospitals. Those that completed ACR’s pre-PA internship had the opportunity to shadow a former employee now working as a PA. 

CNA: Only 4 of the 14 had experience as CNAs (certified nursing assistants) in nursing homes and in pediatric oncology 

PCA: 3 of the 14 had experience as a PCA (personal care attendant) in addition to their experience at ACR 

Teaching/research: Two had experience in teaching and research at the UMN Dept. of Biology and UMN Dept. of Medicine 

In what ways did you use ACR on your PA school applications and interviews? 

Madeline Schutte, PA-S2: I used ACR A TON! A lot of my stories on my personal statement and during my interview actually came from ACR—my residents, the internship, and my amazing coworkers. I had the opportunity to share with them my leadership skills learned at ACR, tough situations I overcame, and mostly the amazing amount of compassion and appreciation I now have for people. I think the biggest thing I learned from ACR was compassion and communication with people. I use these skills now every day in clinic. I have no doubt my time at ACR will make me a better provider. 

Marisa Felker, PA-S2: ACR made up a lot of my resume which I believe was to my advantage. They like to see that you can commit to something and grow in a career. For the first set of interviews I focused on hitting all of the main accomplishments on my resume and I only got waitlisted. For my last interview, though, I switched my interview style to just talking about what I was passionate about, which just so happened to be my residents at ACR. I told stories and described detailed instances of pure chaos and how the situation was handled, and the relationships I had with coworkers and residents. I believe the interviewers could feel my excitement about the work. 

Alex Traut, PA-S1: I used my ACR experience on application essays, in my personal statement, and in interviews. My ACR experience was probably the thing I fell back on the most when faced with questions on both application essays and in-person interviews. 

Sarah Kivisto, PA-S2: The experiences I had while working as a direct care staff at ACR were some of the most influential times of my life. Because this was such a pivotal experience in my life, I answered many of my PA interview questions with the personal experiences I had while working at ACR. I think this opportunity I had caring for individuals with disabilities helped to set my application apart. 

Kelsey McFarlane, PA-C: My work at ACR was the forefront of my personal statement for PA school. I wrote about specific situations when I advocated for my residents in their interactions with healthcare providers and how that shaped my own career goals. During my PA school interview, I talked about what I learned from my residents and how it made me comfortable with taking care of people with special needs. I also stressed the leadership and independence skills I developed with ACR. 

In what ways did you use ACR while in PA school and now that you’re a provider? 

Natalie Ikeman, PA-C: Insight gained from residents at ACR helped me better understand course material in the PA program. 

Olivia Schultz, PA-C: I also felt work at ACR gave me a head start during PA school about medications and certain diseases/illnesses that I encountered while taking care of residents. 

Kelsey McFarlane, PA-C: During PA school, my experience working at ACR helped me put a face to the diseases we were studying; for example, my residents had seizures so it was easier for me to study the different seizure disorders and medications used since I had managed seizure meds and protocols. 

Carla Klassen, PA-C: My experience working at ACR continues to impact the way I approach patient care. I have more compassion, patience, and respect for all individuals who walk into the clinic. I also continue to see many patients with disabilities in my neurology practice and it has become a passion of mine to work with that patient population. 

What are the key take-aways from these first-hand accounts?

  1. The hands-on patient care experiences in the DCP position at ACR will make memorable input for PA school applications.
  2. Take advantage of leadership opportunities with significant, challenging problem solving
  3. Use an internship in conjunction with your direct patient care hours to go both deeper and wider in your area of interest.

In an upcoming blog we’ll share insights from these PA students and practicing providers and others, comparing CNA experience with direct care experience at ACR Homes.