For Michelle Vietz, a second-year student in Union College’s PA program, Union turned out to be the perfect choice for her undergraduate studies too.
“The small class size and approachable teachers made Union stand out from the other schools,” said Vietz, who earned a biomedical science degree at Union. “The program challenged me to understand why and how processes work, which laid a solid foundation for graduate school.”
Her undergraduate degree at Union also gave Vietz an inside track into one of the top programs in the country, because Union’s PA program now gives special preference and mentorship to Union College undergraduate students.
A top-ranked medical career at a top school
With an anticipated higher than average career growth rate of 37 percent, more students are focusing on becoming PAs for a medical career. According to U.S News and World Report, the profession ranks #1 in America on the 2019 list of “Best Health Care Jobs” and #3 on the 2019 list of “Best Jobs.”
At Union, those great career prospects are paired with exceptional preparation. Union posts consistently high first-time pass rates on the national board exams and nearly every graduate has found employment within six months.
“I want to be a PA because of the challenge of solving problems and the connection with the patient,” said Vietz. “When I did patient care hours, I was continually amazed by how much a cheerful attitude and smile can increase trust and sometimes even help the patient feel better. In a nutshell, the combination of mental challenges and interaction with patients provided a good fit.”
An inside advantage
Students who choose Union for their undergraduate degree get prepared to enter into Union’s high demand program. For the class of 2021, the program received nearly eight times the number of applicants needed to fill the 30 available seats.
“If a student is interested in becoming a PA, then studying at Union for their undergraduate degree is a fantastic avenue to secure a position in the PA program,” said Michelle Velazquez-Mesnard, vice president for Enrollment. “It’s not easy to get a spot in a PA program.”
While studying at Union, pre-PA students will acquire an overall understanding of their role as a PA. Undergraduates will learn how to interview for PA school, develop their professional skills through job shadowing and receive mentorship from students and faculty in the program.
“Faculty can be intentional in advising pre-PA students and help them know the expectations before applying. It will definitely make for an easier transition,” said Megan Heidtbrink, PA program director.
More than 250 PA programs currently exist in the country, with admissions being highly competitive according to the American Association of Physician’s Assistants. Admission to a PA program requires a bachelor’s degree and completion of courses in basic and behavioral sciences as prerequisites.
The perfect track for your medical career
Union offers several pre-PA tracks—including an accelerated pre-PA emphasis for biomedical science majors that can have students practicing medicine in just six years by starting the 33-month PA program after three years of undergraduate studies.
Vietz’ choice of a biomedical science four-year degree focused on human health while making sure she built in all the PA prerequisite courses. This unique degree also allows students to earn a minor in a complementary field such as business or psychology while still finishing in four years.
For students wanting to prepare for medical work overseas or in harsh conditions, an international rescue and relief degree provides a variety of emergency medical training as well as a pre-PA option. Each graduate completes emergency medical technician training, completes a five-week summer course in wilderness rescue and survival, and spends a semester learning about global health and providing medical care in a developing nation in addition to their graduate school prerequisites.
Union’s business degree with a science emphasis is another great option for students with plans to run a medical practice. While integrating necessary science courses, students also learn management, finances and leadership skills.
Now that she is in the PA program, Vietz knows she made the right choice. “I have always been curious about how and why processes in the body act a certain way,” she said. “A degree in medicine is a challenge, but it helps me appreciate the efficiency and design of the human body as a masterpiece created by God. And I appreciate Union’s emphasis on service and interactive learning. Students spend time washing the feet of our homeless neighbors and also participate in case studies and mock scenarios to hone our skills for the future.”
Heidtbrink added that completing an undergraduate pre-PA degree at Union gives a significant advantage because students are prepared to succeed in the program. “We want to focus on mentoring students who are at Union aiming to become a PA for their career choice,” she said.
For more in-depth information on getting an inside track into the PA program, visit ucollege.edu/pre-pa.
Emily Roque Cisneros is a Union College graduate, freelance writer, mother and pastor’s wife writing from Cederedge, Colorado.