Best Jobs to Do Before Physician Assistant (PA) School

If you're hoping to attend physician assistant (PA) school, gaining clinical experience in healthcare will strengthen your application and help you decide if a medical career is right for you.

But what jobs are the best to do before PA school?

There are many healthcare jobs that don't require a college degree—such as medical assistant, emergency medical technician, and phlebotomist—that you can do while in undergrad or at another time before attending PA school.

This guide goes over jobs you can do before PA school that may help you get into your dream school while giving you valuable experience that you can carry on into your career.

Best Jobs to Do Before PA School

Here are some of the best jobs you can get before PA school that can strengthen your application and help you get in:

Medical Assistant

A medical assistant is someone who works in a healthcare facility, usually a clinic or doctors office and helps care for patients and keep the office organized. 

They perform basic clinical tasks like drawing blood and taking vital signs, as well as administrative tasks like handling billing and scheduling appointments. 

Medical assisting jobs are great for people who hope to become physician assistants someday. Medical assistants learn a lot about common health conditions, basic laboratory tests, and bedside procedures. 

  • Median salary: $42,000
  • Number of jobs in the US: 123,000
  • Education/training/certification required: High school diploma required, medical assistant certification preferred. Certification can be completed in as little as four months. 

Certified Nursing Assistant

Certified nursing assistants usually work in long-term care facilities and hospitals. They often care for patients who need help with activities of daily living like getting to the bathroom, brushing their teeth, and eating meals. 

Certified nursing assistants do a lot of physical labor like lifting patients out of bed and carrying heavy hospital equipment. In some states, CNAs can learn to insert IV catheters and help with sterile dressing changes. 

  • Median salary: $38,130
  • Number of jobs in the US: 220,200 open jobs
  • Education/training/certification required: Certification required. Certification takes between 4 and 12 weeks. 

Emergency Medical Technician

Emergency medical technicians are first responders who usually work in an ambulance, responding to emergency medical calls and transporting patients between medical facilities. 

Emergency Medical Technicians can do things like take vital signs, measure blood sugar levels, give injections, and perform CPR. In some states, emergency medical technicians are trained to give intranasal naloxone to treat opioid overdose. 

  • Median salary: $44,780
  • Number of jobs in the US: 20,000
  • Education/training/certification required: Certification required. Certification programs generally last 1-2 years.  

Phlebotomist

A phlebotomist specializes in collecting blood samples for laboratory testing. Phlebotomists can work in hospitals, clinics, and outpatient centers. Phlebotomists must learn good techniques to avoid causing injury or infection and prevent contamination of their samples. 

  • Median salary: $41,810
  • Number of jobs in the US: 21,500
  • Education/training/certification required: High school diploma. Certification preferred. Certification courses can be as short as 30 hours long. 

Hospital Volunteer

While it won't help you build your savings account, volunteering at a hospital can give you great experience working with patients, becoming familiar with hospital systems, and helping you give back to the community. 

Hospital volunteers can do anything from greeting patients, keeping hospital grounds clean, and holding NICU babies while their parents are away. 

  • Median salary: $0 
  • Education/training/certification required: None 

Home Health Aide

Home health aides travel to patients in their homes to help with basic tasks such as bathing, grooming, and eating. Home health aides may also change simple bandages and measure vital signs during their time with the patient. 

Home health aides usually work without any other healthcare providers present, meaning they have to use critical thinking skills and know how to respond in case of an emergency. 

  • Median salary: $33,530
  • Number of jobs in the US: 711,700
  • Education/training/certification required: High school diploma 

>> Learn More: PA School Application Timeline & Deadlines

Hospice Aide

A hospice aide is someone who takes care of people at the end of their lives. Hospice aides focus on keeping their patients calm and comfortable in their last weeks, days, or hours before death.

Hospice aides must learn to have a fantastic bedside manner and excellent communication skills. Hospice aides have a difficult, but extremely meaningful job. 

  • Median salary: $33,530
  • Number of jobs in the US: 711,700
  • Education/training/certification required: High school diploma

Medical Scribe

A medical scribe is a healthcare professional who helps a physician stay organized and keeps patient charts up-to-date. Medical scribes often document patient-physician encounters in real-time, making sure that each part of a procedure or examination is documented accurately. 

Medical scribes become familiar with medical language and learn about each step involved in many common procedures. 

  • Median salary: $37,060
  • Number of jobs in the US: 9,300
  • Education/training/certification required: High school diploma required, certification preferred. Certification can take up to one year. 

Physical Therapy Assistant

Physical therapy assistants can work in home health, hospitals, or physical therapy offices. They work with physical therapists to help injured or weak patients gain strength and mobility. 

Physical therapy assistants can help with range of motion exercises, apply electrostimulation, and help give massages. 

  • Median salary: $58,740
  • Number of jobs in the US: 25,500
  • Education/training/certification required: High school diploma. 

Hospital Clerk

A hospital clerk helps to keep the entire hospital organized. They help to control the flow of patients in and out of units, keeping track of how many clean beds are available, when patients are expected to discharge home, and help coordinate the staffing of physician assistants. 

A hospital clerk can also answer patient visitor questions and help manage the front desk of the hospital, helping worried families locate their loved ones and get status updates as appropriate. Working as a hospital clerk will give you great customer service practice, an understanding of medical terminology, and organizational skills that can all be helpful when becoming a physician assistant. 

  • Median salary: $48,780
  • Number of jobs in the US: 55,000
  • Education/training/certification required: High School Diploma

Medical Interpreter or Translator

A medical interpreter or translator has to complete special training and pass a test that ensures they are fluent in the language they plan to use for their interpreting job. Medical interpreters often have to help healthcare providers give complex diagnoses and instructions about how to manage diseases. 

Medical interpreters play an important role in helping patients make decisions about their care, understand instructions about medications and follow-up appointments, and get all of their questions answered appropriately. Many medical interpreters work remotely and interpret patient-to-caregiver conversations over the phone. 

  • Median salary: $57,090
  • Number of jobs in the US: 69,400
  • Education/training/certification required: Fluency in both languages and certification in medical interpretation. 

Orderly

Orderlies work in operating rooms, keeping things organized including supplies and surgery schedules. They often transport patients from the surgical suite out to the recovery rooms and play a vital role in keeping things moving on time. 

Orderlies keep supplies stocked and organized in each operating room, which can be life-saving in an emergency. Orderlies must be detail-oriented and be able to stay focused in case of an emergency. 

  • Median salary: $36,830
  • Number of jobs in the US: 1,389,900
  • Education/training/certification required: High school diploma

Transporter

Transporters in hospitals help patients travel from their hospital rooms to different procedure areas. Patients in the hospital often have to travel to different areas to get things like CT scans or MRIs. Transporters are responsible for getting the patient to and from their destination safely. 

Transporters usually push a stable patient to their destination in a wheelchair, but at times their job can become quite complicated. Some intensive care unit patients may need to travel in their hospital bed and can be connected to a ventilator, tube feedings, IV medications, and even devices like an artificial heart during transport. These types of extremely sick patients should always travel with a transporter and a physician assistant. 

  • Median salary: $28,080
  • Number of jobs in the US: 17,308
  • Education/training/certification required: High school diploma

Surgical Technician

Surgical technicians get to work right alongside surgeons as they perform their procedures. Surgical technologists are responsible for preparing sterile instruments and then handing those tools to the surgeon as they work. 

They can also suction blood from the patient to improve the surgeon’s view of the area of operation and can hold traction—meaning they hold skin, bones, or organs out of the way to give a better view of the surgical field. 

Surgical technicians must also pay close attention to make sure that everyone working on the patient in the operating room remains sterile during the procedure. They also keep count of each stitch, gauze, and surgical tool used during the operation to make sure that nothing is left inside the patient at the end of surgery. 

  • Median salary: $60,370
  • Number of jobs in the US: 102,000
  • Education/training/certification required: Certificate or Associate’s Degree

Monitor Technician

A monitoring technician is someone who is specially trained in reading heart rhythms on a monitor and being able to recognize problems. While there are usually alarm systems in place that can alert staff of a medical emergency, monitoring technicians are trained to notice subtle changes that can happen when a patient starts to decline. 

A good monitoring technician can help prevent an emergency by identifying subtle changes in heart rhythm or other vital signs. Monitoring technicians may also be asked to directly watch over a patient who is confused or combative to make sure that they do not harm themselves during their hospital stay. 

  • Median salary: $35,460
  • Number of jobs in the US: 18,000
  • Education/training/certification required: High school diploma plus certification or associate degree. 

Sanitation Technician

Sanitation technicians or environmental services staff are invaluable members of the healthcare team. A good sanitation technician ensures that rooms are prepared and ready to accept the next patient who needs care, prevents the spread of infection between patients, and helps keep things organized and tidy. 

Sanitation technicians help with regular housekeeping tasks like mopping, laundry, and taking out garbage bags. In addition, they may use special light equipment to destroy harmful bacteria and viruses and have to go through special training on how to protect themselves from needlestick injuries or exposure to body fluids and hazardous chemicals. 

  • Median salary: $32,703
  • Number of jobs in the US: 152,119
  • Education/training/certification required: On-the-job training. 

Dietitian Aide

A dietitian aide helps deliver meals and snacks to patients in the hospital while keeping everyone safe. Not only do dietitian aides have to use safe food handling practices to prevent illness, but they also have many other things they must pay attention to. 

Dietitian aides have to pay attention to each patient’s allergies and what type of diet they are allowed to eat while in the hospital. Dietary restrictions may include liquid only, soft foods only, low salt, fluid restrictions, calorie counts, and special diabetic diets. Despite this, it's general considered a low-stress medical job.

  • Median salary: $30,555
  • Number of jobs in the US: 16,290
  • Education/training/certification required: High school diploma. 

How Working in Healthcare Before Physician Assistant School Can Help Your Application

Working in healthcare before physician assistant school is a great way to strengthen your application and help you get into a great PA school. While not all PA schools require clinical experience, all of them will look positively on any experience you do have.

If you are on the lower end of GPA requirements to get into PA school, having a lot of clinical experience can help.

Consider working one of the above jobs in the summers of your undergraduate years or part-time while attending school. Not only can these help you get into PA school, but they can also help you get a job once you graduate.

Getting used to working around patients or in a hospital can also make things easier once you start your physician assistant career.

One final note: always check with the schools you're interested in to make sure the jobs you're considering satisfy their requirements. Working in jobs that don't involve patient interaction like a pharmacy technician may not count as clinical experience.

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