Bulldog Blog

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Choosing a graduate program: Advice from a health, medicine, and society alumna

After receiving an interdisciplinary education at the U of R and setting her sights on a career as a physician assistant, Allison Busch ’21 chose to pursue a graduate degree.

Studying both biology and health, medicine, and society (HMS) at the University of Redlands allowed Allison Busch ’21 to learn about the human body through a unique, well-rounded interdisciplinary approach. Now a graduate student in the physician assistant (PA) studies program at Gannon University in Florida, she is determined to expand her understanding of prospective patients’ experiences. Cristina Jercan ’22 of the Bulldog Blog spoke with Busch about the graduate school application process and her goals for the future. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Bulldog Blog: How did you decide that applying to a PA master's program was the right next step for you? What aspects of your personal, professional, and academic life did you take into consideration during your decision-making?  

Busch: I always knew I wanted to go into medicine, and for the longest time I thought my only options in healthcare were as a doctor or a nurse; neither of those options really excited me. When I learned about PAs, I immediately knew that that was what I was meant to be. As a PA, you are a healthcare provider with an emphasis on teamwork to manage patients. Combined with lateral mobility between specialties, only two to three years of training, and the ability to have a social life outside of work, it was exactly what I was looking for in a profession. I have always wanted a family and to be very involved while also having a fulfilling career. Those values were very important to me when deciding on a profession and I will be able to have the best of both worlds as a PA. 

I will say though, now that I am in the thick of it, evaluate if you are mentally ready for PA school. It is the hardest thing I have ever done, and that is coming from someone who took 18 credits a semester, two to three classes during the summer, played a sport, and ended up with two degrees. I am very mentally tough and have never had an issue with mental health as an undergraduate, but almost immediately I was hit with a wave of doubt [upon entering the program]. Luckily, my support system is rock solid, and I was able to overcome it. A few people dropped out of my class due to the stress—so make sure you are in a good place to start school and that it is genuinely what you want to do. Without a reason for what you want, it will be very hard to overcome the challenges you will face.   

BB: What qualities were you searching for in PA programs during your application process?  

Busch: Small class sizes were important. Redlands really spoiled me, so that was something I was not willing to compromise on. I also looked at program length; my program is two years, while some are closer to three years. I am a very “go, go, go” type of person, so a two year program was exactly what I wanted. I also looked at accreditation status. While my specific program is only three years old and not yet accredited, we are a branch of the main campus in Erie, Pennsylvania, that has had a successful accredited program since the 1970s, so I had no concerns about being a part of a growing program. Now that I am here, I realize that location matters a lot. I was born and raised in Southern California, and I was looking at schools in the middle of nowhere in Texas. At the time I didn’t think that would be a huge deal. But living in a semi-rural suburban area now, I know I wouldn’t have been happy in Texas.   

BB: What is your biggest piece of advice to pre-PA students?  

Busch: My biggest piece of advice is to realize that you do not need to be perfect to get into PA school. What I really appreciated about the application process was how holistic it was. Your grades don’t need to be perfect; neither do your experiences. They want people, not robots. Do your best in school and don’t be afraid to reach out to places that will give you good experiences. Everyone in healthcare started somewhere, and most of us are very open to helping those who want to get into it as well. For example, through networking on Linkedin, I was able to secure a cardiothoracic surgery rotation for my clinical year just by putting myself out there. I was very scared of being rejected, but you will never know the answer unless you ask—the same goes for experiences and even applications.  

BB: What was your best quality as a graduate program applicant? How did you highlight your skillset and potential?  

Busch: My personal statement was very compelling and passionate. It was very evident that my heart is in healthcare and, while I knew I wasn’t the top applicant by any means, I showed that I am willing to work hard and be challenged to be the best provider I can be. Personal statements are the perfect place—and sometimes the only place—where you can show your humanity in an application, so be sure to show it.    

BB: What attracted you to the program at Gannon University?

Busch: I was drawn to the area; Tampa Bay is cool, and I was ready to experience something other than Southern California. Again, the class sizes and program length were both a big plus. I was able to reach out to a few students and ask them about their experiences with the professors. I got the feeling that the faculty genuinely want you to excel and are willing to help you in any way they can, which isn’t always the case in healthcare programs. The only thing I wish we had was a cadaver lab, which would be a huge benefit for a PA student who wants to go into surgery, like myself. But overall, it just seemed like a good fit for me, and I am very happy. 

Learn more about studying health, medicine, and society at the U of R.