The PA community has long relied upon a network of individuals supporting one another, so when the year 2020 presented new challenges to the world, mentorship became more important than ever. From leaning on one another in the hospitals during the pandemic to helping future PAs with their path to school, mentors are working hard to create an uplifting community. We at Doximity had the opportunity to speak with occupational medicine and urgent care PA Aaron Hunro and his mentee, Danielle Balestra, about their experience working together during Balestra’s application process for PA school.
The path to becoming a PA looks different for everyone, especially since medicine has many different career options. For PA Hunro, he had a special connection with the job from the very beginning. “I knew what the PA profession was very early on,” he told Doximity. “My dad's a PA as well, so just seeing what he did on a day-to-day basis inspired me to go into medicine.” While his father’s influence is what initially helped him decide to become a PA, he soon realized there was more that drew him to the job. “For me, it was also the balance. I can work as much as I want, or scale it back as little as I want to have other passions, like helping out the community and doing volunteer work.”
While Balestra was also interested in a medical career at a young age, her drive to become a PA stemmed from a different place. “I would say my interest in medicine started early on,” she said. “I feel like I was always really interested in science and all the questions that could be answered with medicine.” With this interest in the medical field already in place, Balestra found herself drawn to being a PA through another job. “I got a job as a scribe/medical assistant in an EMT office where I am now, and that was actually incredible. I thought it was very cool seeing the PAs build these ongoing relationships with our patients while also educating them. I was like, ‘OK, yeah, I'm going to do that.’”
Mentorship can act as an opportunity for prospective applicants to learn about the profession, and it can also provide an advantage when it comes to navigating the application process. Though PA Hunro was able to learn about being a PA through his family members, he found that their advice for applying to be one was outdated, due to how the process had changed over time. He decided to seek out others who could give more up-to-date guidance.
“I found mentors, whether they were soon-to-be PA students, current PA students, or recently practicing or recent graduating PAs,” he said. “I would ask for their guidance and learn more about the profession, learn more about what I wanted to do, and how to connect my application together. That was kind of the struggle, but in turn, it became the thing that I valued the most. And that's why, for me, being able to mentor students like Danielle, to be able to help them through that process, was definitely valuable because it would allow me to pay it forward and give back to the future wave of this profession.”
Providing mentorship to prospective PAs is indeed impactful, especially since Balestra noted that, while she was able to find mentors within the profession to guide her in her clinical roles, she had not been able to find that kind of support when she was navigating the process as an applicant. “The mentorship program at work is more of making sure you’re aware of your clinical role. The focus is on what you want to do once you’re trained and getting the necessary background information for that. It wasn’t resources for applications, although we were all going through the application process at the same time. I would talk to coworkers that had gone through the process and they would read my essays, but otherwise in college I was weighing it alone.”
Application review services are available but at a cost. This drove Balestra to seek out mentorship through social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter instead. “There are all of these services that you can pay for, but they are so expensive. I was like, 'I'm not doing that.' As you're probably aware, there's such a little culture on Instagram for PAs. So I was able to connect with someone online that was willing to read my personal statements and was available via message whenever I had a question [for free].”
Platforms like social media have made it easier to connect with and mentor prospective PA students as well as support those currently navigating the career. PA Hunro noted that social media has allowed him to mentor and support others, which is his way of paving the way for others and giving back. “Social media is definitely a double-edged sword, but I think if you use it to its full capabilities it can be beneficial,” he said. “That's how I was able to connect with my mentors.”
Social media provides a unique opportunity to reach a larger audience across the globe. “With social media, whoever hit me up I was able to answer questions, or if I didn't know the answer, I would connect them to somebody who knew it. So just being able to give back that way was definitely great. Now, I'm pushing to provide more resources for PA students and pre-PA students. On my own time, I put out YouTube videos and other pre-PA resources for students to find and utilize so that I can level the playing field and answer questions and be that guidance for somebody who, like I did, needs that in their first time applying.”
The year 2020 brought forth a need for community and support, two factors that are not new to the PA profession. Mentorship can be an impactful asset to those navigating their firsts within the career. Many PAs chose the profession for the opportunity to intimately care for and support patients. However, the profession truly stands out for the way this support is also extended to fellow PAs.
What role did mentorship have in your experience? Are you a mentor now? Share your experiences and insights in the comments.