That is the best way to describe Yocheved Becker who matriculated into the PA program as a wife, mother of two children (ages 4 and 2), 3mos pregnant with her 3rd child and would later graduate PA school pregnant with her 4th.
Like many others, the name “Physician Assistant,” was a major deterrent from the career field initially. Without a full understanding of what a PA is and not wanting to attend medical school; her love of medicine led her down a different path, practicing as a mental health counselor for 3 years. That would all change after an in-depth look at the PA profession through the eyes of a PA-C and close family member.
Tell me about your Pre-PA journey?
Completing the science prerequisites took about a year and a half. I worked full time and took 4-night classes a week from 5pm-10pm. Once I received my acceptance letter, I informed my employer that I would be leaving the Friday before the first week of PA school began.
Why did you decide to become a PA?
I grew up in a family with many doctors, so the desire for the medical field was always there. Multiple family members, including my father who is also a doctor, advised against me going into medical school for several reasons which I agreed with. I really didn’t know my options in the allied health professions, so I went another route. While practicing as a mental health counselor, my younger sister became a PA. Through her, I got an in-depth look at the PA profession. When I saw the level of autonomy and amazing career my little sister had as a critical care & cardiology PA I said, “Hold on, wait a minute!” (lol) I told my husband that’s it! I’m going back to school.
You grew up around the medical field, how is it that you never heard of the PA profession?
I heard the name Physician Assistant and immediately wrote it off. I wasn’t interested in providing “assistance”, I wanted to practice medicine. The name is definitely a misnomer and was the reason why I didn’t consider it in the first place. Today I still find myself having to explain to many what a PA does and my role on a healthcare team.
Any difficulty getting your husband on board when you decided to go to PA school? How did you convince/persuade him and how long did it take?
After the initial surprise, he was excited about it! My friends and family were similarly taken aback at first when I told them of my plans to go back for a second master’s, as I had just completed one 3 years prior. But eventually, they were super supportive of my decision.
What obstacles did you face / biggest apprehension?
Other than being completely petrified I was worried about Finances. I already had a master’s degree that I was still paying off. And as a parent, money is always a concern, especially since PA school is such a major financial sacrifice.
How did you overcome those obstacles?
I have an amazing husband and great support system. My husband took on a second job and I worked full-time until the program matriculated. In addition to that, I made a major investment in myself by borrowing student loans. People are afraid of debt and they shouldn’t be, that’s what the banks are there for.
Any advantages/disadvantages of transitioning into a new career? Being a more mature student?
It was a major plus to have career experience. I was able to effectively work with others and my psych background was an asset when learning about behavioral health. In general, I think graduate schools look favorably on mature students due to their life experience and career skills.
Happily married, a mother of two toddlers and pregnant twice, how did you manage PA School?
I can’t say that I really managed it; I just kept my head down and plowed through. I delegated anything and everything that could be done by someone else and I cut out what wasn’t essential. That included hiring a full-time nanny, barely exercising, meals from the frozen foods aisle and a lot of tuna sandwiches in between. My husband and nanny took care of most household chores. The didactic year was rough, but it got better during clinical rotations.
What did you do for Stress Relief?
Whenever I began to feel discouraged or wanted to quit, I would call my friends who are PA-Cs for encouragement. They would remind me of how amazing the career is and why I decided to go to PA school. In addition to that, I am Orthodox Jewish so from Friday at sundown through Saturday I completely unplug and spend time with family.
Any concerns from the faculty when they discovered your pregnancy?
Yes of course! I was offered the option to restart the program with the incoming class allowing me more time to be with the baby. However, I didn’t want to push off school for a year. I had to convince them that I was all in and planned to return to school ASAP. I maintained my grades, had a great support system and a plan in place to continue the program successfully. Once they saw that I was serious and had thought everything through, they were very supportive.
Were you accommodated at all during your pregnancy?
They made me feel supported and helped to make life a little easier like providing a more comfortable chair to sit in during class. In general, it’s important to realize that PA school is a privilege, out of thousands of applicants I was selected for one of the 75 seats. I knew what was expected of me as a student and was prepared to do my part. When I gave birth during finals week, I understood that the exams couldn’t be pushed back too much; so, less than a week after delivery I was back on campus taking final exams. The faculty worked with me as much as they were able to, like being flexible about the time I came in; but I had to take them all within a certain time frame. During subsequent semesters I was nursing my baby and the professors were very gracious about accommodating me so that I could express milk during breaks. My second pregnancy in PA school was during our last clinical rotation. I attended graduation and took my PANCE two weeks later nauseous and exhausted.
Is there anything you wish you knew before starting PA School?
How happy I would be in the end. My mentor, who is also a mom, scared me to death about how hard it would be. It made me question if I should even go. Now, I understand her intentions were to prepare me for the level of stress and difficulty that was up ahead. She wanted to make sure I had a solid support system set up to help make things run as smoothly as possible.
If you could go back in time to the moment you decided to become a PA, what would you tell yourself?
Yes! Go for it and don’t look back.
What did a typical day look like for you in PA school? As a PA-C?
GPA – Cumulative – 3.9, Science 3.95
(combo of undergrad, first Master’s, and prereqs)
GRE Scores – 90th percentile
HCE & PCE – mostly from shadowing, my counseling experience didn’t count as PCE. I accumulated over 1000 shadowing hours which wasn’t difficult because I’m from a small Jewish community so when they heard I was going back to school many were happy to help.
Undergrad– Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Thomas Edison State College (New Jersey)
Masters – Masters in Mental Health Counseling from St. John’s University (New York).
What is your advice to the mom who is hesitating?
Just go for it! I’m a big proponent of women fulfilling their dreams and being empowered. Don’t let anything or anyone stop you. Everyone will feel the stress and the kids will pick up on it. But they will admire you later on. It’s good for our sons and daughters to see their moms be ambitious and still manage family life.
Words of encouragement to moms currently in the PA program?
There is a light at the end of the tunnel! You will be able to have fun again and live a normal, happy and fulfilled life. I absolutely love my career now and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
How would you describe the differences between didactic and clinical year?
The didactic year was very stressful because there were so many exams and very little sleep. But the clinical year was much easier to manage and closely resembled what PA-C life would be like.
How’s life as a PA-C?
Amazing! I get a full night of sleep, no more studying until 2am and much more fresh, hot meals. I work out and spend time with my husband and kids. I read for leisure again and have a social life at night. It’s still exhausting at times and I occasionally encounter some inflexibility when it comes to time off of work for the children’s school activities but the temporary sacrifices I made were so worth it!
GPA when you graduated PA school?
I graduated with a GPA of 3.56. Remember employers, don’t ask for a transcript. You want to be a fabulous practitioner and know medicine. With that being said, do not chase the grades but instead learn the information.
When did you take the PANCE exam?
2 weeks after graduation.
Most of my classmates took the PANCE within a week or two of graduation. Honestly, the program did such a great job of drilling the information that we were prepared.
Did you have any difficulty finding a job?
The job offers were coming in but I am not willing to work on Saturdays since I am Orthodox Jewish. It took about two months before I secured a position. If I knew it would have taken so long, my job search would have begun in May/June prior to graduation in August.
What is your Specialty?
I work in Internal Medicine which I highly recommend to all recent graduates. It is a great way to gain exposure and experience before moving to a specialty.