Tell me about yourself?
My name is Martha Carmella Wilkins, I am a married mother of three children (ages 15y, 7y and 3y) born and raised in San Francisco, CA. After graduating with a Bachelors in Kinesiology from San Jose State University, I completed a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from San Francisco State while working as an Athletic Trainer for various collegiate sports teams at the University of San Francisco. During that time, I learned about the PA profession, which I immediately knew was the career for me. But life and self-doubt would prevent me from pursuing it right away.
So, I continued working in my profession feeling unfulfilled, knowing that becoming a PA was my true calling. Finally, in 2013- newly married- I decided to take a few classes and submit my CASPA application. My application was rejected which was discouraging, but not surprising since I didn’t put in much effort (I don’t really consider this as an attempt, more of a practice run) After the birth of my 2nd child, we moved back to the bay area where I started my own business, F.L.Y athletics, which stands for First Love Yourself. Helping women get their bodies back in shape is something I enjoy a lot, but it derailed me from going after the career I truly desired.
My focus was redirected when one of my clients, who happened to be a PA student, encouraged me to continue my journey. I thought to myself, it’s been over 10 years, but I keep coming back to this and I know there’s a reason why – this is my passion! So, in 2015, I decided to go for it and my husband was super supportive. I retook pretty much all the pre-reqs since most were expired. The whole process – including shadowing, volunteering, etc. – took about two and a half years to complete. All the while still running a business and raising kids. Fortunately, I come from a large family and all of them were very supportive. They all helped out in any way they could so that I could completely focus on school and work.
I submitted my CASPA for the 1st time (technically the 2nd) to 6 schools and was rejected by all of them. This was very disheartening to say the least. But still determined, I got on the PA forums and really started communicating with other students and applicants to find out where I went wrong. I knew that my GPA was a major issue, with my undergrad GPA being barely above a 3.0. Since that number was pretty much set in stone, I decided to focus my attention on schools that focused more on a student with great post bacc grades, extensive healthcare experience, volunteer hours, shadowing hours, etc.
What was it about the PA profession that attracted you to it?
I admire the patient care interaction. Growing up in an underserved area where healthcare is not the greatest, it’s nice to see the high level of care being provided by PAs while still showing so much compassion. Being an Afro-Latina woman, I know how difficult it can be to open up to a provider that you cannot relate to – I want to provide that level of comfort to my patients.
What obstacles did you face on your pre-PA journey?
Chemistry and math are both struggles for me. Last spring semester I took General Chemistry 2 and had to withdraw from the course to avoid failing. I later re-enrolled that Fall where I barely passed with a C. It was an eye-opening glimpse to what PA school was going to be like. The biggest struggle was being a mother, working and trying to excel in these courses. I had to really focus and find the endurance and perseverance to keep pushing. It definitely helped to develop my study skills. I would encourage others to work part-time or not work at all if possible. Use the time to focus solely on school and getting in those volunteer and shadowing hours because most programs want you to be well rounded with a competitive GPA. Also, most schools won’t look at an applicant without a minimum 3.5 GPA.
What reservations did you have about applying to PA School as a mom and wife? How did you get past that?
The thought of not being able to work for two years and the pressure on my spouse of running the household. The PA program I will be attending is a 2-hour commute. We decided that it will be easier for me to live closer to school during the week and drive home on the weekends. I’ve already applied for family housing. If I’m not approved, then the plan is to room with someone from my cohort. My twin sister is a huge help with the kids. In addition, my entire family lives nearby and my friends are super supportive mentally and emotionally. This won’t be easy and I’m sad just thinking about it, but I know it’s a temporary sacrifice which keeps things in perspective for me. I can’t let fear or doubt keep me from attacking my goals, I have to keep pushing!
How do you expect balancing PA school and family life will be?
I don’t know what to expect! I know it will be hard and will challenge our marriage. My time with my children will be limited which will have a huge impact on them … huge! It will certainly take some adjusting but we will eventually set a routine.
What are you doing now to prepare yourself and family before the program begins?
Minimizing the number of hours I work and spending as much time with my family as possible before school starts. I did the work to get into the program now it’s my time to relax (temporarily).
Do you still have any reservations or hesitations?
There are always those voices of self-doubt and fear – Can I do it? Will I be successful? Will I fit in? Will I be the only black women or parent?
When that happens, I just pray about it and ask God for guidance, discipline, strength, focus and confidence. Being in this position, it allows me to show that as a black woman and a mother, it is possible – regardless of your GPA. I hope my story can encourage someone else.
Tell me about the CASPA process and Interview. How did they go?
I knew that just applying with the bare minimum wasn’t going to cut it. I had to make myself stand out as an applicant. Before submitting my application for the final time, I reached out to a few PAs and PA-S from our small online community, such as Natalie Houser and Samora Charles to help review my application, which was a big help. I also hired a professional editor to review my personal statement for grammatical errors. My 2nd (technically 3rd) CASPA was submitted in June and I was invited for an interview in July.
My interview was on 8.16.2018 and it was a great experience. The director came out and said, “Relax! We already have your applications, we just want to get to know a little bit more about you.” I left there feeling like I gave it my best shot.
Tell me about the day you learned that you had been accepted into the PA program?
While on a family vacation a week after my interview – the longest week of my life – is when I got the phone call. Earlier that day, I decided to take my kids out to the park for a few minutes to take my mind off of thinking about an acceptance or rejection. When I returned, my phone was ringing. It was the Director of the program telling me I was accepted into the first cohort at CSU Monterey Bay! I was overjoyed and relieved to know that I had finally been accepted.
Cumulative GPA: 3.2
Science GPA: 3.33
Education: Undergrad Major – Kinesiology and Athletic Training, Masters in Exercise Physiology
Any advice to the mom who is still hesitating?
What do you want for yourself and family? Don’t be so focused on the now, you will find a way. Start with one class a semester until you see your comfortability level. Have a plan then focus on how you can chip away at it.