Leah Meuter

Leah Meuter

Leah Meuter completed her postbaccalaureate fellowship at NICHD from July 2019 to July 2021 in the laboratory of Karel Pacak, MD, DSc, PhD, Senior Investigator in the Section on Medical Neuroendocrinology. While there, she worked as part of a translational research team that investigated and clinically evaluated, treated, and managed patients with rare neuroendocrine tumors called pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas. Now, Leah is a second-year physician assistant (PA) student at Stanford University School of Medicine.  

Check out our Q&A with Leah to learn more about what inspired her to pursue the PA profession and her experience so far in PA school.

What is a Physician Assistant?

According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), “PAs (physician associates/physician assistants) are licensed clinicians who practice medicine in every specialty and setting. Trusted, rigorously educated and trained healthcare professionals, PAs are dedicated to expanding access to care and transforming health and wellness through patient-centered, team-based medical practice.”

The AAPA states that a PA’s specific duties depend on the work setting, their experience level, their specialty, and state laws. Generally, PAs can:

  • Take medical histories
  • Conduct physical exams
  • Diagnose and treat illness
  • Order and interpret tests
  • Develop treatment plans
  • Prescribe medication
  • Counsel on preventive care
  • Perform procedures
  • Assist in surgery
  • Make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes
  • Do clinical research

What was your inspiration for joining a PA program?

I learned about the PA profession in a summer research position during my undergraduate training. The principal investigator of the project, one of my mentors, recommended I look into the profession. I was extremely interested and spent the entire summer educating myself about the career path and what coursework I needed to complete before graduating. The PA profession is great for people who want to provide high quality medical care to patients, work as part of a healthcare team, and swiftly transition into the workforce. Moreover, PAs have lateral mobility, meaning they are able to work in different subspecialties throughout their career without additional schooling. My patient-focused and clinical care duties at the NIH solidified my decision to pursue this career.

What was the application process like for PA school?

Each PA school has its own unique requirements, but most require basic science prerequisites (general biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry), standardized test scores (Graduate Record Examination, GRE; Physician Assistant College Admission Test, PA-CAT), and patient care experience. I took the GRE, so I cannot speak in detail on the PA-CAT. Since the GRE does not directly assess knowledge relevant to the medical field, the PA-CAT was created as a more specialized standardized test that would more accurately assess an applicant’s knowledge relevant to the field. The PA-CAT is not broadly accepted/required yet, but it is something that I believe some schools will look for in the future. 

All schools require a bachelor’s degree, but as long as you meet the science prerequisites, you do not necessarily need a Bachelor of Science. The most unique part of the process is that applicants must have hundreds to thousands of patient care hours by the time they apply. Since the PA program is accelerated (2 to 3 years), PA schools need to be confident that applicants have a foundation of patient care experience by the time they apply. Each school differs on what they count as patient care experience, but I applied with clinical research hours as well as medical assistant hours.

The average PA school applicant applies to eight programs. I applied to eight schools and interviewed at six programs. There is a standardized application and supplemental application component for each school. Once your application is reviewed, each school’s interview team will either decline your application or invite you for an interview. During my application year, all interviews were online due to COVID-19, but traditionally the applicant would travel to the school to interview.

What is a typical day like while in a PA program?

PA school is broken down into didactic and clinical years. During the didactic year, most programs have class 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with tests most weeks. My current program is unique, in that they give us more flexibility in our didactic schedule, which allows me to take elective classes outside of my core curriculum and get more involved in leadership opportunities. During clinical year, we have four-week rotations in core and elective specialties in a variety of settings.

What’s the next step after you graduate from PA school?

Once I graduate, I will take the PA board exam (Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, PANCE), obtain the necessary state licensure, and start applying for jobs.

Were there any workshops or programs at the NIH that helped you prepare for your PA program?

My experience at the NIH prepared me well for PA school. Learning how to work as part of a team and establishing a strong work ethic early in my career was invaluable. I also completed the NIH Academy, which I highly recommend.

Where do you currently seek mentorship?

I seek mentorship through my education and work experiences. I am lucky that my NICHD advisor (Dr. Pacak) provided amazing mentorship while I was at the NIH, and he continues to be present as a mentor in my life. I am continuing to establish a mentoring network while in PA school. My program has many mentorship opportunities; examples include Educators for Care (E4C), where PA students are paired with a practicing PA, and Women and Medicine (WAM) where female students are paired with female healthcare providers.

Do you have any final tips for fellows who are thinking about pursuing a similar career track?

Say yes to as many opportunities as you can early in your career. Doing so will help you discover what you like or dislike, what comes easy or hard for you, and what you are curious about. It will also help you build a network of colleagues and mentors to help you in your career. No one is successful on their own—ask for help when you need it. Having good mentors can significantly enhance your professional development.

Leah Meuter

Leah Meuter

Leah Meuter completed her postbaccalaureate fellowship at NICHD from July 2019 to July 2021 in the laboratory of Karel Pacak, MD, DSc, PhD, Senior Investigator in the Section on Medical Neuroendocrinology. While there, she worked as part of a translational research team that investigated and clinically evaluated, treated, and managed patients with rare neuroendocrine tumors called pheochromocytomas and paragangliomas. Now, Leah is a second-year physician assistant (PA) student at Stanford University School of Medicine.  

Check out our Q&A with Leah to learn more about what inspired her to pursue the PA profession and her experience so far in PA school.

What is a Physician Assistant?

According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), “PAs (physician associates/physician assistants) are licensed clinicians who practice medicine in every specialty and setting. Trusted, rigorously educated and trained healthcare professionals, PAs are dedicated to expanding access to care and transforming health and wellness through patient-centered, team-based medical practice.”

The AAPA states that a PA’s specific duties depend on the work setting, their experience level, their specialty, and state laws. Generally, PAs can:

  • Take medical histories
  • Conduct physical exams
  • Diagnose and treat illness
  • Order and interpret tests
  • Develop treatment plans
  • Prescribe medication
  • Counsel on preventive care
  • Perform procedures
  • Assist in surgery
  • Make rounds in hospitals and nursing homes
  • Do clinical research

What was your inspiration for joining a PA program?

I learned about the PA profession in a summer research position during my undergraduate training. The principal investigator of the project, one of my mentors, recommended I look into the profession. I was extremely interested and spent the entire summer educating myself about the career path and what coursework I needed to complete before graduating. The PA profession is great for people who want to provide high quality medical care to patients, work as part of a healthcare team, and swiftly transition into the workforce. Moreover, PAs have lateral mobility, meaning they are able to work in different subspecialties throughout their career without additional schooling. My patient-focused and clinical care duties at the NIH solidified my decision to pursue this career.

What was the application process like for PA school?

Each PA school has its own unique requirements, but most require basic science prerequisites (general biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry), standardized test scores (Graduate Record Examination, GRE; Physician Assistant College Admission Test, PA-CAT), and patient care experience. I took the GRE, so I cannot speak in detail on the PA-CAT. Since the GRE does not directly assess knowledge relevant to the medical field, the PA-CAT was created as a more specialized standardized test that would more accurately assess an applicant’s knowledge relevant to the field. The PA-CAT is not broadly accepted/required yet, but it is something that I believe some schools will look for in the future. 

All schools require a bachelor’s degree, but as long as you meet the science prerequisites, you do not necessarily need a Bachelor of Science. The most unique part of the process is that applicants must have hundreds to thousands of patient care hours by the time they apply. Since the PA program is accelerated (2 to 3 years), PA schools need to be confident that applicants have a foundation of patient care experience by the time they apply. Each school differs on what they count as patient care experience, but I applied with clinical research hours as well as medical assistant hours.

The average PA school applicant applies to eight programs. I applied to eight schools and interviewed at six programs. There is a standardized application and supplemental application component for each school. Once your application is reviewed, each school’s interview team will either decline your application or invite you for an interview. During my application year, all interviews were online due to COVID-19, but traditionally the applicant would travel to the school to interview.

What is a typical day like while in a PA program?

PA school is broken down into didactic and clinical years. During the didactic year, most programs have class 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, with tests most weeks. My current program is unique, in that they give us more flexibility in our didactic schedule, which allows me to take elective classes outside of my core curriculum and get more involved in leadership opportunities. During clinical year, we have four-week rotations in core and elective specialties in a variety of settings.

What’s the next step after you graduate from PA school?

Once I graduate, I will take the PA board exam (Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination, PANCE), obtain the necessary state licensure, and start applying for jobs.

Were there any workshops or programs at the NIH that helped you prepare for your PA program?

My experience at the NIH prepared me well for PA school. Learning how to work as part of a team and establishing a strong work ethic early in my career was invaluable. I also completed the NIH Academy, which I highly recommend.

Where do you currently seek mentorship?

I seek mentorship through my education and work experiences. I am lucky that my NICHD advisor (Dr. Pacak) provided amazing mentorship while I was at the NIH, and he continues to be present as a mentor in my life. I am continuing to establish a mentoring network while in PA school. My program has many mentorship opportunities; examples include Educators for Care (E4C), where PA students are paired with a practicing PA, and Women and Medicine (WAM) where female students are paired with female healthcare providers.

Do you have any final tips for fellows who are thinking about pursuing a similar career track?

Say yes to as many opportunities as you can early in your career. Doing so will help you discover what you like or dislike, what comes easy or hard for you, and what you are curious about. It will also help you build a network of colleagues and mentors to help you in your career. No one is successful on their own—ask for help when you need it. Having good mentors can significantly enhance your professional development.