An Interview with Alexandra Ciccone, PA

Written By Soraya Sato on April 21, 2023

How long have you been a PA and in which specialties? Do you like what you do?

Yes, I like what I am doing! I have been a PA for a little over 3 years, and I have no regrets. I started off just working in the ER, and I now work both in the ER and in Urgent Care. I knew I wanted to do ER right when I started PA school, and I never changed my mind. 

Why and when did you decide to become a PA? 

For undergrad, I went to college in my hometown with my best friend from high school. She chose to be a Communications major, which was honestly the only reason why I chose the same major. After graduation, I started working full-time for the college in one of their administrative offices. At the same time, I began dating a guy who was actually ER PA. The stories he would tell me from work were next-level, and I found his job so captivating, rewarding, and exciting. I started looking into the field and thought “Gosh, this is interesting!” I decided that I could and wanted to do it, so I went back and finished my prerequisites at a community college. I got a great science GPA, applied to about 7-8 PA schools, and got in on the first try! 

Why did you choose PA over other careers like NP or physician?

I honestly never really considered the NP or physician route. Looking back now, I think the NP route is super smart because going from nurse to NP is much easier since you already have so much clinical experience. I literally had almost no medical experience besides scribing in the ER, so I had no idea how to take a blood pressure, do anything hands-on, and I was terrified! However, I do feel that PA programs generally have more structure and have great hands-on training before jumping right into clinicals. In PA school, you have courses every semester that teach you how to suture, intubate, do lumbar punctures, read EKGs, and all sorts of stuff you may not even use in your chosen specialty. It really helped me in the long run. 

What is the most challenging part of your job? What is your favorite or most rewarding part?

The most challenging part would truly be if you have a very unstable patient or are unsure on how to treat a patient. You are never going to know everything with any career in healthcare, so seeing something you do not know initially can be really scary. 

The most rewarding part is honestly when you see patients are happy. We all just want to make sure we take care of our patients properly, and I truly feel the more personable you are with them, the more happy they are. Working in lower-income areas or with people who do not have insurance in my ER experience has also been very rewarding. I love that I am able to properly care for people who do not have access to it. 

Have you switched specialties, or know of any PAs who have? How easy or hard is this process actually?

In my experience, going from ER to Urgent Care was pretty easy. I feel they kind of go hand in hand, since the easy stuff in the ER is essentially what you see in Urgent Care. However, starting or switching into a completely different specialty I feel is tough, and none of my PA friends that I can think of have done it. You definitely have the option to, but it would require some serious studying and training, especially if switching from something so specialized like Dermatology to Orthopedics. 

How is your work-life balance?

It honestly depends on how much you want to work and which specialty you are in. Work-life balance is great if you take the time off, while still making great money. You can work an 8-5 everyday like everybody else, or you can work in an urgent care or ER where you do 2-3 long shifts per week. I am able to work full-time while still going on vacations, and I know that things will run smoothly without me being there everyday. However, there are times in specialties like ER where you may have to work on holidays and miss those events with your family if you choose to do shift work. 

How much contact do you have with your supervising doc during the course of a typical day?

This honestly depends on the day, but I would say I talk to a physician probably about once a shift (either in-person or via call) in times where I am unsure about a patient or their test results. 

How has your position evolved since you just started? How do you see it evolving in the future?

In the beginning, I only saw stable patients and had a very calm work environment since I was a new PA. As I have gotten further into it, I've seen all kinds of patients and have also thought about going back to get a Masters in Business because I have gotten more involved in the hospital administration side of things. I sit in meetings with the medical director, leader of operations, CEO, etc., where I am able to point out things in the clinic that are or I feel would be helpful. I feel I am in the sweet-spot, since I am still working clinically but am listened to by administration and working behind the scenes. In the future, I think it would be great if PAs could own their own businesses. However, I think part of the beauty of being a PA is having some sounding board and having a physician to work with as well! Also, telehealth is becoming much more popular, so I feel it will become more common for PAs to work some days from home in the future. 

How was your experience in PA school?

You definitely have to be ready to give up your life for your years in PA school, but I honestly loved PA school. My program was 27 months with almost no breaks. Because of this, it is definitely hard for other friends outside of school, a social life, and traveling. However, you make the best of friends there, stress about the same things, and study for hours together in the library. Being in PA school is a lot, but if you really want it and study very hard, you can do it. 

What were your favorite/least favorite clinical rotations?

My least favorite rotation was in Endocrinology. It is very very intricate, and I am not that interested in the subject. My favorite rotations were definitely the ERs and the ones where we got to do more procedures and hands-on skills. Just as a tip, do the most uncomfortable things as a student (lacerations, suturing, etc.) if given the opportunity so that you are more comfortable going into a real job when you graduate. 

What is the curriculum like during the didactic/clinical year? 

This depends on the school, and I would definitely pay attention to it when deciding on which schools you want to apply to. For didactics, some schools I had looked into had lectures on Monday- Friday from 8-5 pm. I remember thinking, “When do you have time to study?” My program had shorter days on Fridays and more breaks in between lectures, which I felt made everything much more bearable. 

What were your PCE hours? Are there certain ones you would recommend/a lot of your classmates did?

For me, my PCE hours came from working full-time as a scribe in the ER. I thought scribing was great, but just make sure to double check which programs accept it as PCE or HCE. I would definitely try to get a paid job that you are able to learn a lot from. For instance, some specialties can get a bit repetitive and not teach you as much. However, working in the ER allowed me to see X-Rays, imaging, EKGs, CT scans, and more. This helped a lot going into PA school, as the material was not all completely new to me.

What advice would you have for those applying to PA school? What do you think helped you stand out as an applicant?

Apart from having a high science GPA, I felt that not having a science background helped me stand out and made me more interesting. Additionally, personality is a big thing. In interviews, make sure you are personable, know why you want to go to their PA school, and be honest about it. The interviewers can see through the fabricated answers that you think they want to hear. Also remember that the schools are investing in you and your success so that their PANCE rate remains high, so make them confident through your answers that you will be able to!