I am here to interrupt our regularly scheduled pre-PA talk to talk to you about something a little different: PA school!
Going into my first day of PA school, I was under the impression that it was just slightly short of mission impossible. Many programs I interviewed at informed me “PA school will be the hardest thing you have had to do up to this point”, “only the tough will survive”, and “prepare to kiss your social life goodbye”. LOL. NO NO NO.
So I’m here to give you the straight story about PA school…and how YOU can conquer it without feeling like you’re giving up on every other part of your life to finish school.
First off, my biggest point I want to hit is: PA school is TOTALLY DO-ABLE. Let’s just get that straight. If you get into PA school, you got in for a reason. In my program, they say about 1% of the people that apply get in. So if you managed to wiggle your way into one of those coveted spots (something I question how I managed to do on the daily), you know they saw something in you and they know you will be successful in school.
So without delay, here are my top 5 tips for surviving (and rocking out) PA school!
- Find balance in your life- PA school can become really overwhelming at times. You have a zillion exams you need to study for, a paper to write, and about a dozen other random things you need to do to feel prepared for the material at hand. It can be so easy to divert all your time to accomplishing all this…and that’s exactly how you get burned out. How I’ve managed to avoid this is by dedicating certain portions of my week to “me time”. This includes hanging out with family or friends, going for a run, or watching my favorite show on Netflix. These little “treats” allow to relax and remember that even though I am in a super rigorous program, I am a human too. Also, when I carve out time for stress-relievers, it gives me extra motivation to buckle down and study when I need to.
- Eat Healthy and Exercise– this one is simple. If you eat crap, you feel like crap = brain not happy and won’t be as sharp when you need it to be! Also, exercising is a positive way to remove some of the extra stress in your life from PA school. Running, yoga, and swimming are my favorite things to do…and really helps me clear my head.
- Befriend and Rely on Your Classmates- this is probably my number one tip for crushing PA school. Funny enough, it is actually super hard for some students to accomplish this. I think that the way the process works these days is that you work your butt off to be a top candidate when applying, climb your way to the top of your undergrad class, and basically hone in on any “type-A” personality traits you have to beat down the doors to PA school…and then you get in and realize the competition is over…at least it is supposed to be. It is hard to drop that competitive nature cold turkey on your first day…but it is necessary if you want to get the most out of PA school. The matter of the fact is this: you’re not going to rock at every topic that gets thrown at you. The good news is, you do have classmates who may naturally “click” better with a topic that you’re struggling with. I have so many wonderful classmates who worked in specialties in their “past life” and know a great deal about topics like cards, pulmonology, and emergency medicine. More likely than not, if you have cultured and built healthy and friendly relationships with those classmates (and not iced them out or have been competitive with them)…they’re going to be more than willing to help you out! PA school isn’t supposed to be easy, but don’t make it harder on yourself by losing some of your most important studying assets: each other!
- Outside resources– My school is absolutely awesome. They recruit some of the world’s finest practitioners in their fields to come and lecture to us…and I am so incredibly thankful for that. But, if I’m honest with myself, I am truly not much of an expert at anything (hey, at least I know it haha). So in order to not completely fall flat on my face during an exam, I turn to some of my favorite books/youtube channels to catch me up on the basics so that I can fully appreciate those wonderful lecturers when they talk to me about more in-depth material. Some of my favorite resources are:
- Khan Academy Medicine on Youtube. They break things down for you super well so that you understand the basics. And their videos don’t tend to be super lengthy either…which means you get the information you need without spending hours trying to learn it!
- Online Med Ed is basically straight gold. My classmates and I absolutely love this guy! He is an internal medicine doctor who breaks down everything into super awesome videos, flowcharts, and lots of other fun pieces that are easy to digest. This is another resource that gets you what you need without spending hours on end trying to figure out what’s important. Another fun part about this resource: he actually does a super awesome job pointing out “key-words” that may be on your exam to get you to the right diagnosis!
- Pance Prep Pearls– aka PA school’s Bible. I don’t think I would have made it through PA school without this bad boy. It does the absolute best job giving you a “snap-shot” and important points on each and every disease or syndrome that you may have to know for the PANCE/PANRE. Highly recommend! (And they just came out with a brand new edition…it is amazing!)
- A Comprehensive Review for the Certification and Recertification Examinations for Physician Assistants– this book is fabulous as well. Usually I pour through this book 2-3 nights before an exam because it always has a few extra tidbits of information that are super pertinent to my test that I hadn’t learned before. Special bonus: this book has collaboration done with the AAPA and PAEA, so you know it is legit!
- Believe In Yourself and Remember Why You Started This Journey– this is such an important thing. Yes, PA school is hard. You’re going to get sick of studying and there are going to be moments you don’t think you’re cut out for the rigor and pressure that comes with your education. It is a lot of work learning what you need to know at the speed PA school goes. Sometimes when I’m feeling a little bit overwhelmed I take a step back and remember how incredibly lucky I truly am. I have the privilege to help people out at their most vulnerable moments…people are literally going to entrust their life in my hands. If I can’t go through a little bit of hardship and stress and bust my butt to earn that privilege…then I went into the wrong profession! Yes, PA school is a roller coaster..but I can assure you there have been more ups than down!
Plus at the end of the stress, hardship, and sweat and tears you poured into your education…you get to be a PA. How sweet is that?!
P.S. PA school also involves me taking a lot of naps. Honestly, so many things can be solved by just taking a nap. Most underrated stress reliever ever.
“Michael Jordan took naps. Abraham Lincoln took naps.” -Corrine
Pics courtesy of giphy.com