It seems like such a long time ago, but its only been a year since I began PA school. I remember walking in the first day petrified of what was to come. I was excited to be starting a new chapter in my education while simultaneously dreading the year to come knowing how rigorous and challenging the material was going to be. I remember the first day being a whirlwind of information and the faculty preparing us that this was going to be one of the most challenging things we will accomplish. I remember in the first couple weeks my friend and I would always go and change into our scrubs before anatomy lab and give each other pep talks. We used to say, “yes, we COULD do this for 1 year. 1 year of hard learning and then we will be ok”. Yet, both of us were nervous about what was to come in the next 12 months.
Fast forward 12 months and here I am…officially done with my didactic year of PA school. And guess what…I survived!! There were so many things I have learned over the course of this year, both medically relevant and also about life. So in honor of my completion of the first part of my education…I wanted to write a post for all your PA students that are about to kick off the start of your didactic year. Looking back, there are so many things I wish I could have told myself when I was in your shoes. So in honor of you beginning your didactic year…here are my words of wisdom for you!
- Laugh often– you’re a student, you’re going to make mistakes. I know I’ve spoken about this in previous posts but it just shows how important I think it is. PA school requires you to jam a LOT of information in your brain, which can inevitably lead to mistakes and wrong answers every once in a while. IT’S OK. You are a human being…and you’re not expected to know everything. So cut yourself a break, and even better…laugh at yourself! This past semester we learned how to do pelvic exams. Obviously, that is a little stressful and something I’m not used to doing at all. Between trying to remember what the heck I was looking at, juggling the speculum, and just trying to calm my nerves…something had to give. I’m typically a pretty casual and easy-going individual…and sometimes I need to remember to use professional terminology. I was in the moment and wasn’t thinking so instead of saying what I should have (like a professional term)…I decided to phrase it “Ok now I’m going to sneak a peek now” OH MY GOOD LORD. Of all the things to say during a gyn exam…I think that takes one of the top places for things NOT to say. Oops. Thank goodness it was a “practice patient” (aka a standardized patient)…and I clearly have learned from my mistake. In retrospect, it is pretty funny. So give yourself a break…learn from your mistakes and don’t take yourself too seriously! Trust in the process that you will get to where you need to be.
- Don’t neglect the things you love. I know when I began school I was worried I was going to lose so many pieces of my life. I wouldn’t be able to work out, I wouldn’t be able to see friends or family, and I would simply have to put life on hold while I plunged into the unknowns of PA school. Don’t get me wrong, there are sacrifices you are going to have to make time-wise…but you learn how to live life in moderation. Yes, you are going to commit plenty of hours to studying…but you also need to give yourself some time every day to be a human. Whether that means giving yourself an hour to go for a run/walk, calling your mom or dad to check in and see how they are doing, or just scrolling through social media for a 1/2 hour to unwind from a long day at class…know that it is ok! Whenever I got home from class, I gave myself a full hour to decompress from school. Even though an hour doesn’t seem like a long time or you may even feel like that hour is a huge waste of time away from studying…I would venture to say that hour gave me enough of a mental break to be able to conquer school. I love being outside and being active, so I would often go to our local state park and go for a nice long walk in the woods. It was simple, but it was so relaxing and really rejuvenated my brain before kicking off my nighttime studying. As much as we’d like to use our brains all day long, they need a break too! So avoid burnout, give yourself a break, and do something you love!
- Don’t compare yourself to others. When I got to school, I was blown away by how intelligent and accomplished all my peers were. Many had thousands of hours of healthcare experience, while others graduated from prestigious universities. I was amazed how I had fooled the admissions committee into accepting me into their program. At first, it was hard not to compare myself to everyone else. We kicked off PA school with an anatomy course and many of classmates sailed through it…naming off body parts that I had never even heard of or cutting structures perfectly. I was completely out of my comfort zone. Looking back, it’s funny because there are so many components to your education…and there are going to be things you rock at, and things you don’t excel at (at first). Your classmates will find the same thing happen to them too. I found out I was really good at pharmacology, where many others struggled with it. PA school is a journey, both educationally and emotionally. Be patient with yourself. You will find your groove and become comfortable with your own studying habits, what you like/don’t like, and how to best tackle that crazy thing called PA school you signed up for!
- Drop the competition at the door. We are all “Type A” in one sense or another, specifically, we have a competitive spirit and have worked hard for our admissions ticket into school. The hardest thing to remember is that you don’t need to compete to be at the top of your class any longer, and you can now embrace the wonderfulness of group studying! As stated in point 3 above, everyone is good at something or another, meaning collaboration is the key to success in PA school. They say PA school is like drinking out of a fire hose (which is pretty accurate). You get a ton of info in a short period of time, and let me tell you if you try and conquer all that info by yourself it’s going to suck and be super stressful! Don’t do that to yourself! Find yourself some study buddies early on and formulate the best way to tackle the info. I found it was best if you had 3-4 students in a group, that way you could let ideas flow, but not be overwhelmed by too many minds! I cannot tell you how many answers I ended up getting right on my exam just because one of my classmates had a wacky way of remembering it that stuck in my head. So embrace your fellow classmates and learn to love what everyone can bring to the table. And when you finally ace that exam…you guys can all have a little celebration as your classmates come out of the exam and you all passed (seriously, we would all give each other high fives and be super pumped when we all passed…best feeling ever!)
- Remember why you’re doing this. Everyone has a reason for going to PA school. My inspiration for taking the path that I did was the healthcare teams I experienced growing up. My pediatrician was the most amazing woman I had ever met (besides my mom). She was smart, passionate, and funny. Unlike most kiddos, I actually looked forward to going in for a check-up! As I grew up, I had various family members bounce in and out of hospitals and medical facilities. I began to gravitate towards the buzz of the healthcare field from these experiences. My career path was set ablaze though when I shadowed my first PA in high school and in college. He worked in the walk-in clinic, and his intelligence and passion to help people really made me think that this could be a career for me. He was so in-love with his job, and couldn’t imagine doing anything besides what he did. That really struck a chord with me, I wanted a career that I was just as excited about every single day! So from here, I went on to gather up patient care hours. I did this in the form of being a CNA. I worked in a nursing home but switched to in-home care. Specifically, I was placed in the homes of patients who had suffered spinal cord injuries. One patient really changed my outlook on healthcare. This patient was friendly, caring, intelligent, and has such a passion for life, even after his injury! I spent many hours with this patient, and a lot of our time together involved talking about his healthcare experience and what he hoped would happen for spinal injury patients in the future. He was my favorite patient, and although I was excited to start PA school it, was extremely bittersweet to leave my job and the amazing patients that came with it. It is bonds with patients like him that remind me of why I’m going to PA school. He was so incredibly excited when I told him I got into my dream school! On some of those days of school when I’m feeling exhausted and burned out from studying…I remember the encouragement and support I received from that patient. I know that there will be more patients to come like him, and it is these wonderful individuals that inspire me to work just a little bit harder to make it through. Yes, PA school can take a toll on your free time (and sometimes your sanity), but when you have a reason and passion of why you started your PA career in the first place, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to push through to the finish line!
So yes, didactic year is a whirlwind of knowledge and learning…but you can do it! Remember, every single year hundreds of PA students graduate from schools across the nation. If they can do it, so can you! Just remember, it’s best to just do you…and believe in yourself! If you put in the time and energy and enlist the help of your classmates…didactic year will be over before you know it! And then you get to move onto the real fun….