Hi all! I’m Aashna, a second-year PA student about to start my fourth rotation (family medicine) next week. I’m excited to be guest posting for Jourdyn and sharing a few things about my experience as a PA student.
I frequently get emails or messages on Instagram from people asking me questions like how I manage to “do it all”. “How do you keep your blog updated while going to PA school?”,” how do you hang out with friends with so many exams?” or “how do you find the time to go home to visit family?” I was even asked how I “mastered” surviving PA school and how I got so organized in school. Truth be told, I do not have it all together, trust me.
I am no master at being a PA student, and neither am I organized every single day of every week. However, in the last 19 months, I’ve learned a lot about prioritizing and managing my time. While I feel unqualified to do this, today I am going to share with you all what has worked for me in terms of finding balance and staying organized while in PA school. As always, what worked for me may not work for you and vice versa, so take everything I say with a grain of salt. I also am not telling anyone what they should be doing with their time, I’m simply sharing what I did/do to keep up with my personal and professional commitments. Let’s jump in.
- Get intentional: It’s very easy to say that we want to get more organized or get more done than to actually do it. If you really want to get something done, you have to want to do it, not just think about it. I still choose to be intentional about my goals (more on than next) rather than just say that I want to do it or will get to it eventually. If you have the correct mindset, you get so much more done in an efficient manner.
- Set realistic goals: I personally believe that if you want to accomplish something, you have to have set goals. Unless you’re a highly motivated and disciplined person, most of us need that extra push to get started. They don’t have to be anything major but just get yourself started somewhere. During didactic year, I used to set goals for every day, the entire school week, and then the weekend in terms of how many and which lectures I want to review and study that day/week, how much time I want to spend on a particular class or studying for a particular test, etc. This way, I knew how to allocate my time on each goal and not spend too much time on just one exam/class. Do a little bit each day for multiple classes, that way you’re not caught in up in class but behind in every other class.
- Make a “to study” list: We used to have multiple quizzes and tests during didactic year and it was challenging (to say the least) to stay on top of it. At the beginning of every weekend, I used to make a list of every lecture I needed to go over for all the classes that had upcoming exams/quizzes. That way I wouldn’t forget to study anything. Then, I used to divide it up and decide which lectures I was going to study on which day of the week. It took some work up front, but that way once I knew what my plan was, it was a lot easier to execute it. It saves time during the busy week and keeps me on task.
- Use a daily planner: This worked hand in hand with my study list. I used to write down which lectures I was planning on studying each day of the week in my planner so I knew my goals for each day. I usually allocated more lectures to the weekend since I had more time and went to bed earlier on weekdays because getting enough sleep was one of my top priorities. You can set your schedule any which way you want as long as it works for you!
- Use a monthly calendar: This is what I used to write down every quiz and test we had for the entire semester at the beginning of each semester. We usually had our quiz and exam dates for each class in our syllabus and for the most part, they remained the same. Once I did that, then I knew which weekends I would be busy studying and which ones I would have more time to play around with. This is how I planned any trips home or elsewhere and my hangout time with friends in or outside of PA school.
- Take a night off at least one day a week for myself: I loved that I lived so close to my family during PA school. While I went home on any free weekends that I had, there were times I chose to stay in Nashville simply to be able to recharge my batteries and relax on my own. As an introvert, I need quality time to myself to be able to feel grounded and to start the next week fresh. I love my friends and family and I tried my best to see them in whatever free time I had, but I always set at least a night to myself each week to relax and do anything but study.
- Find an outlet: Writing relaxes me. It’s when all of my thoughts that usually wander around come together. I tried my best to blog while I was in school because not only was it something I enjoy doing, I knew there were so many students out there like me going through something similar or pre-PAs looking for answers of what to expect when they start PA school in the future. Now there were many weeks I went without posting anything and felt bad for neglecting my blog, but when I did get a chance to do so, knowing that even helping one person by writing a post motivated me to continue writing and take a break from studying. For other classmates, working out, cooking, taking walks outside, etc. were their outlets. Do whatever helps you channel your energy towards something that brings you joy and comfort.
- Let others help out: I may sound like a broken record to you if you’re familiar with my blog and have read my previous posts, but I don’ t believe I can make it through PA school alone. I had a lot of support going through PA school. My parents lived only 45 minutes away from me, so I had a lot of help with food arrangements, help with car issues, sending home laundry on my super packed weekends etc. I know not everyone has this opportunity, but I found it really helpful to let someone help me with small routine things in life. If you have a spouse, a roommate, or a family member in town that’s willing to help you in any which way, it would be a good idea to consider it. It really takes off the added unnecessary stress and lets you focus on studying on days or weeks where you’re really tied up.
- Figure out priorities and stick with the plan: When I studied, that’s all I did. No other tabs open, no talking on the phone/checking my phone, etc. until break time. I tried my best to stay on task and not get distracted so I could study in less amount of time and get to bed on time. Not saying this always worked, but I sure did my best to finish studying by a certain hour so I could get some rest. Getting at least 8 hours of shut-eye was and is still a priority, no matter what exam I have the next day. If I stuck to what I was meant to do, it left me more time to do other things that are equally as important to me. It took some time to discipline myself but it’s definitely doable.
- Allowed myself to feel all the feels but not dwell on any of them for too long: This one is a bit more personal, but I keep it real with myself. I am the kind of a person who does not believe in running away from my feelings or shoving them down in some deep, dark place only to let it backfire later. If I was stressed, anxious, sad, or what have you, I allowed myself to feel it instead of brushing it away thinking it was nothing. Facing my feelings and accepting my reality for what it is allowed me to handle the hardships of PA school in a healthy way. I believe remaining mentally healthy in life is equally as important as remaining physically healthy. But while I did this, I didn’t brood over any of it for too long or have pity parties on the reg. Yes, life is tough, but so are we.
- I made a list of what needed to be done, divided it up into daily tasks, and wrote it in my daily planner.
- I used a monthly calendar to write down all exam/quiz dates to help me plan my study and or fun/downtime.
- Allowed myself to have some downtime at least once a week.
- Make good use of time. Like they say, study smart and not hard.
- If it’s an option, let someone take care of some smaller things in your life for the duration of didactic year. Even the smallest things help tremendously.
- You can always reevaluate your priorities from time to time as school goes on and life changes and make adjustments. This is your time to learn, you decide how you want to spend it
- Take care of yourself, mentally and physically. You cannot take good care of your patients or anyone else in life if you’re not healthy yourself first.
In the end, there is no cookie cutter answer for how to balance life and school. Every person has their own unique set of circumstances and priorities. It’s up to each one of us how we want to spend our time and what’s important to us.
Enjoy this time in PA school, because it flies by so fast. It won’t feel that way while you’re in the midst of it, but in retrospect, didactic year feels like it happened within a blink of an eye.
Thank you for reading and I hope everyone has a blessed and an incredible 2018! You can read more about my PA school journey on my blog or find me on Bloglovin‘ to make sure you never miss a blog post! You can also follow me on Instagram get more frequent updates about my PA school experiences.