5 Things I’ve Learned In PA School

First quarter of PA school DONE. I SURVIVED! Can’t believe that actually happened, but incredibly thankful to at least know what to expect in the remaining 12 months of didactic.

Y’all, PA school is stressful, exhausting, gray-hair inducing, and overwhelming. But it also is so incredibly rewarding! In just ten weeks, we learned all of human anatomy, physiology, and learned how to do a thorough physical exam. Everyday, I am overwhelmed by the complexity of our bodies. The fastidiousness of each body system is mind-boggling. The intricacies of the human body are incredible and immense. But I have been entrusted with this information. It’s a gift to get to learn about this.

So for anyone thinking about applying to PA school or wondering what the first few weeks/months are like, here are some of my “sage” words of wisdom.

First quarter learn how to study and study well

Everyone learns differently. Some people need flashcards, other people have photographic memories and just need to look over powerpoint slides a million times. Some people need to sit and study alone, other people need to talk the material out in groups. Some people need to do all of the above. Take time to find the study tool/mechanism that helps you the most and utilize the heck out of it. This might be the trickiest part of the first quarter, or at least I know it was for me. 
I will say that for anatomy, because it’s just straight memorization and requires a lot of visualization, I actually drew out a lot of the anatomy by tracing on printer paper and coloring. Not only did it engage my brain and muscle memory, it also was visually stimulating and allowed me to recall a lot on the test because I could visualize what I had drawn in my head. 

Grades do not define you

Let me say that again, grades DO NOT define you. Some of the best test takers are some of the worst practitioners. Being a good health care provider is bigger than the grades you get on an exam. Yes, you want to succeed and understand the material so you can apply that in the real world, but a few points away from an A or B will not be the death of you. Also, your worth does not have to be wrapped up in your performance.

And sharing grades with classmates, I would strongly discourage it. My roommate and I don’t ever share our grades, because we value our friendship over the competition of who beat who. Have y’all ever heard the quote, “Comparison is the thief of joy”? Well, whoever said that hit the nail on the head. The moment you start comparing grades you are essentially inviting pride and condescention into your friendship. The people who did worse feel defeated and the people who got top scores feel holier than thou. It’s breading ground for competition, and this is not the time or place to be competing. You are already in grad school, your grades will not define what job you get after graduation. So rather than hyper focusing on those couple of points difference, spend your time and energy on encouraging one another right where they are. 

Learning for life > Learning for an exam

This is a tough lesson to learn when you are constantly just trying to study and stay afloat for the next exam. But having the perspective of wanting to be the best physician you can be and learning material that you can apply in practice, that will go much further than just straight memorization. My mom told me one day when I was stressed and feeling defeated that I should view PA school as one big thanksgiving feast. There is a buffet full of smoked turkey, ham, dressing, sweet potato casserole, green beans, rolls, and every dessert you can imagine. But the best way to enjoy Thanksgiving is to sample little bites of each dish. Take what feeds you and leave the rest. PA school requires you to learn A LOT of information, but knowing that you need only learn the framework for each specialty/body system/physiologic pathway is freeing. You can not learn everything about the human body in 27 months. It’s foolish to think you can. But the purpose of PA school is to equip you with the knowledge and tools to progressively become the best practitioner you can be with time, experience, and lots of practice. 

Schedule study breaks

Do not feel bad for taking time to give your brain a break. Let me repeat, do not guilt yourself into thinking you are behind because you took the night off to watch a movie on Netflix. This past quarter I found that by Thursday night, I was utterly exhausted from being “on” for 4 days straight. We don’t have Friday classes, so Thursday nights were typically a great time for me to go out to dinner with friends, watch a movie, and/or drink a glass of wine. School is your job once you start, however taking a day or a night off is NECESSARY and absolutely encouraged. Also, being present and committing completely to your time off is huge. If you are gonna watch a sappy chick flick with your roommate, don’t think of how you should be studying. Savor the time you have to rest and take a breather, and you’ll wake up the next day refreshed to study and give it your all. Whether you’re going to a halloween party, grabbing brunch, or sitting by a bonfire, commit time to having fun amidst the stresses of school.

Lean into Him 

Surrender. Hand your worries, shortcomings, fears, and triumphs over to Him at the foot of the cross. The beauty of being a Christian in academia is that my performance is not what defines me. God is good, merciful, and highly to be praised whether I get an A or a C on my next exam. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I may waver, I may struggle, I may fail, but He does not. God is present with me in the good and in the bad. When I am weak, He is made strong. I can honestly say that this past quarter could not have been possible without the strength, encouragement, and love of Christ. He alone sustained me on my darkest days and He alone blessed me on my most triumphant days. Never have I had to lean into His presence more since starting PA school, but also never have I felt more at peace and comforted in pursuing God’s calling on my life. 

The best advice I can give you though is that PA school is not your calling. PA school is a temporary stepping stone leading you to a greater calling. If you are applying to PA school or currently surviving PA school, your calling is to be a Physician Assistant. Don’t let the stresses of your present circumstances shroud the long-term goal.

Your calling is to heal the wounded.
Your calling is to give life and show love to the sick.
Your calling is to impart hope to the hopeless.
Your calling is to generously and selflessly give of yourself.
Your calling is to be the hands and feet of Christ to every patient that walks into your clinic. 
Your calling goes beyond the bounds of any classroom. 

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