The Ultimate Marathon

“If you want to win something, run 100 meters.
If you want to experience something, run a marathon.”

-Emil Zatopek

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always loved to run.  Unlike the others on my youth basketball team, I never thought of running laps as a punishment. I enjoyed seeing how fast I could go and always liked the challenge. When I was older, I began to participate in track and cross country and continued to engage in running whenever I could. For me, it is the feeling I get after a run that keeps me interested in continuing the hobby. There is nothing like pushing your body past the point you think it can withstand. Afterwards, while your heart is beating against your chest and sweat is rolling down your face, the sense of accomplishment that overwhelms you is one that I look forward to each time I take on a run.

I have only participated in a few half marathons, a handful of 10ks, and who knows how many 5ks; but each time, it is always a unique experience and one that I am grateful for. I am grateful not only that I have found a hobby that brings me so much joy, but also that my body still allows me to participate in such a rigorous activity. So why am I telling you all of this? Well 5 months ago, I started what is perhaps the most challenging task of my life: PA school. After the first month of what was considered an introductory month, I thought to myself, can I honestly do this? Then came the past four months, which were anything but easy. It was one night during my second month of school that I really doubted if I had what it takes to become a PA. So I called a friend, doubt oozing though the phone, and what he said to me changed my overall perspective of PA school. As I was explaining how tough classes were and how there was just so much information we had to learn and I did not think it was possible to retain all this information, he stopped me and said, “Brittany, you love to run. How about you think of this as a marathon? Take it one mile at a time…”

My first thought was, “Silly friend, you don’t understand what I am going through. This is nothing like running!” Of course, I did not say this to him. Instead when I got off the phone, I began to ponder his analogy. Keep in mind, I have never actually ran a full marathon. Half marathons are the closest I have gotten. But I do recall that each time I get to the half marathon start line, I have to remind myself, “One mile at a time.” There is no way I could successfully complete the 13.1 miles if before the race I constantly focused on how many miles I would be running. No, instead I just go to the start line and say, “Okay, I wonder what this first mile is going to be like?” Then when I get past the first mile, I do the same with the second and so forth. Until finally I get to that last mile and I think to myself, “I got this!” However, I would be lying if I said there weren’t any challenging miles. Usually around the 7th-10th mile I hit a wall where I really doubt if I have what it takes to finish. But all it takes is seeing a familiar face in the cheering section encouraging me to keep it up for me to continue to push through. Or if my friends couldn’t find a spot to cheer for me during this stretch, I mentally focus on how I know that through my training and perseverance I can complete this task: “Just keep your feet moving; don’t stop!” And each time I pass the finish line at the 13.1 mile mark I am so excited for myself and also so thankful I didn’t sign up for the full marathon because another 13.1 miles at this point seems impossible!

So yes, after contemplating my running experiences I began to correlate it with my time in PA school. From the day we started in January when we had 27 months to go, I quickly learned that you cannot think of this program as being 27 months long, otherwise you’ll feel extremely defeated. Instead, I started taking it a week at a time. That may not sound like a lot to those who have not participated in such a program. But each week in PA school is full of enough exams, quizzes, standardized patients, late nights, and early mornings to keep you occupied. And there are days, even weeks, where I get overwhelmed, even to the point where I question if I am strong enough to complete this program. That is the point when I really get uplifted and encouraged by my friends and family! They are just like my cheering section during a race and help me realize that yes I can in fact do this. And luckily, after each module thus far, we have had the privilege of taking a weeklong break. I like to think of these breaks as my water pit stops during a race. Just like a water stop, these breaks are a quick opportunity to become refreshed and rejuvenated before returning back to the difficult race at hand.

And then there is always the finish… That moment you are anticipating even before you begin the race, that moment you are so overwhelmed with accomplishment that you can barely stand it, that moment that made all the sweat, struggle, pain, and training worth it. This is a moment I have yet to experience in PA school, but with each day I am looking more and more forward to it. That moment when I graduate and know that I have been equipped with all the essentials I need to be a successful PA, that moment I can finally say, “Yes I did it!” As much as I am looking forward to this day, I am trying to remember to make the most of the journey along the way. Because for me, at the end of the day about 90% of the race is the experiences I have along the way. So during these next 21 months I am going to try to remind myself not to take this time for granted. Instead, I am going to embrace these long days, late nights, tears, laughs, mountains of information, and heaps of ingested coffee for all that it is worth. I am so very thankful not only for my family and friends outside the program that encourage me each and every day but also for the family and friends I have made within the program. Hands down, there is no way I could succeed without the other 37 students or teachers by my side each day and the inspiration I gain from all of them. So here we go, Class of 2017, five months down and only 22 more to go! I look forward to where this journey takes all of us and excitedly await the day we successfully cross the finish line of PA school, otherwise known to me as  “The Ultimate Marathon”.

Shout out picture to my running buddies who have stuck by my side since day 2 of PA school!

Shout out picture to my running buddies who have stuck by my side since day 2 of PA school!

Volunteering at Open Door Clinic of Alamance County

PA school has to be one of the most difficult things I have taken on in my 25 years of life thus far. There are definitely moments when I’ve questioned whether or not I have what it takes to learn everything I need to, deal with all of the stress of PA school, and manage to keep my sanity. In addition to these trying moments when I wonder what I was thinking when I decided to start this crazy 27-month journey, there are the times when I realize this is my passion and what I was put on this earth to do.

As PA students at Elon, we are given the opportunity to volunteer on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Open Door Clinic of Alamance County. The Open Door Clinic provides healthcare to the uninsured and underserved population in Alamance County. We have the opportunity to interact with the patients by writing down their chief complaint, past medical history, and medications. We take all of their vital signs and triage the patients as well.

Volunteering at Open Door Clinic is a great opportunity and helps me realize just how much I’ve learned in my 10 months at Elon. I recognize the medications the patients bring with them and I know what condition the medications are being used to treat. I know what pertinent history questions to ask the patient based on their chief complaint. The healthcare providers will also pull us into the patient rooms when they see something that is a good teaching point. They’ll ask us questions about what certain physical exam findings indicate and what diagnosis it points towards. I know this alone is great practice before next year when we get “pimped” on clinical rotations. “Pimping” is pretty much a round of questions asked by your supervising physician. They keep asking you questions regarding the diagnosis until you get a question wrong. It definitely keeps you on your toes.

One of my favorite memories from volunteering at Open Door Clinic was when a patient came in with a chief complaint of abdominal pain and tightness. It was a wonderful moment for me as a student because I knew where to go with my questions. It was great to know that I was able to connect her chief complaint and responses to history questions. I was able to develop a differential diagnosis in my head, something that we work on throughout our entire time in the program. This gave me a sense of accomplishment and helped me realize that I can do this!

It’s so satisfying to see how much of an impact we can have on these people’s lives. It’s moments like this, when I’m able to put what I’ve learned to use and help someone, that remind me it’s worth all of the stress and late nights. I cannot wait to start my dream job!

Jessica Stevenson PA-S1