I truly hope that our 38 days of PA Life countdown has given you a glimpse into the life of a first-year PA student and that something somebody wrote will help you in the year to come. I am BEYOND grateful for my amazing classmates and for their willingness to take time out of their busy schedules to write a post. From the longest to the shortest blog, each was carefully thought out and written with people considering PA school, students, and especially the upcoming Elon PA class in mind. So if you didn’t get a chance before, I hope you take a few (or more) mins now to review the past blogs.
Ok. Sitting down to write this blog, I realized the conundrum I gave my classmates when I asked them to write a blog about their experience in PA school and advice for the incoming class. SO much has happened this year, and at what seems such a break neck speed, it’s difficult to decide what to say. After some discussion with friends and classmates I decided to break it down into 8 main points.
- DO know you’re in a great PA program. Where you go to PA school is a big deal. It’s a huge decision that will change your life. I’m from Oregon and when thinking about PA school I was 100% certain I would attend a certain PA school in Oregon, but to be safe I applied to a few others in the West. After I was made aware that molecular biology wouldn’t count for the microbiology prerequisite (despite what my undergrad advisor had told me) I opened myself up to applying to a few other programs. This is how I found Elon. Elon was the first place I interviewed at. I had no family, no real connections to this small town in North Carolina (or the East coast in general) but it was an interview and I liked what I read about the school online, so I went. I was BLOWN away by the campus, the faculty, the facility, and just the feel of the program. But I still had in my mind that I’d attend a program in Oregon. It wasn’t until I went to a few more interviews in programs a little closer to home (including the program in Oregon) that I realized that I LOVED the way I had felt at Elon. Every time I compared another program to Elon, Elon won. Long story short, I chose Elon and have never looked back or regretted that decision. In fact, I’ve said several times, I can’t imagine going through this PA experience without the amazing 37 people in my class and the outstanding faculty that I found at Elon. So moral of this story when you are getting interviewed by a program, conduct your own interview. It’s important you feel like you are a good fit for the program and that the program is a good fit for you.
- DO participate in non-school/study activities. Several of my classmates have mentioned this idea. Take a day off to recharge. I tried to save Sundays for things other than studying (although I wasn’t always successful). It was a great way to give my brain a break and to re-energize my soul. I also was very active in my church. I have the opportunity to be the chair of the activities committee in my local congregation. I plan and organize several activities a month for the young adults in my church and surrounding areas. At first I didn’t think I’d be able to keep up with my studies and with the activities, but then I realized what a blessing it was. It forced me to put the books down and go have fun. To meet new friends and to socialize with people outside of my classmates. I had a lot of great experiences and I was able to keep up with my studies.
- DO get involved in school activities. The program provides you several opportunities to do non-study things. Leadership in EPASS (Elon Physician Assistant Student Society) is one example. Elections are held early in the year where you’re still not sure about life (or at least that’s how I felt) but be brave and do it! There are a lot of great positions and amazing opportunities. **Shout out for the Historian position! It’s the BEST! You get to write a blog or so every month and share with the world your experience in attending PA school in the best program in the world!** Other ways to participate include attending program functions like the PA Prom, the PA Family Picnic, AAPA conference, the Great Cape Escape and etc. At times you might think you’d be better off studying or what not, but DO IT! You won’t be disappointed if you do, but you might if you don’t. (You can read some of my earlier blogs for more information about these activities)
- DO sign up to help at the Open Door Clinic. I am truly grateful for my experience with the Open Door Clinic. As a PA student you have the opportunity to “triage” patients, or to obtain their vitals, illicit a chief complaint, and review their medications, past medical history, social history, and family history. These are all things we learn about in class but then have the opportunity to apply in real life. It was also helpful to hear a patient describe in their own words the symptoms of a disease we were studying. Take the chance to review the labs of your patients and see if you can understand them. Take a look at their medications and see if you can remember the class, method of action, contraindications, drug interactions, or even just the indication for the drug. Talk to the patients to remember that your studies are for more than tests but for people. Stephanie and I had the chance to participate in Endocrine Night. This was one night a month dedicated to helping people with diseases like diabetes. We worked closely with two medical/PhD students (who were running the endocrine program), two pharmacists, and several doctors or PAs. We had the opportunity to have a more in-depth interview and physical exam with the patient then on regular Open Door nights. And we got to see the same patients over a several month period and to develop a relationship with them.
- DO have fun with your classmates. One of the things we did well as a class was to have fun together. We would celebrate birthdays. We’d have 20+ classmates together in a restaurant to celebrate someone’s big day. It was always a party and always a blast. A couple of times we had movie nights where many of us went to the movies together (Finding Dory, Dr. Strange, etc.). We had intramural games and championships to participate in or to cheer for those who were participating. We’d go to the Fat Frog to hear great live music (sometimes provided by a band with a certain faculty member…) and dance! We had get-togethers, small and large, to give ourselves the opportunity to take a step back from the books and have fun.
- DO have study groups. I found it incredibly helpful to have study groups, something I rarely did in my undergrad. It worked best for me if I studied the material on my own first, and then went to our study group to review the information again. We’d quiz one another, clarify questions someone might have, teach tricks to remembering a certain disease’s classic signs and symptoms (some of our stories/acronyms were down right ridiculous, but boy were they memorable!) and more. Sometimes a group of us would have potluck study groups where we’d get together to eat and chat before getting down to business. I also found that getting to the Fran early the days of tests was very helpful. A few of us would meet and (once we’d finally finished going through our study guides) we’d quiz each other. You’d be amazed how many times someone would ask me a question that would be on the test almost word for word. Or how after reading a test question you could go back in your mind and see your classmate acting out the 3 adverse drug effects of a certain medication.
- DO stay physically active. I did great at first keeping active, but… things got crazy and one of the things I didn’t make a priority was exercising, which was a mistake. Sitting on your behind for 8 hours a day in class/lecture and then sitting for 4+ more studying makes for a lot of time on your gluteus maximus. There is a very convenient gym that is located right in our own building that we have 24hr access to. Elon also has a main gym with a vast variety of exercise machines and equipment. They also have a pool that is great for lap swimming and at certain times of year open pretty late. Elon even offers exercise classes that are open to PA students with a $20/semester fee. These classes were fun and great workout. So grab a buddy, or a group of buddies, and help one another stay active and fit. Your body, mind, and soul will thank you.
- DO know that you can do this. At times it’ll be hard. At times it’ll be not so hard. And other times it’ll seem impossible, but it’s not! Your classmates are there to help when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Your faculty is there to help when you’re confused or overwhelmed. You can do this. Trust me. If I can do it so can you. 🙂
I hope some of this information was helpful. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to share on the blog or email them to me specifically at email@example.com. I have truly enjoyed my experience this year writing the blog and look forward to sharing with you my experience as we enter our clinical rotations in just a few short weeks!