Like many of my colleagues in the PA program I admit to having a bit of a “Type A” personality. I have always had a plan for my future and it started at a young age. In middle school, I mapped out all 4 years of high school, exactly what classes I would take, and I followed it to the letter. I did the same for college, only asking for approval from my advisor after I had already constructed what each semester would look like at least a year in advance. I had outlined the same type of plan for the rest of my life, get married, go to PA school, then have children. But the universe decided to show me that changes and challenges are what make life interesting and that often the best things in life are not planned.
Right after my husband and I decided to move back to my hometown Greensboro, where I would apply to local PA programs, I found out I was pregnant. I went ahead and applied to Elon, knowing their program did not begin for over a year and a half so I would have a decent about of time to spend with my son. I prepared for the arrival of our son, while also preparing for possible interviews, debating on whether it would be better if I got a call for an interview before or after giving birth. The happiest day of my life occurred on November 25, 2013, when my big, beautiful perfect pink baby boy was handed to me.
I had completely forgotten about my plan, and PA school, until I checked my messages the next day. I had received a phone call from the admissions department of Elon, I got an interview. That day, I knew Elon was the school I was meant to attend. I felt like it was a sign, the universe was telling me that this is the new plan. I ended up being wait listed that year, which I was ok with. Becoming a mom was a whole new experience that I was learning and loving. A year later, I interviewed again, and happily accepted admission into Elon’s Class of 2018.
Before the didact year began I had a feeling that I was going to be the only parent. I hoped for there to be another so we could bounce ideas off each other for the best method to this madness of balancing PA school and family. Sometimes being the only parent is difficult, I would like to be able to join the class in activities they plan but I find myself wanting to go home and spend all the spare time I can with my husband and son. After leaving school, my full attention goes to my family, until my son goes to bed. It took some trial and error for me to figure out how to maximize my day, allowing adequate time for study and family.
At first I tried to stay up late studying, but I found myself falling asleep, or not absorbing any material after the 8 hours of classes that had began my day. After a few months, I decided to start getting up earlier and going to the Francis center to study before school. I quickly figured out that worked best for me. Now, when I say I get up early, I mean early. PA school is very demanding, and information is received at a very rapid pace. The first week of school a professor compared it to putting your mouth around a fire hydrant and turning it on full blast, at the time I did not realize how true this statement was. Typically, I try to go to bed about 9pm, as long as my professional bedtime procrastinator has exhausted all possible alternatives and is also asleep. I wake on a normal day between 2-3am, as early as 12:30am on test days, get ready for the day and go to the Fran. I know it must sound crazy to get up that early but when you think about it on a time perspective, it takes 30min for me to drive, and if I arrive by 4 am, that only provides 4 hours of study time before class begins. In the grand scheme of things that is not a lot of time. But it works for me. I have always been a morning person, I think more clearly then, so this has become my routine.
None of this would have been possible without my husband. He has been my greatest support and such a trooper throughout this very difficult year. Unlike myself and our son, he is not a morning person, but he gets up early each morning, often awaken before sunrise to entertain our son and get him ready for his day. Sometimes even on the weekends when I get up at 3 am to study so I could spend most of my day with them. When I get home after class, he has dinner plans in the works, whether he is cooking or we are going out, depending on how busy of a work day he has had. He does all this with few complaints. I am very fortunate and forever grateful for him, supporting and dealing with me on my journey to achieve my professional goals.
PA school can be an emotional rollercoaster. Constantly you are bombarded with information, you feel there is not enough time in the day to complete everything that you would like to and you learn to focus on what is most important. The lack of sleep that often occurs can leave you feeling drained, and emotionally vulnerable. There were many times that I thought “can I really do all this? Am I being the best student? Am I being a good mother? Am I neglecting things that really need my attention?” Early in the year, I found strength and a sense of calming from an unusual source. A fellow student posted a silly online quiz “what cranial nerve are you?”. I decided to take a break from studying about cranial nerves to see which one would represent me. The answer I found oddly uplifting, I was CN 8 – Vestibulocochlear nerve. The description stated that I was balanced, perfectly integrating the management of 2 completely separate functions. I then decided this simple quiz was correct and that was now my goal, to be like CN 8, and keep my life in balance. Occasionally the scales may tip from one side to the other but my goal has been to maintain, and as the 1st year comes close to an end I believe for the most part I have achieved this.
Although this year has been one of the hardest of my life for a variety of reasons, there have been many happy times at the Francis center. I don’t think I could have found a better program or group of people to go take this journey with. We have managed to avoid competition, pettiness, and conflict that is too often associated with combining elite students and a big group of women. The PA faculty are amazing; they provide so much more than an education. There is a feeling, like a sense of family, as we all spend more time with each other than anyone else. I may spend most my free time with my family but I feel that I have made friendships that will last a lifetime.
My advice to upcoming and perspective students is to find the balance. A vast majority of your time will be spent on PA school, but some time has to be dedicated to yourself and other things that are important to you. Don’t think because you have a family it cannot be done, because it can. It may be more challenging but that is what makes life interesting. Figure out early what the best way to study will be for you, because it may not be what has worked for you before. Use your resources, the faculty is always here to help and want to see you succeed. Make friends with your colleagues, become allies, not competitors, because your all taking the same journey. Go ahead and throw your “plan” out of the window, it is a day by day, week by week process, where you have to be able to adjust when necessary.