Very few PA students share my perspective. People learn of my past and describe me as “well-rounded” and “special,” not knowing how to label my unfounded achievements. You see, I have a degree in art. (It’s a condition I ascribe to “following your heart.”) While many factors inspired my journey to medicine – role model parents, public awareness, traveling around the world – art was not really one of them. After graduation, my heart got hungry, bills accrued, I went to EMT school, and it was nose-to-the-grind from then on. It was during my grind, as I reflected on my prior artistic assertion, that I realized this: no one had judged my choices, and no one had even asked me why. That was for me to do (finally), and doing so led me here.
Being accepted into Elon’s PA program surfaced a matter that I had avoided my whole adult life: my constitution. I had grown a lot in my years since undergrad, but I rarely had to prove myself (especially to myself). The application and interview process had ignited my drive, presented a new peak to summit. And when I actually did – when I opened that email and burst into tears at 2am – I felt real success for the first time in my life. Problem was, once I finally sat at my desk and looked up, I only saw more mountains…miles of mountains. I had rehearsed my arguments for admittance for so long that I didn’t even believe them. So I had to relearn my strengths.
Only part of me thought that I’d been accidentally accepted – I knew deep down that I’d earned my seat. Somehow, between my dry mouth and sweaty feet, those professors saw promise. Once at school, I led my personal charge armed with a secret: while you all busted your butts to prove your intelligence with GPAs, I thought to myself, I got in on sheer potential. That foolish notion only carried me for about a week. I knew that I, too, had busted my butt, and had only mediocre grades to show for it. It was, specifically, the trill of 37 students typing notes that got me, the swell of tip-tappy speed and comprehension that descended on my already shaky confidence. You hear “type A” uttered often in a program like this. Oddly enough, it’s meant as a compliment. What a topsy-turvey world! The over-achiever status quo was overwhelming and initially made me shrink away (“Don’t touch me! I’m average!”).
I flailed hard at first. I fully felt that current, reaching for paddles and jackets and boats, filling out flashcards and typing up notes. I had considered myself a self-sufficient student, having graduated kumbaya college and plunging into a paycheck-to-paycheck three-jobs-plus-classes lifestyle that impressed people (read: my parents). I took on a lot of water at the start, and not a single person bailed me out – turns out shortcuts and giveaways don’t make good PAs. You know what saved me? Growing up. I’m one of the older students (i.e. one who had to learn how to type notes ON a powerpoint), and I entered this program thinking I was behind the curve. I was right, though not in the academic sense I assumed; instead, I needed to catch up on self-faith. When you spend your life sliding by, you don’t have much to hold on to.
I grew to respect myself. I even grew to respect my younger self that made many choices I wouldn’t make now. (Although, if I can conjur up a giggle from just one kid in one lonely hospital bed with a silly drawing of Dr. Dingdong down the hall, then my art degree was indeed worth every minute.) Some combination of realizing my faults, appreciating my assets, and relying on my principles led me to succeed in my first year of PA school. (I’ll admit, however, that saying “succeed” just scared the crap out of me. I’ll readdress that claim after the White Coat ceremony.)
For all of you aspiring PA’s out there with little hope, livin’ on B’s and C’s, listen up: PA school will be terribly difficult for you, but it will also be terribly difficult for everyone else. There is no separation of boys from men in the Francis center; that happened on your journey, not at the door.