First Semester of PA School

Thursday, August 25, 2016

It's been a few days since the end of my first semester of PA school and I've been reflecting on how life has been the last 13 weeks. Although some parts are blocked out by my brain, here are a few things I have to share:
Cadaver lab is the coolest and grossest thing I've ever done in my life. Believe me, it's full of "oooh that's so cool" and "I can't believe I'm holding/seeing/touching (insert any structure/organ here)" moments. And then there are some moments where it's just downright being elbow deep in juices and there's nothing cool about that. Cadaver lab is confusing and no one ever knows what they're doing when you first start. Somewhere along the road, you get attached to your cadaver and get protective of the dissections you do. It's an experience of a lifetime and I can't be more grateful to the people who donate their bodies so we can learn from them.

Don't overdo it on coffee/caffeine. Yes, you'll need the caffeine to keep your brain active for those extra hours of studying, but all that caffeine won't help you in the long run if you can't get enough sleep at night. And as we know, we need the REM sleep so our brains can remember everything we learned during the day. Be kind to your body, get as much rest as possible, and feed yourself 3 meals a day.

There is so much joy in being a PA student, if you focus on the right things. We get to see and touch a human body from the inside; all of our organs, vessels, nerves, muscles, bones, tendons & ligaments, etc. Holding a heart, a pair of lungs, and a brain in your hands? That is a privilege. How many people do you know that have seen the things you've seen and learned the things you can and get to learn. How many applicants applied for the seat you're sitting in everyday in your classroom? Remember the time when you would pray just to get one interview, one acceptance letter? Think about those days and choose to feel the joy, even in the midst of endless PowerPoint slides and assessments.

Breaks are your way to remain sane. I hard to learn this the hard way. For me, it's really hard to stop studying and take small breaks or to even take an entire evening off. My study group was really good at making sure I paced myself and forced me to take breaks. I learned that when I split my studying up into smaller chunks and made myself walk away from the books and did something fun, I got much better results as compared to when I studied constantly. This is still a work in progress but at least this way I know what study habits I need to work on.

Compassion is a thief of joy. There are moments in PA school when you feel like you're on the right track and you've got this whole studying thing figured out. Those moments don't last long, simply because we end up hearing someone else talk about how far they've gotten in their studying and we start comparing ourselves to them. My advice is to understand that you're not behind or ahead of anyone in PA school. Everyone has their own study plans and no one else's plan can or should be compared to yours. Learn to have confidence in yourself and your accomplishments for each day you spend studying for your classes. Tune other people out when they start telling you about all that they've done. Be supportive, but do not let it get to you.

There will be days where you question yourself. Why do I want to do this? Am I really capable of becoming a good PA? Maybe they made a mistake when they accepted me. And my favorite one I've heard is "maybe I slipped through the cracks." No matter how confident or excited you are at the beginning of this journey, there will be moments of doubt and uncertainty. I'm here to tell you that it's normal to question yourself. But what's not healthy to do is to unpack and stay there. Remind yourself of  why you wanted to get accepted to PA school. Some of my classmates went back and reread their personal statement, to remind themselves of the joy of being in PA school and how hard they worked to get here.

Celebrate your own victories, because no one else understands what it took to accomplish them. No one will understand your PA journey other then your classmates. Not your family, not your significant other/spouse, or your friends. And that's okay. They're all used to seeing you make A's and B's in your undergraduate exams, so when your express your fear of failing an exam, it's hard for them to comprehend why. It's not common knowledge that just passing a exam in PA school is an achievement in itself. Not because the material you're learning is always hard, but simply because there is SO much of it. So don't be discouraged when you're venting to them and they say "you're going to be fine." They really do mean that but they can't understand that your fear of failing is just as genuine.

Numbers don't define your intelligence or your capabilities. No bad exam grade can define your self worth or how smart you are. Regardless of a bad grade on a test, you're going to be an excellent provider one day. No one will care about your GPA or your exam grades when you're a board certified practicing PA. Yes, grades are important, but they're not all encompassing. 

Make new friends and find the time to do something fun. The people that sit in the same classroom as you day in and day out become your family so quickly. It's hard to believe I didn't know any of my classmates 13 weeks ago. Make the time to go hang out with your classmates even if it's just dinner. Their support is what will get you through this crazy journey. 

Study as if you're already treating patients. Don't just learn the information to pass a test. This is no longer undergrad where the information you learn may or may not come up again. Everything you're learning is relevant and needs to be committed to long term memory. Sure, we're life long learners and it's impossible to remember everything, but do yourself and your patients a favor and don't just memorize things to pass a test.