Most everyone goes into PA school understanding that they are about to be hit with a crazy amount of information. Students compare it to “drinking from a fire hydrant” – and it’s true! There is a lot to learn in PA school, and that is an understatement.
Soon-to-be students frequently ask me for advice before starting their program: Should I study before my program starts? What is the best way to keep on top of the material? How can I succeed in the face of so much stress and so much to learn? It makes sense that most inquiries are about approaching the material itself. Mastering the science and medicine is a daunting but crucial part of becoming a PA.
As a PA student, however, you will learn so much more than just how to practice medicine. I’m currently in the thick of it, so I’ve taken it upon myself to give you a sneak peek into the things that I have learned outside the books. Here they are:
Your health is just as important as that of your future patients.
When you begin your program, you will quickly be consumed with endless amounts of studying. I fell into the trap of making excuses – to not exercise, to not go out on weekends…essentially to not take care of myself! Staying active and social is just as important as keeping up with the material. Finding time for the things you love is important too, like taking a weekend hike or day trip. Remember, PA school is a marathon. To finish, you’ll need to learn how to create a sustainable lifestyle full of studying and self-care. By investing in yourself, you’ll ultimately take better care of your future patients!
You begin practicing teamwork before graduation.
Let me be the first to tell you that you cannot get through PA school by yourself, even if you feel you learn and study all on your own! I can almost guarantee you that if you try to be completely independent, you’ll lose your sanity at some point. You will have to talk things through with your classmates, explain things and ask for explanations, practice physical exam maneuvers and be practiced on. Even outside of studying, you’ll rely on your peers to lift you up on bad days. I have made some lifelong PA school friends because of it. I can tell you with 100% honesty that I wouldn’t be making it through without them. (Cue “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers.)
You do not, and cannot, know everything.
Even if you spend every waking second studying, there will always be more to learn. That’s the beauty of medicine! In PA school, though, it may seem like a curse. What you will learn is that you’re never going to be expected to know it all. Instead, you will be expected to grow comfortable with not knowing everything – in school and beyond.
You find out who and what is most important to you.
Full disclosure – PA school takes a lot of sacrifice. You may find yourself MIA here and there with several unopened text messages and missed phone calls. You might have to decline event invitations or dinners with friends – or worse, you might forget to respond. You will grow to appreciate the people who understand and support you regardless. The precious time you spend outside of studying will be carefully allocated towards the things you care about the most. In these ways, you’ll begin to find your priorities in life. It’s cliché, but you get to know yourself a little bit better because of it.
Things always seem impossible until they’re done.
Occasionally, you’ll lose sight of why you started this process in the first place, and you might even begin to question if you have what it takes to continue. We’ve all been there! Sometimes you’ll have weeks where you can never have enough coffee, sleep, or time to study. (Or maybe that’s every week. No judgment here.) My point is that there are times where school just seems impossible. And then, suddenly, you’ve done it. You conquered the impossible, and it’s in the past. And you’ve surprised yourself a little bit. And you’re a little – or a lot – proud of yourself. Embrace it! PA school is hard, but it is not impossible. So when you get nervous about what you’ve signed up for: remember that so many people have done it before you, and that you can, too.
About the author:
Lorae Schafer PA-S is studying to be a physician assistant at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Before attending PA school, she studied Behavioral Neuroscience as an undergraduate at the University of San Diego and went on to work as a medical scribe in women's health for 2 years. Outside of medicine, Lorae enjoys traveling, yoga, hiking, and paddleboarding. Follow Lorae on Instagram!