As I recently completed the didactic portion of the Interservice Physician Assistant Program (IPAP), I have had a chance to reflect on my time at the multiservice military school located on Joint Base San Antonio−Fort Sam Houston, Texas. While I cannot accurately comment on the experience of students who go through a civilian program, I can share some things that I have observed, and in my opinion, are beneficial to help others get through the classroom portion of PA school.
1.) Plan your time wisely! Plan out exercising … or it won’t happen. I found going for a run after a day of long lectures to be that mental reset button that helped me start the evening and get back to productive studying. Also, plan out your studying and prioritize it based on your test schedule. And, if you’re more of a group learner, plan out the locations and times for study group sessions, or you’ll find yourself watching a whole bunch of cat videos and not getting a lot done.
2.) Take one night off a week to avoid burnout. I took Friday evenings off to spend time with my wife or to just veg out on the couch. And I went bike riding on most Saturday mornings, and then started studying around noon. The day of the week doesn’t matter, but you need to take a break. The last thing I wanted was to get so exhausted at the halfway point of the semester that I stopped studying and just slept after class. While wonderful, that much sleep does not lend itself to the highest chances of exam success.
3.) Get involved—be it with your school’s student society or volunteer opportunities in your community or church. This goes back to planning your time wisely because you need to be more than just a PA student. The military oftentimes discusses the “whole-person concept,” emphasizing that you are more than just a student and future PA.
4.) Don’t just assume that you know it all. A good portion of my program’s student body consists of people who had previously worked as medics and have a large amount of medical experience. If you have that experience, don’t use it to justify not studying the slides. When it comes to taking tests, you will be tested on the slides, lectures and the reading material, and not your experience.
5.) Check your ego at the door. Your job is to go to school, learn the material and try to apply that to a patient in order to provide optimal care. I have met so many students who are more worried about scores on tests as if that is the only measurement of how much you’ve learned. That stuff doesn’t matter. Study the material, pass your tests, remain humble and focus on getting into clinic. If you have the personality of a foot (or if that’s what others think), your patient probably won’t care whether or not you had the best grades in your class.
6.) Don’t be “that guy.” We all know that guy who asks far too many questions in class or that guy who is really smart but refuses to help those who struggle in class. Yes, the PA community is growing, but it’s still small enough that news of your antics in class will follow you to your rotations and after. Be that person with whom people want to work.
7.) Have fun—okay, I know that it’s hokey, but seriously, enjoy what you’re doing and the career field you’re entering. There will be a lot of things that you can’t control, but your job is to study, pass tests, worry about things that you can control and maintain a positive outlook.
Officer Trainee (OT) David Fleming is a recent graduate from Phase 1 (the didactic portion) of the Interservice Physician Assistant Program (IPAP) at Joint Base San Antonio−Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Prior to his arrival at IPAP, OT Fleming served in the Air Force for approximately four years in the civil engineering field as an electrical power production journeyman.