In August, I accepted a new position as the program director of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center PA Program in Memphis, TN. Professionally, it is exactly what I have been aspiring to achieve since leaving clinical practice to become a full-time academician and I am excited to be able to lead a PA program and make my mark in the field of PA education. On the home front, it is a fantastic position to help improve my home/work balance, but it means uprooting my family and moving to a new state. After extensive family discussions, ultimately we all agreed this was a good move. I thought this was a perfect symbiosis between what I wanted professionally and what I needed personally.
When I broke the news on social media (because you must make it Facebook Official), I was flooded with messages and emails from family and friends wishing me well on my new position and from former students telling me how much of an impact I made in their academic career. It is everything a teacher wants to hear from former students. But still, something was missing. When I got up in front of my current class to tell them I would be leaving at the end of this semester, it finally hit me and it instantly became harder than I expected. Why? Because I was breaking a promise to them. A promise I made during the first day of class when I told them my job was not to feed them information to pass a test, but to push them academically farther than they have ever been. I explained that I did this because if one day I am on an ER stretcher or hospital bed and I look up and see one of them, I will immediately be at ease because I know I did everything I could to make them the best PA they can be. And now I am leaving. I am not holding up my end of the agreement that I made to them and I am nothing if not a man of my word.
So, this is an open letter to my students:
Class of 2017,
I know I promised to see you through your academic tenure at this program, but just like in life, things happen and you have to roll with the punches. I have seen you go through all the stages of a PA student. The excitement on day one when you finally grasped you are in PA school and this is, in fact, real life. The terror after the first week when you sat down at home and saw the volume of information being thrown at you. The disappointment when you did not perform well on an exam. The “eureka moment” when something I taught you made sense for the first time. The confidence as you slowly started to realize you actually know some of this stuff and can put it into practice. And now to the stage when your didactic phase is complete and the fear that you will be taking care of human beings in a short month. These are the moments I live for as an educator. When I can guide you through these stages and safely get you to the other side of your training. Where I can see your growth as a student and even more, see your potential as a PA. I have done all I can in the classroom to prepare you for clinicals and I know you will all do me proud.
Class of 2018,
Although we have had only a small time together, I still have seen the reasons why we chose you to be a part of our program. This is what you have been working for. I know I will not be there to help you make these transitions, but know that your fellow classmates and senior buddies are all pulling for you. And I will be pulling for you from Memphis, too. I leave you with a few pieces of advice that I have told students before you and unfortunately will not be able to give you in person. First, dedicate some time away from school. Burnout is inevitable and, just like the flight attendants say, “put your mask on before helping others”. If you are not the best you, you can’t be the best PA for your patients. Second, help each other. You all are in the same boat and if everybody is paddling in different directions, nobody goes anywhere. Keep an eye out for your brothers and sisters that are struggling and see if you can help. If you are the one struggling, let go of your pride and ask your faculty, senior buddies, and classmates for help. Third, enjoy this time. You will look back on this with fond memories at some point because only your classmates know what you all are going through. You will have a bond that will persist for as long as you are PAs. Don’t sacrifice long term relationships for short term gains during school. I still talk with my classmates to this day and we can pick up right where we left off on graduation day.
To all of you,
When you were initiated into the brotherhood of medicine and received your white coat, I gave you something. It is a symbol of my commitment to your education, but it is also a pledge I made to you that I would be there whenever you needed guidance, mentorship, a sounding board, a punching bag, or a sympathetic ear. Distance does not change this. I still honor this pledge until you graduate and we become PA-C colleagues. Please do not forget this. These past few weeks has been very humbling as both of your classes have given me very thoughtful gifts that I will proudly display in my office for years to come. For this, I will always be grateful. You all have reminded me why I enjoy teaching so much and what kind of relationship I want to have with my students. I will forever carry this with me because when the grind of academia inevitably starts to wear me down, I can look at these mementos and remember that it is not about me, it is about the students. As long as I do right by them, it is all worth it.
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to teach you,to be a part of your education, to be a small, short part of your life, and to help you achieve your dream of becoming a physician assistant. I couldn’t be prouder and you all will be fantastic PAs.
My original plan was to give this just to my students, but I felt that it would be a good idea to share with the blog, since this section is designed to give PA students a glimpse into the mind of PA educator. This the first time I am changing positions within academia (and hopefully, the last) and would like to think my colleagues in PA education who have done this before, have felt the same way, too.