Top 5 Things I’ve Learned in Physician Assistant School So Far
Posted by Chase HungerfordComment

Chase HungerfordHere are the top five things I’ve learned in my first year of PA school at the University of Southern California’s Primary Care Physician Assistant Program.

Flexibility is the key to not losing your cool.

You can’t get bent out of shape when the lecture you thought you were going to have is moved to another day and the one you have not prepared for is in 10 minutes! Don’t sweat it; pull up the new lecture material and start scanning through. You should also be prepared to rearrange your schedule and skip the workout or other activity you had planned in the afternoon because your group project/paper has taken a few more hours than expected. If your desired rotation gets canceled, stay calm and challenge yourself by seeking new learning opportunities in the unexpected rotation to which you are assigned.

Do the basics well.

I define the basics as anatomy, physiology and terminology.  If you have a strong understanding of these three things, it will make learning all the diseases and treatments easier. In fact, you will do less memorizing of signs, symptoms, special tests, mechanisms of actions, etc. If you understand the normal anatomy you should be able to reason through the pathology, which will tell you why the patient has the particular symptoms with which they are presenting. Finally, you will know the things you want to correct with therapy.

Be ready to be humbled every day.

You can also use the term grounded, stunned or slapped in the face by reality (my personal favorite).  Medicine is always changing and advancing, and keeping up with it is a constant battle. So we as students must realize that our journey to mastering medicine (or at least being good at it) is going to take a long time. Pat yourself on the back when you ace a test but quickly turn your focus to the next adventure/module/body system.

Think about building layers of knowledge as we progress through our education and careers. As we go through the didactic phase we lay down our first layer of knowledge. Then on rotations we lay down a second layer of knowledge on top of all the didactic things we learned. Studying for the PANCE gives us another opportunity to build upon these layers. Keep building.

Maintaining balance in PA school is no easy task, as I’m sure you know.

We need to be at our best in order to provide quality care for our future patients. Making time for exercise, sleep and healthy meals is critical. When you get a break from school, make time to be with friends and family. Schedule date nights with your significant other involving nonmedical topics of conversation.

Back up your notes.

At my program, about 99 percent of students take notes on a laptop or iPad, and a few people have lost significant portions of their notes. (One poor girl lost everything the day before an exam.)

Please back up your notes! I use a program called Evernote that allows me to back up my notes to a cloud service and access them from anywhere with an Internet connection. My favorite feature is the one that searches all of my notes at once. Whatever your back-up plan is, stick to it!

As my first year comes to a close I look forward to my summer break when I can reconnect with old friends and update them on all I’ve been doing over these past 10 months. I will also review my notes in preparation for our final semester of didactic work prior to clinical rotations. While clinical rotations seem so far away, I know they will be here soon enough, and I can’t wait to start applying what I have learned in my didactic curriculum to patients in the clinical setting. I am sure I will have to fall back on basics and review my notes often, but I am ready for challenge.

Chase Hungerford is in his first year at the University of Southern California’s Primary Care Physician Assistant Program. Read his blog, Aspiring Physician Assistant.

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