Tips for Starting PA School

Tips for Starting PA School

Today is the first day of orientation for the new crop of PA students at my school.  School starts only once a year and I can’t believe it’s already been that long since I was in their shoes.  As the Chief Ambassador this year for my program I have been in charge of their Facebook group and have seen their excitement, anticipation, anxiety, and nervousness as they get ready to start this new journey of their lives.  I remember those feelings strongly.


So … as PA schools around the country get prepared to start a new class and continue to accept new students I thought I would put together some tips for all the fresh-faced PA students.  These may not be conventional but they are truthful and many of the words in this post can be applied to chasing ANY dream :)


Tips for Starting PA School



1.  Let go of perfection.

I know … that’s a tall order.  PA students are classically Type A to the core and maybe borderline OCD.  But trust me, being perfect in school won’t make you a perfect PA.  What grades you get serve very little correlation to how good of a PA you will be.  Some of the best Physician Assistants I know did fine in school, maybe struggled a bit.  Being a good healthcare provider goes beyond the academic core … it comes down to who you are.  So strive to be the best version of you you can be.  Put your patients first.  Learn as much as you can and when you get a grade that might upset you shake it off and move on to the next.


2.  This is a privilege

Becoming a Physician Assistant student is a goal you have worked hard for and have earned but make no mistake … being a PA is a privilege and not a right.  Don’t ever forget the important work you are doing and who you will serve.  You will be caring for someone’s mother, father, wife, grandfather, and child.  Caring for people when they are most vulnerable and having them trust you is an unbelievable privilege that should never be taken for granted.


3.  You will have moments of doubt.

And that’s ok.  When you’re knee-deep in studying and you start dreaming about diagnostic tests and treatment options you are going to wonder why you are putting yourself through the hell is PA school.  In those moments think back to your why.  What brought you here in the first place?  If it was the idea of money … well that won’t be enough to get you through because there is never enough money.  If it was because this is your passion then hold on to that ember and let it burn.


4.  Make time for the things you love.

Just because you’re in PA school doesn’t mean you can’t have a life.  It just requires a balancing act and as a friend (Carla) reminded me …. harmony.  PA school is PART of your life but it is NOT your life.  You have to make time to do the things you care about whether that be fitting in fitness, reading a book, or going to Bible study.  It also means making time for the people you care about.  I use my commute to call my family and friends to stay in touch.  If you’re in a relationship make sure to foster that relationship.  You have to make time for your significant other and make it quality time for the lack of quantity.


5.  Enjoy the journey.

It goes by faster than you ever thought it could go.  I am so close to being done with didactic and clinicals are on the horizon.  Speaking to my mentor in the program she said clinicals go by even faster.  So soak up this journey, embrace the safety of didactic year, and do the best you can.  Before you know it you will be pushed out of the nest and into the real world of practicing medicine 😉


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Madeline @ Food, Fitness, and Family

Healthy living blogger sharing my love of yummy eats, sweaty workouts, and my sweet family!

8 thoughts on “Tips for Starting PA School”

  1. As someone considering PA school, I thank you for this post! It’s inspriring to see a mom of two little ones handling PA school so well. :)

    I hope you don’t mind my asking a question regarding the application process. However, if you’re willing to share any tips and/or recommendations on how best to get the required patient experience hours, I would love and appreciate them!

  2. My 10 tips to surviving PA school, as a fellow classmate of Madeline’s :)

    1. I have great PA school friends (more like family). We hold each other accountable. We eat, we sleep, and we physically take care of our bodies. We keep in contact with each other and check-up on a daily basis after classes. We vent our frustrations together when necessary and rejoice in each other’s successes. We laugh together. We cry together. We spend time together doing things for “us”. For some this may mean going out on the town, but for us it’s usually just a simple lunch date out, coffee shop gathering, or visiting each other’s houses on the weekends for rest and relaxation (and maybe some Grey’s Anatomy marathons). Find your friends. Keep them. Love them. Take care of them. Your survival and well-being will be impacted greatly by the true blessing of their presence.

    2. SLEEP. My bedtime is set for 10PM every night. Admittedly sometimes this extends to around 11 or 12 the night before a big exam, but it NEVER goes past 12. Sleep is necessary. And it is a life changer. Much of the information you have studied is cemented and stored while you sleep. So DO IT. No exceptions. Studies have shown that your scores are improved vastly when you sleep compared to when you pull all-nighters. P.S…. all-nighters are a big no-no and so is cramming. You’re going to be taking care of real life people one day. The gravity of that, which I hope you understand, is huge. You need to KNOW this stuff. Brain dumping as was routinely done in your (and my) college days is a thing of the past. Everything you learn is important. Pace yourself and study over time. This is a marathon. Not a race. Remember that. And sleep!

    3. Eat and eat well. Food is fuel for the body and mind, and both are important to successfully surviving PA school. Breakfast is crucial as it gives your body and mind energy to start what will usually be a very long day. Not to mention it boosts your metabolism :). Bring snacks to school and munch on them during your breaks. I recommend high energy trail mix and my friends eat a lot of high protein yogurt and hummus. Shakeology is the bomb for a lot of my classmates as well. Snack on your breaks. Re-fuel yourself. You are never to busy to eat. And food is GOOD, right? :)

    4. Give yourself time for you. I wake up every morning at 5AM. I brew a cup of coffee and make breakfast. Then I sit down with my snuggly pooch on the couch for an hour and catch up on the news. It makes me feel human and in touch with the world. Less zombie-like, maybe? Definitely. Then I take Daisy for a walk around the complex and breath some fresh air. This is ME time. No interruptions and no school. And friends, it has been one of my most valuable assets. Use it to your advantage. Don’t feel rushed in the mornings. Allow yourself to rise to the occasion and rise in peace. You will not regret it.

    5. Exercise. Even if it’s for 20 minutes a day. Reward and take care of your body. It’s what carries you every day. I know it’s hard and time is limited, but a lot of activities and programs (and I highly recommend them) can be done in the house. Your energy will increase and your body aches from sitting stagnant in a chair all day will decrease as well. Also, it’s great strength prep for enduring clinical rotations. :) So make it a part of your routine. Again, you will be happy you did.

    6. Buy a boards review book early. Look over it as you go along and start to study different topics. Get yourself familiar with the question types and the content that is tested. I bought my PANCE review book 2nd quarter and have dove into it’s pages frequently. It’s never too early to prepare for your future, right? And let’s face it, passing the boards is the ultimate key to you practicing medicine. Start now. Start early. Use preparation resources to your advantage.

    7. Find a study group. Find a GOOD one. Bounce ideas off each other. Ask each other questions. Quiz each other before tests. Share your knowledge. The goal is for you all to graduate and become competent PA’s. Competition amongst classmates is petty and completely unnecessary. These people will be your future colleagues. And they could also be taking care of your family one day. Help them grow. Help them learn. And allow them to help you. Alone we can potentially be weak, but together you are undoubtedly strong.

    8. Be early to class. Allow yourself time to make it to school regardless of traffic, settle into your desk, boot up your computer, and get your notes out. Tardiness is not accepted in PA school and being “on time” is really considered arriving early. I leave my apartment at least 1 hour before classes and I live 20 minutes from campus. I am usually there about 30-40 minutes early and it’s perfect. Why make your life hectic when you don’t have to. Arrive early. Every time.

    9. Keep on top of your studies. Review when you can and as much as you can. Weekends are usually used for studying. Don’t let that time slip away from you. I’m not saying to shack up in your house 24/7 and ignore the rest of your life, but I’m asking you to prioritize. And right now PA school should be at the top of your list. Make study guides. Make tables and charts. Save them at the end of every quarter for referral in the future. Much of medicine builds upon itself, so nothing you’ve learned is EVER useless. Save your notes. Save your powerpoints. Study them often and not just right before the test. You will need more than 2 days to study. If you want A’s, sometimes weeks will be necessary. Trust me, I have maintained A’s by successfully keeping on top of my school work from the time it’s lectured to the time I’m tested on it. A’s are more than possible. Strive for it. Which brings me to my next tip…

    10. Believe in yourself. You are here for a reason. That reason is VALID. You can do this. You are strong enough and smart enough. You have what it takes. Remind yourself of what I’m saying right now if you ever forget it (and you will.) You can not only succeed but make A’s and make them consistently. If you work hard you will be a great provider one day. It’s up to you to put in what you need to get there, and it’s already been determined that you have what it takes to do that. So give it your all. Pour your heart into it. You will have the power to impact lives one day. Never take that for granted and never get too cocky about it either. You have been given a chance to make a difference. TAKE IT. And always remember that you are where you’re at because other people helped you get there. Be grateful. Saddle up. And WIN. I know you can. And I believe in you.

    Good luck – have fun – and prepare for one of the greatest experiences of your life. I’m excited for you. :)


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