Tips for Preparing for PA School

Picture this; you’ve been accepted to your top PA program. Your application and interviews are a distant memory, you’ve celebrated your acceptance, and the reality of starting school is starting to kick in.

Regardless of your previous academic or personal experiences, Physician Assistant school will be a new type of challenge you likely have not faced.  If you want to maximize your PA program experience, familiarize yourself with what you’ll be getting into (just like you did when you were preparing for your interviews). You probably already know you’ll be spending a lot of time studying, but there’s much more to doing well in PA school than hitting the books.

We’ve compiled the top 10 things pre-PA students should consider before starting their PA school journey.

  1. Take time to adjust
    If you’re moving to attend school or will be away from your family for the first time, give yourself plenty of time to adjust.  You’ll want to be settled in and ready to go before your first day of classes begins. This will help you figuring out the small things ahead of time and establish a routine.  Small things like how to get to campus, where to park, how long the walk from the parking lot to your academic buildings will take can help you focus on what truly matters- your coursework.

  2. Acknowledge that PA school will be different than undergrad
    If you remember having plenty of free time outside of your classwork, you may be in for a surprise. Your schedule during PA school will be busier or more involved than your undergrad career.  Not only will your day-to-day schedule be more densely filled, but the advanced course material will take more time to absorb. This means more hours spent studying and less hours spent socializing or relaxing.
  3. Be careful about what you post online
    If you’re a social media addict, you’ll want to start curbing your addiction before you start PA school. Posting things related to patient care such as an experience you had during a clinical rotation could be considered a violation of patient privacy.  In addition, many of your future employers will be checking your social media profiles when doing background checks, so make sure you don’t post something negative, incriminating, or anything unprofessional that could hurt your chances at landing your dream job
  4. Your skillset is your toolbox
    Your personal skills may be applied in ways you never thought possible before attending PA school.  For example, if you speak another language such as Spanish or Mandarin, you may find yourself in a unique position to communicate with patients that other students may not be able to interact with during your clinical rotations (FYI, learning another language is a fantastic and highly desired skill for a PA).  If you’re a rock climber, you may be familiar with common injuries related to the sport and can help effectively communicate with a patient. Whatever your special skills may be, take pride in them and never shy away from applying them.  We’re all unique and come from an amalgamation of different experiences, so you never know when your specific background will come in handy!
  5. You will never know everything
    Even if you think you know everything there is to know, the medical field is rapidly evolving.  The human brain can only retain so much information at one time and you will absolutely need to rely on your research and collaboration skills, not just your own memorization. In addition, the medical field is constantly evolving and coming out with new studies, so in theory you’ll continue to learn until the day you retire!
  6. Don’t be too competitive
    Competition can act as a great motivator, but too much competition can alienate you and stress you out. Competition can sometimes hurt your potential relationships with other students if taken too far.  Rather than competing with your classmates, try to set personal goals that will keep you sharp and motivated to succeed.
  7. There’s more than one way to skin a cat
    (No felines were harmed in the making of this list). You’ll find that there are often several ways to do the same procedure or exam.  As you work through your clinical rotations, individuals may have different ways of doing things.  Use this opportunity to learn as much as you can so you can take a holistic approach when you to start working on your own.  This way, you’ll be able to pick which method works best for you and apply the best methodology for any given situation. Remember- the more adaptable you are, the more valuable you are as a PA!
  8. DO NOT correct your advisors or teachers during clinical rotations
    We all make mistakes.  If your advisor makes a mistake or misspeaks during your rotations, do not correct them- this goes double when you’re with a group of people.  Pointing out the mistakes of others can make you look arrogant or foolish to your peers, especially when the person you’re correcting has more experience than you. The only time you should ever speak up about a mistake is if it was potentially endangering a patient.
  9. Prepare for the future, emotionally and financially
    Let’s face it- education is expensive. You’ll want to have a good sense of your finances going into school, including how much money you’ll have to live on after factoring for things like tuition, fees, and supplies.  You’ll also want to be fully aware of how much debt you’ll be in after the program is done before you commit to a specific school so you can truly assess each school’s value.

    PA school can be taxing to your relationships as well as your bank account.  If you’re returning to school and have a family or have a significant other that will be living with you during PA school, make sure they fully understand what they’re committing to. Your lifestyle will change dramatically and it’s likely that they’ll spend far less time with you than they did before school.  Taking time to communicate and prepare will help adjust everyone’s expectations and may save you from dealing with stressful relationship problems during an already stressful time in your life.

  10. Know how to relax efficiently
    Scheduling time to study or do classwork is vital for not falling behind, but you’ll also need to set aside time to relax if you want to maintain a work-life balance.  Burning the candle at both ends may work for a short period of time, but you’ll end up burning yourself out if you don’t give yourself the chance to recharge.  Everybody is different, so find an activity that helps you unwind and add it to your weekly schedule.