guest post

Tips for the Second Time Applicant – From a Second Time Applicant - Guest Post from Meghan in Medicine

Spring Style Inspiration.png

Meghan is a current 2nd year PA student at UTMB, and she blog at Meghan in Medicine. Since it’s becoming more common for applicants to have to reapply to PA school before gaining acceptance, this is a timely post to reshare because many people may be in a similar situation. Don’t take this advice lightly, but use it to make yourself more competitive for the next time. You can follow Megan on Instagram - @meghaninmedicine


As some of you may know, I applied to PA school straight from undergraduate school and DID NOT get in on my first try. Although I knew it was a big possibility after reading all the forums, blog posts, and hearing about different peoples experiences along the way, I was obviously disappointed. I remember consciously giving myself a couple of days off from the entire process, but then immediately diving back into grind by thinking of ways to elevate my application to the next level. So that brings me to my first tip:

1. Give yourself a break, then turn the motivation back on but up a notch

Being rejected in any format does not feel great. Being rejected in the one thing that you’ve been working hard for years for definitely does not feel great! I’m a big believer of giving yourself the smallest of pity parties. Whether that be treating yourself to something you normally wouldn’t do like getting your nails done, a full body massage, a night in with zero responsibilities, whatever it is just do it for your own sanity.

After you’ve spent some time on yourself, it’s time to kick it back into high gear because life waits for no one. Remind yourself that you are blessed to be where you are, wherever you are. Remind yourself that you are capable!

2. Find a way to even slightly improve EVERY aspect of your application

This has to be my biggest piece of advise to those applying a second time around, and it was the piece of advice given to me from a PA-C working in academia. The best way to improve your chances of getting into PA school after not getting in the first time around is to somehow improve every single aspect of your application. That means improving: personal statement, patient care hours, volunteering, GPA, supplemental applications, shadowing, and GRE. After I received this advice, it all really did click for me. These schools have to see that you’ve given extra effort to stand out during the year that you’ve been waiting for the next cycle, so go for it!

Possible ways to enhance every facet of your application:

  • Editing your personal statement to better encompass who you are and who you want to be as a PA

  • Increasing your amount of patient care hours

  • CHANGING the way you’re obtaining patient care hours (EMT, CNA, Scribe, MA)

  • Volunteer with a program/company that you’re GENUINELY interested in and stick with the same place to show your long-term commitment

  • Retake a few of your lowest scoring classes from undergraduate school. If you received two C’s, retake them and shoot for two B’s.

  • Use Kaplan, Magoosh, or other GRE preparatory books and programs to improve your GRE score

  • Shadow every single chance you get to show your curiosity and commitment to the PA profession and medicine in general

3. Reach out to those that have gone through this

I never would’ve known where to begin without the PA-C in academia giving me advice for what to do. The entire process of applying to any professional school can be extremely overwhelming at times. All of the comparison is especially stressful. Make it a point to reach out to some schools that you applied to and see if they offer any personalized application reviews. If they do not, I would then reach out to PA’s that you’ve previously shadowed or have connections with for them to review your application and offer up their advice for any improvements.


Guest Post from XO Hollyd. - Preparing for Life After PA School Graduation

Advice from Current PA Students - From White Coat Dreaming.png

So, you’ve finally made it through didactic year, and are starting to get the hang of clinical rotations – I am so happy for you! But now what can you do to start preparing for after graduation, you know that thing you thought might never happen (or is it just me?!)? Here is a list I compiled of things to consider as you move toward graduation and becoming a PA-C. Keep in mind that this is non-comprehensive, but covers the big things that I found important to do or know about in the process of myself becoming a new PA-C.

6 months before graduation

Start determining how and when you will be studying for the PANCE. Decide if you are going to attend a board review course. I did, and got a lot out of it, but several of my friends did not and still passed their boards. It really is a personal decision. I decided it was the right choice for me because I wanted a little more confidence and a little less anxiety going into the exam. I used CME Resources, which was $750 for a 5-day course, and I thought it was totally worth it! Don’t forget to add in the cost of the binder ($50) if you want it, as well as the hotel/flight if you are traveling to attend, and money for dinners every night (breakfast and lunch were provided, but double check with your specific review course). Each course might also be a little bit different, so be sure to check out the specific itinerary and details on their website.

6 months before graduation (or later)

Start looking for jobs! There is quite a lot of variance among when students begin to look for positions, but most in my experience tend to have a job lined up prior to graduation or around graduation. However, that doesn’t mean you have to have a job before you graduate! Some students I knew waited until after graduation to start applying for positions. There are so many jobs for PAs in my experience, so you can really take as long or as short of a time finding and accepting positions. However, if you have a specific specialty, location, or any other perks that you are adamant about having in your first PA position, I’d say jump on them because the position may or may not be there when you decide you are ready to apply. Again, it’s a completely personal decision. I applied about 5 months before graduation, had my interview about 3 months before, and accepted the position 2 months before I graduated. Once you accept a position, there is a bunch of credentialing paperwork that your specific employer will send you, in my experience it comes in increments because of the massive amount of information they need. Be prepared to provide a lot of information that you would typically need for any job you’ve had in the past, as well as completing background checks, drug screens, and a check/update on your immunization status.

3 months before graduation

You are now eligible to register for the PANCE exam, or your certifying exam. Your program has to authorize you to be able to do this, but once they do you can register for a location, day, and time to take your PANCE. The cost was $500 when I took it in June 2018. You are eligible to take the PANCE 7 days after graduation and can decide to do it a week after graduating or wait a few weeks like I did. Again, a personal decision, and I waited so I could attend a board review course prior to my exam. It takes about 1-2 weeks to receive your scores back after taking the PANCE, so relax and enjoy your time until then! No need to stress about scores until you see how you did. Here is the link to the description of how many times you can take your PANCE: http://www.nccpa.net/pance-registration  This is the website where your register to take your boards and pay for them, as well as where you will keep track of your CME credits and certification in the future. 

Received Your PANCE Pass E-Mail?

After you’re officially certified (YAY!), now you can start submitting your state board licensing application(s) which allow you to practice as a physician assistant in that particular state. For me, I applied to the State Board of Medicine and the State Board of Osteopathic Medicine because I will be working under both MDs and DOs. Depending on your position, you might only need one or the other, or both like I did. The website you will visit depends on the state in which you plan on practicing in. You can find a list of state boards on AAPA’s website through this link: https://www.aapa.org/advocacy-central/state-advocacy/state-licensing/list-of-licensing-boards/ . This process can take quite a while to both submit and obtain approval for your license depending on the state you plan to practice in, so you should try to do this as quickly as possible without compromising your application. Some suggestions: if you find it is taking longer than expected and you need your license in order to start your new job, try calling your personal state representative and explain to them that you are trying to get your licensing process moving along. I’ve heard many success stories of new PAs waiting for months to have their license approved, but as soon as they contacted their state representatives, they had their license shortly after! I personally contacted my representative after about 6-7 weeks of my application being submitted and having no updates coming in from the state.

You may also need to obtain your National Practitioner Data Bank Self Query for state licensing, which can be found here: https://www.npdb.hrsa.gov/ .

At this time, you can also apply for your National Provider Index number, or NPI number. This number is specific to you and allows you to be identified as a healthcare provider in the United States. Attached is a document providing additional information on the NPI number: https://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Provider-Enrollment-and-Certification/MedicareProviderSupEnroll/downloads/EnrollmentSheet_WWWWH.pdf

After obtaining your state license

Now it is time to obtain any additional licenses you may need. Typically, your employer/credentialing specialist will inform you of anything you might need in order to work for them. For me, I had to obtain my DEA license. This license cost me $731, and you must renew it every 2 years. Some employers will pay for it, so make sure to double check! Prior to receiving your DEA license, your employer will also have to submit a Written Agreement to the state, which basically states the physician you will be working under, your provider insurance, and what you will be allowed to do under this provider. This Written Agreement must be approved, which then gives you an Mx number, which links your DEA license to your supervising physician and allows you to prescribe the scheduled drugs that have been agreed upon by your supervising physician and yourself. This portion was a little confusing for me, so I could be unintentionally omitting or confusing information, but the general process and materials that you need to submit are accurate.

The process of obtaining all of the necessary licensing and credentialing documentation is definitely a lot, but remember that most company employers will have a licensing and credentialing specialist that will be assigned to your work load. Typically, you can contact them with any additional questions you might have.

If you’ve got some extra time to kill before starting your new position

Relax, do something for YOU (you deserve it after these past few years!), read up on the specialty you’ll be working in (in the most leisurely way possible – don’t stress too much because you’ll be learning a bunch on the job as well!), or you can start to aquire some CME credits. I personally used Medscape and linked them to my NCCPA account once I read journal articles and answered questions, but you can really use any website that is approved for CME credits. Just make sure that you register your credits as soon as you complete the activities so you don’t forget about them! CME credits need to be completed every 2 years, and you need at least 50 category 1 CME. Most online journals count as category 2 CME, but you can earn up to 50 this way, and why not get a head start if you’re feeling up to it! 

I hope this helps to ease some of the confusion and anxiety surrounding becoming a PA-C with all of the appropriate licenses and paperwork. Good luck in your new job! Go show the world what an amazing PA you are going to be!

download.png

Holly is a newly graduated PA just starting in Neurology. She graduated from Marywood University. Prior to attending PA school, Holly graduated from Temple University Honors Program in 2014 with a degree in Neuroscience and minor in Psychology. She then worked for two years as a mental health worker, direct service professional in an autism center, and as an emergency department scribe. You can find Holly on Instagram at @xohollyd and on her blog XOhollyd for more PA tips!

Guest Post from The PA Cafe: Motherhood + PA School

Guest Post from The PA Cafe.png

Motherhood and PA school …. As crazy as it sounds, it’s totally possible. But it requires dedication, planning and a strong support system. 

My name is Jennifer, I’m a divorced single mom, Army veteran and 1st year PA student. Like many other women I desired a career in medicine but hesitated out of fear and doubt. I didn’t think it was possible to balance family life while in grad school. Millions of questions flooded my mind, Could I afford it? How would the time away affect my daughter? Could I commit to the schedule?... The list goes on. Then it hit me, I will always be a mom and there will never be a “right time”, so just jump in and get it done. After much prayer and finally finding the confidence within myself, I did just that… I jumped right in. Now I’m wrapping up my 1st year of PA school and preparing for clinical rotations. It’s been a bumpy road and I’ve learned a lot along the way. Here are some tips and advice to help other parents embarking on their PA journeys. 

  1. Have a plan - Pull up an up-to-date resume and your college transcripts, now compare it to the pre-requisites for the schools you wish to apply. What are you missing? Why are/aren’t you a competitive applicant? Take note of which areas you are lacking in then map out a plan to address/fix those areas.

  2. Have a support system- Not only to help with your children but to provide emotional and moral support. The PA program can take its toll on you mentally, physically and emotionally. Having a trusted inner circle that is reliable and rooting for you throughout this journey will make it run more smoothly.

  3. Make time for family – there will rarely be a moment when you’re not studying, but quality time with the significant other and kids is crucial. Use this time to just relax, decompress, catch up on life and express your gratitude for their support.

  4. Save money – Life doesn’t stop while you’re in the program (even thought it may feel like it). Those bills still need to be paid and the unexpected emergencies will come up. Be ready for those rainy days because they will come.

  5. Prepare - Brush up on basic medical terminology, anatomy and physiology … especially if it’s been a while. That “drinking from a fire hose” analogy is very true about PA school. You don’t want to be playing catch up while trying to keep up with the material.

  6. Have Faith – be proud of yourself for taking the steps to accomplish your goals. You have the desire and the capabilities, now just take the process one day at a time. It will all come together. Your children will be so proud of you when it’s all over.

IMG_0279.jpeg

Parents, It’s not too late to chase that PA dream. Anything worth having requires some level of sacrifice. For a temporary amount of time, life will feel like you stepped into a twilight zone. I’m still in the twilight zone but I know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Check out my blog The PA Café where moms spill the tea about PA school. We share our real experiences while in PA school in the hopes it will not only motivate but guide you on your journey. 

Interview with @caasapa - Future Palliative Care PA

mark your calendars.png

Catherine Anna reached out on Instagram to share her interest in the field of palliative care as a PA. I can't say that I personally know any PAs who work in palliative care, so I actually learned a good bit from this interview as well. If you have any questions about UAB or Catherine Anna's plans feel free to reach out to her on Instagram by following @caasapa


IMG_8378 edit web.jpeg

Give me a quick introduction and a little bit on your background (name, undergrad, where you're at in PA school, etc). 

My name is Catherine Anna McCarty. I attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham for undergrad, my Master's in Public Health, and currently for PA school. Go Blazers! I am currently in my first semester of didactic. 

 

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is a specialty that focuses on improving the quality of life for those with serious or terminal illness. Usually, a team made up of not only clinicians but other specialists such as physical therapists, massage therapists, chaplains, dietitians, and psychologists takes care of patients together. The interdisciplinary team works to treat symptoms such as pain, nausea, fatigue, and anxiety as well as assist in advanced care planning. 

 

How did you become interested in palliative care? 

I accepted a position within a palliative care department working with breast cancer patients. At the same time that I was starting that job and really discovering what palliative care was, I was also experiencing the health care system for the first time as someone with a chronic condition. I realized the necessity of a specialty that focused on improving quality of life and allowed patients to define what that meant. It’s empowering as a patient to be listened to and to take back control from illnesses that directly impact how you experience life. I wanted to be a part of a specialty that had the ability to do so much good in people’s lives.

 

Why is it difficult to find PAs in specific specialties?

In regards to palliative care, I think it comes down to the history of the profession and exposure. The history of the PA profession is that of clinicians that practice curative as well as procedure-driven medicine; that which palliative care is not. The most recent literature I have found notes there are only 15 PAs practicing in the field of palliative medicine. Therefore, there are limited opportunities for exposure for pre-PA or PA students. I hope to increase the visibility of PAs in palliative medicine throughout my career and see a huge growth of practicing palliative PAs during my lifetime. 

 

What advice would you give to an applicant who is very interested in a specific specialty?

It is great to have a passion for a specific field of medicine, but it's important not to discount the value of other specialties. Most of your clinical rotations will take place outside of the specialty you’re passionate about. It’s important to be open to absorbing as much knowledge and skills as you can from as many specialties as you can. 

 

What has been most challenging about PA school so far? 

Reframing how I think about learning. During my undergraduate career, I was able to study the night before and make an A on an exam. All of my efforts were focused on obtaining a certain letter grade whereas in PA school, my efforts have shifted to learning the material I need to be a competent and capable clinician. 

 

What is your one best tip for Pre-PA students?

Invest the time, effort, and grit it takes to master your prerequisite courses so you have a strong foundation to start from once you begin a PA program. It will make the adjustment to PA school a little easier. 


Guest Post from Jamie: Clinical Medicine Study Tips

Public Service Day!.png

Jamie's back guys! Today, she is sharing some of her Clinical Medicine Study Tips to help you succeed during didactic year of PA school.  You may remember her previous posts, but check them out if you haven't already! - The Unexpected Costs of Interviewing and Attending PA School, Letters of Recommendation: How Do You Ask? and How Do You Get a Good One? and What's in My Medical Bag? Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means Jamie will get a few cents from Amazon if you purchase one of her recommendations! 


For Clinical Medicine:

I always read the relevant chapter of Pathophysiology Made Ridiculously Easy before we start a unit. 

Then I take notes from the PowerPoints. I reformat my professor’s PowerPoint slides into a format that suits my study technique. For me, that means creating a new PowerPoint document organized the same way as the book. 

 I try to keep each disease or disorder to one page, but sometimes they spill over. I typically start with epidemiology and pathophysiology, followed by clinical presentation, relevant labs or imaging, treatment and then complications.

Some of my classmates make charts instead in Microsoft Word. They’ll do diseases down the first column and then the columns following will be:

  • “Etiology” (who gets the disease)
  • “Pathophysiology” (why the disease happens)
  • “Signs and Symptoms” (what brings them in)
  • “Diagnosis” (labs and imaging needed to confirm)
  • “Treatment”
  • “Complications”.

I spend about a week creating this document and then I print it. Everything typed is guaranteed to be from the lectures, which makes it easy to reference when I study. 

These are the books I use to supplement my notes as I go: 

  • PANCE Prep Pearls (the 2nd edition just came out and I love that sweet, sweet index). If you’re a PA student and you don’t own PPP, you’re doing something wrong. It’s like a super condensed version of everything you need to know. Great review before an exam, great way to highlight your own notes with the absolute most important stuff. 
     
  • Step-Up to Medicine (worth buying new to get the physical copy AND the eBook). I love this book, very well organized and just the right amount of depth. It’s technically a USMLE Step 2 Prep Book but it’s perfect clinical medicine! This book has more pathophysiology and epidemiology than PPP. 

Once my notes are printed, I go through with multiple pens and highlighters. I highlight the top of the slide based on its importance level on the NCCPA’s PANCE Blueprint. Then I handwrite in additional notes from the books I recommended above. They’re color-coded by source so I know where I got each piece from (everything typed is always from my professor’s notes, and then handwritten comes from Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment (the course text, in dark blue), Step Up (green), and PANCE Prep Pearls (pink). I usually don’t add any written notes from Patho Made Easy, but I do read it before a unit starts and again the night before an exam. This takes me about one full hardcore day of studying. Anywhere from 10-12 hours. I usually will take two or three days to do it, unless I’ve done a lot of procrastinating, and then I’ll sit down and do the entire thing in one day instead. 

I spend about a week creating the typed study guide, about a week adding notes, and then a week studying what I’ve created and taking practice exams. For practice exams, I like the following:

Lange Q&A Physician Assistant Examination. This technically goes with the course book, but there are a lot of mistakes in treatments and labs. It seems outdated for about 10% of the questions. For this reason, it’s usually the last test I take. It does have full explanations for each answer at the back of each section, though, and the added bonus that it’s a physical book. I like real paper. All of our exams are online, though, which brings me to my next recommendation: 

SmartyPANCE! I LOVE their practice tests. They are broken down by subject, so you can use them before an exam to see how you’re doing. It also has a review by subject with “pearls”. 

The other review site I recommend is HippoEd. Same thing, they have study materials and videos, and practice exams broken down by subject. I find them to be a little more challenging than SmartyPANCE and usually take these closer to the unit exam. 

Finally, a lot of people really like Rosh Review, but I consistently score 55-60% on every exam I make for myself, which is terrible for my self-esteem. I did not purchase after my free trial expired. Some of my classmates don’t mind the difficulty because of how amazing the answer breakdown is. I love that it tells you how you compared to other people taking the exams, so you can see, “Okay, well I got this wrong, but so did 72% of the other people” or “Well, I’m the only 1% that answered this question this way, so clearly I need work on this.” It’s helpful for sure, but like I said, proceed with caution in terms of confidence before an exam! 


Image (2).png

Hi all. Thanks for reading! I'm Jamie Murawski, a physician assistant student at the University of Detroit Mercy. I have a Bachelor of Science from Grand Valley State University. I'm a Michigan girl through and through. 

I'm growing my online presence in the PA community through Reddit, where I moderate /r/prephysicianassistant along with some other pretty cool PA students. I also have an Instagram where I pseudo-blog about my journey (@jamienicole_pa.s). Please feel free to follow me or message me with any questions, I'm happy to help!


Guest Post from Jamie - What's in my Medical Bag?

IMG_8837.PNG

I'm really excited to share this post today from Jamie, which was first published on Reddit.  It does contain some affiliate links, which means if you purchase any of the products from Amazon, Jamie will get a small cut. You may remember her previous post - The Unexpected Costs of Interviewing and Attending PA School

What’s in my medical bag?

Firstly, I carry two bags. The salmon colored bag is a little backpack by Dickies and the black bag is actually a diaper bag from Eddie Bauer. The Dickies bag was ~$23 at Sears and the Eddie Bauer bag was $39.99 at Target, but I used a 10% off coupon. On the outside of the backpack, I have a hand sanitizer (just Purell). I also carry a water bottle (Contigo brand because I hate having to bite the straw) and an umbrella. Because it’s a diaper bag, these pockets are actually insulated, which I think is funny, but awesome.

I don’t actually plan to carry both bags every day. I just don’t carry a purse and the med bag has stuff that I don’t really need on days like today or Wednesday when I only have one lecture. I do need the med bag on Tuesdays and Thursdays, though.

LET’S DIVE IN!

Medical Bag: Front Pocket(s) from left to right

Medical Bag: Inside View of Main Pocket

Laid out so you can see contents left to right

I am horrendously guilty of forgetting to put on deodorant, so I keep a little one in my bag along with some Kleenex!!

Backpack Front Pocket

Backpack Main Pocket

  • Microsoft Surface 3, 128GB Internal Storage, 4GB RAM ($399.99 from Best Buy) – this for me is an absolute MUST. It is lightweight, so I can carry it easily in my bag, it can be charged with an external USB power bank if the classroom doesn’t have outlets on the table, and it has the full functional Windows 10 operating system, including Microsoft Office. I live by OneNote for my notes. I use the cloud to store everything (with hard backups, of course), but it’s SO nice to be able to pull up my lectures from my phone or tablet, or my laptop at home. I can’t suggest this enough. I just hate that you have to buy the keyboard separate, and $400 is the cheapest I’ve ever seen it. I’ve had a Surface since the initial RT, though, and I’m a fan.
  • Microsoft Surface Type Cover - $116
  • Microsoft Surface Pen - $44.72 – I love this puppy, but you don’t need it if you prefer typing. I like being able to handwrite things easily, but it’s definitely not for everyone.
  • Tablet sleeve - $14.99
  • Bare Bones Anatomy textbook by Dr. Tracey Bee - $213
  • Flashcards for Unit 1: Intro and Back (came with textbook)
  • Folder - $1
  • Planner (MY LIFE) - $10
  • Pencil case - $1
  • Pilot G2 Pens - $10
  • Chargers, extra headphones
  • Glasses

And again, super forgetful with deodorant, so my backpack gets one, too – remember, I said I don’t always have both bags? And hey… sometimes I go to the gym… Also lip balms and a prescription topical steroid cream for my hands – I have contact dermatitis that gets bad with excess glove usage.

What’s in my pockets?? I just wore scrubs today, but this is the contents of my lab coat pockets!

  • Bath and Body Works lotion - $3
  • Bath and Body Works hand sanitizer - $1.50
  • Alcohol swabs
  • Pilot pen
  • NYX Soft Matte Lip Cream in Antwerp - $6
  • $2 for possible snacking needs
  • My locker combination

Not pictured:

  • Lab goggles - $1
  • Lunch: turkey sandwich, peppers and carrots with hummus, grapes, cantaloupe, and strawberries, Goldfish crackers.

Grand total: roughly $1600


Hi all. Thanks for reading! I'm Jamie Murawski, a physician assistant student at the University of Detroit Mercy. I have a Bachelor of Science from Grand Valley State University. I'm a Michigan girl through and through. 

I'm growing my online presence in the PA community through Reddit, where I moderate /r/prephysicianassistant along with some other pretty cool PA students. I also have an Instagram where I pseudo-blog about my journey (@jamienicole_pa.s). Please feel free to follow me or message me with any questions, I'm happy to help!


Guest Post from Holly: How To Study and Succeed in Didactic Year of PA School

Holly has some awesome tips on how to survive didactic year of PA school.  If you thought getting into PA school was the hard part, you better get ready for the didactic portion.  This post is great for whether you are just getting ready to start school or already pushing through PA school. I agree with so many of these tips, and I experienced or learned a lot of this stuff myself in PA school. 


Congratulations! You’ve finally made it to didactic year of PA school (likely your ultimate dream, just as it was mine). It’s a HUGE accomplishment so be proud, but now it is also time to start working the hardest that you ever have academically (or at least learning in a fast-paced environment that I definitely had not experienced prior to PA school). Didactic year was definitely something I was absolutely terrified of when I first started the journey a year ago, but I am here to tell you that it is not impossible, and in fact, was one of the best years of my life! Being fresh out of didactic year, I’d like to provide some study tips I learned throughout my time as a PA student in the classroom. 

  • Don’t be afraid to completely change your study habits. Your previous study habits may or may not be as effective during your time as a PA student. This was something I was initially super resistant to (I always took hand written notes in all of my past college classes), but I quickly learned it was hugely beneficial to tailor my note taking to each individual class, and what I needed out of lectures in order to properly study and succeed in learning the material. Think about how you might best benefit during lecture for retaining the material long term. I used print out PowerPoint slides for Anatomy (they were all pictures, so I would bring a bunch of colored pens to color in what I was writing about and then write any additional notes about the structure we were discussing). In most of my classes, I realized it was most time efficient for me to type out notes on PowerPoints, and either study from them or create Word document study guides to print out. Pharmacology and Laboratory Medicine were 2 classes I struggled with, especially when only viewing the PowerPoints with my notes, so I made sure to create my own personal study guides for each of those, organize the material in a way that made sense to me, and would print out and write additional notes on my notes especially a few days prior to exams. Flash cards are also a great idea for subjects that require a lot of route memorization (Infectious Disease, for example). Figure out what works best for you, and constantly be willing to re-evaluate if that method is working well for you.
     
  • Work with others and study alone. This was another thing I was initially resistant to as a new PA student. In undergraduate classes, I never studied in groups because I assumed I wouldn’t be as productive. And it worked for me then, but I found it took way too much time to figure out everything on my own in PA school. I tested out quite a few study groups before I found the right group of people, but it was especially helpful to have a few classmates and friends to rapid-fire study. During finals, we usually had about 2 exams every day for 2 weeks straight, so even if we tried not to wait until the last minute, sometimes it was inevitable, and having others to quickly help me retain information and make me think about aspects I wouldn’t have on my own was extremely beneficial. Again, do what works for you, but definitely don’t be resistant to change if you have not tried a study technique in the past!
     
  • Use any mean of studying you can think of! Some examples include (but are certainly not limited to!) videos, audio, flashcards, study guides, charts, pictures, writing on chalk/white boards, sketching out images, and more. Really, use anything that will help you to retain the information and truly understand it on a fundamental level. Some of my favorite tools included Khan Academy, Online Med Ed, PANCE Prep Pearls (I highly recommend this book, even for didactic year! It is meant as a review for Boards, but I found it quite helpful for exam reviews and also for freshening up prior to OSCE’s and the PACKRAT exam), Physician Assistant Boards (I found both the Pharmacology and Boards Review audio files particularly helpful for my commutes, especially for solidifying information prior to exams), and the Physician Assistant Exam Review podcast. Many of my classmates shared groups on Quizlet so that we were able to use each other’s Quizlet online flashcards. Our class even had a shared DropBox where we would upload any helpful information or study guides we completed for the rest of the class to utilize. I found it super helpful to hear information over and over through multiple sources, and it has certainly helped me to retain a lot even after exams were finished. 
     
  • Connect the dots. I cannot emphasize this enough, but making connections between classes is super important. This helped me to not only better understand material in all of my classes (everything eventually starts to overlap!), land a pretty awesome PACKRAT score (the PA student exam that predicts how well you might do on the PANCE, or certifying PA exam), and helped me to feel much less stressed when it came to OSCE’s where we had to put all of the information together in order to diagnose and treat a hypothetical patient. It certainly shows if you are learning the material for life and not just for exams, especially at the end of didactic year when your professors will expect much more out of you. Don’t let yourself fall into a place of complacency – after all, as one of my favorite professors stated, “you are learning this for life and to keep your future patients alive”. It’s a pretty serious task, and I always want to make sure I am doing my best for my future patients. 
     
  • If you are losing speed and struggling to continue studying, change gears! This happened multiple times to me. Didactic year was a lot of studying. If I found myself losing focus or feeling burnt out, I would make sure to have some fun or reward myself to keep up my motivation. My friends and I often made trips in between classes or during day-long study sessions for coffee, cupcakes, chocolate, ice cream, you name it! Of course, it wasn’t the healthiest choice, but it kept us going and motivated to move on to more material. Another tip I can provide you with is to exercise! I didn’t do much exercising during my first 2 semesters, but at the beginning of my third semester, my friends and I decided it would be a great idea to attend work out classes twice a week through our school’s gym. It was actually a brilliant idea because we held each other accountable to attend every class, and we got in a great work out and felt mentally and physically refreshed afterward to continue studying if needed.
     
  • Know when you need help. This is probably the most important piece of advice, in my opinion. You’ve worked so hard to get to where you are at, and you don’t want anything to get in your way of continuing through the program and becoming a future PA. Know your limitations and shortcomings, and realize when you need to ask a professor, advisor, classmate, friends, and/or family members for help. Didactic year is super challenging, mostly because of the amount of information they throw at you all at once, and because of the time constraints you might find yourself in because of your dedication to studying and passing your classes. Unfortunately, 2 of my classmates were disqualified from continuing the program due to poor academic performance, and from what I observed, both were too late in asking for help. If you see a classmate struggling, make sure you reach out if possible. Had I known these students were struggling, I definitely would have, but by the time they let me and other classmates of mine know that they needed help, it was too late to bring their grades up enough to pass. I personally struggled with Pharmacology and with my first Psychiatry exam. It was actually a double whammy because I failed both exams in the same week, and immediately went to both professors (one while I was in complete tears). Take your professors’ advice – they are there to help you and it certainly will only benefit you if you can obtain tips for how to succeed in their specific classes. I also let my friends know that these were 2 subjects I struggled with, and asked them for advice especially if they did well in the classes. I studied with classmates that were able to help me in these classes, while I was able to help them in other subjects, and it worked out really well. I also made sure to change up my study techniques to ways that helped me retain the information in a more efficient way, and was able to pass both classes with pretty decent grades! 
     
  • Know that you might not be perfect, and that is perfectly okay! I watched a few of my classmates strive for perfection, and sometimes it worked but other times it simply stressed them out more than they needed to be. I learned that even though I may not be the smartest person in the class, and certainly did not receive straight A’s by any means, I could still succeed in PA school and make sure I was learning everything I needed to along the way. My hard work paid off and was evident with my PACKRAT score, and if you keep motivated and work hard, I am positive you will succeed! 

Holly is a second-year PA student at Marywood University. Prior to attending PA school, Holly graduated from Temple University Honors Program in 2014 with a degree in Neuroscience and minor in Psychology. She then worked for two years as a mental health worker, direct service professional in an autism center, and as an emergency department scribe. You can find Holly on Instagram at @xohollyd and on her blog XOhollyd for more PA tips!