pa school

Dear PA School: A Letter For PA Students

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Hi everyone! Thanks for reading! My name is Tiffany Andrade and I am a new graduate of Northeastern University's Physician Assistant Program. Prior to PA School, I obtained my Bachelors of Arts degree in biology from Hamilton College. After taking my PANCE this summer, I hope to practice at a large academic medical center in Boston. I am looking forward to building longstanding relationships with patients and helping them achieve their healthcare goals. I am always looking for opportunities to connect with other PAs and would love any comments about this piece! 

Dear PA School,

Did you know that everyone agrees that the time spent with you is the worst time of our lives? You constantly challenged my endurance, patience, and stamina. Keeping up with you was more than intense, it was insurmountable at times. Despite the number of times that I felt defeated and overwhelmed, I always reminded myself that I chose to have you in my life. Although you were accompanied by the worst of emotions including anxiety and what DSMV would definitely classify as depression, I still find you to be one of the best challenges of my life. With you, I learned the true meaning of endurance and achievement. Within 2 years, I learned over 300 diagnoses, passed over 60 exams, treated over 1,000 patients, met over 30 clinicians, assisted in over 20 surgeries, and learned to perform over 15 procedures. But I didn’t do this alone, I was accompanied by 38 other people who also endured on this journey to getting to know you. Without them, the journey would have been quite traumatic. I always sought comfort in knowing that there were 38 other people alongside me who were equally scared, yet motivated to stay on this rocky road with the hopes of climbing this mountain. Upon deep reflection, I wanted to let you know that you’ve taught me lessons that no other life event taught me. This letter is addressed to you with the deepest gratitude because without you, I am unsure of when I would have learned the following lessons: 

Lesson learned #1: You know more than you think you do; Trust yourself!

There were numerous encounters where I was asked a question and was somehow able to produce the correct answer within seconds! It was often the first thought that appeared in my head and it was correct! I can tell you that I impressed many of my preceptors with this but had no idea that I possessed the answer! I’ve always struggled with my confidence as a clinician and these moments served as a thoughtful reminder that I am prepared and know more than I think I know. Was this a result of a well-built curriculum? I would say so and the dedication of the volunteers and administration that share their clinical insight and experience with us. So thank you PA school for restoring the inner confidence I know I always had, but needed a boost to unveil.

Lesson learned #2: Know your limits and always ask! There are no stupid questions.

I’m not sure what it was, but I have a fear of asking questions. I think it may be a combination of fearing the perception of being stupid or embarrassment. News flash! If you do not ask questions, you don’t learn and you will likely make a mistake that might potentially compromise the safety of your patient. This point was made clear to me by a surgeon at Faulkner and I thank him to this day for making me realize that ignorance does not equal bliss. Humility is what makes us great clinicians. The ability to identify what your limits are is far more insightful then ignorantly approaching a clinical situation with a fear of asking for help. After all, it is a team sport right? I vow to ask questions no matter how ridiculous they may seem with the intention of learning. Thank you PA school for this life lesson. 

Lesson learned #3: “Success is a journey, not a destination”

I cannot count the number of times that I questioned whether this career was appropriate for me.  I often thought that I could fall back on some amateur talent of mine if this didn’t work out. But then I realized that my worries rested on the end destination: becoming a PA-C. I wanted to hurry up and reach the finish line without facing all of the challenges in between. But I’ve come to learn that there is beauty in fear, disappointment, and anger. Once I realized that these experiences are collectively part of the journey, I enjoyed every bump in between. Every rotation offered an item that I could add to my toolbox and skillset. Each encounter offered a new friendship and meaning to what makes this career so worth-while. 


In closing, you were essential to my growth over the last 2 years. You have truly made a positive imprint in my life and I want to thank you for all that you offered me. I will deposit our relationship into my memory bank and reflect upon them throughout my entire career as a PA. I look forward to recalling these memories and using them as frequent reminders of why and how I became a PA. 


Tiffany Andrade

Advice From Current PA Students - From White Coat Dreaming

I recently connected with Alex on Instagram (@whitecoatdreaming), and she introduced me to her awesome PA blog - White Coat Dreaming. Apart from sharing her own awesome advice, Alex has also interviewed her fellow classmates in PA school to get their advice as well.  In this post, I'm going to share some of the best points to help you succeed in PA school! If you want to see more, make sure you head over to her blog to see the interviews in their entirety. 

Interview Tips:

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I think that schools like to see that you have other interests besides medicine and that you make time for the things you care about.  - Megan

I would really recommend going on a mission trip before PA school starts because it gives you an opportunity to learn more about the medical field and prepares you for PA school. Not to mention, it shows the interview committee that you are well rounded and more than just your grades. -Norin

Career change?  Be totally honest with yourself about who you are deep down, what you like, what all of your motivations are, whether you could get what it is you think you’re looking for while staying in your current spot or with a less drastic change. -Craig

The number one tip I can give you is to just be yourself! And I know that probably sounds super cliché, but it’s so true. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Don’t try to put on an act, or memorize all the right answers to ace an interview or personal statement.
— Giftson from White Coat Dreaming

I didn’t do anything to practice so I just showed up thinking I could charm some people. And then they were tough and I bawled in my car after 2 or 3 of them. - Megan

I would truly recommend helping out the community as much as you can. During interviews, they look at more than just your grades. They want to see that you are a caring individual that does more than just study.  -Norin

There is a lot of competition for spots in PA school for good reasons, you’ve got to show that you are the cream of the crop and are a good bet for the school in terms of being able to one day be a skillful, practicing PA. -Craig 

It is so easy to compare to others and feel like you fall short, but it is so not true. We are all worth so much more than how we perform or measure up to the world’s standards. Finding my worth in Christ and knowing that He loves me no matter how small I feel was the biggest game changer. -Michelle

Applying Tips: 

Don’t get discouraged if you are waitlisted! I know plenty of people who were waitlisted and got in as late as April. -Megan

I took a year off before starting PA school because there were still some pre-requisites that I needed to complete and volunteer hours that I needed to add into my application. This really helped me focus on my application and make it stronger. -Norin

While getting into school and becoming a PA might seem like the most important thing in your life right now, don’t fall into the belief that whether you become a PA or not determines your value. You are so much more than your career! Work hard, but rest in the idea that you are going to end up exactly where you are meant to be. You are no more valuable as a PA or less valuable as something else! -Jill

Find yourself a good group of friends who will provide you with love, tissues and wine nights. They will be your backbone throughout the ‘process.’ - Alexa

People are afraid to major in something non traditional (like English, Poli Sci or philosophy), but I think it’s best to follow your own passions and interests. That will show that you are true to yourself, and are not just trying to do what you think you are ‘supposed’ to do.
— Erica from White Coat Dreaming

For me the hardest thing about applying was the cost.  - Erica

I’ve tried to make the best out of every situation. I know right now school is kind of rough, and you have to give up a lot of things that you used to have, but in the end it’ll all be worth it. -Giftson

 It is good to always have a plan B after you apply and focus on areas that you need to work on before you know if you got in that cycle or not! -Norin

The hardest part of applying was sorting through all the various requirements and prerequisites for each program. -Jill

Also, I would recommend a strong personal statement. It summarizes who you are as a person and your purpose for wanting to pursue medicine. Every part of the application is important, however, the personal statements gives them insight into your life so make sure it is strong. -Norin

I feel like location was a big factor in my decision. I knew I wanted to be in an area where I could still be around family, and having a support group nearby definitely influenced that decision but I also was excited to be out of my comfort zone. -Giftson

When the competition is so steep, you want to have as good of chances as you can, and applying to multiple programs is one way to do that! - Jill

PA School Tips: 

Know what you are getting into before you come to PA school. I was not mentally prepared for the amount of dedication that it would take to be a PA student, and it took me about 2-3 months to truly grasp how much my life was going to revolve around studying. - Erica

If your heart is not in it and this is not something you truly want to do, then stop yourself before it gets too late. PA school is hard, and honestly the pressures of the program is going to take a huge toll on you…physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. If you’re not doing it for yourself, then you’re going to crack under pressure. - Giftson

Once you get accepted, stop trying to ‘better yourself’ academically or otherwise– and just relax and enjoy yourself, as much as logistically and financially possible. If you can take a vacation beforehand or some time off, definitely do- you will be so glad later. - Erica

PA school ends up taking all of your time, so you don’t really get a chance to think about how much time you’re not spending with family and friends.  -Giftson

I faced some of my darkest moments in PA school, because, surprise…it’s hard.  And the thing that kept me going above all else was having compassion for where these long nights of studying would take me.
— Silas from White Coat Dreaming

It helped to have a running schedule that I would try my best to stick to. That forced me to workout most days after class even when I didn’t feel like it. -Michelle

Being professional and acting in a way that shows respect to others is honestly far more important than the number of years you have under your belt. I was always worried that patients or even other classmates wouldn’t take me seriously because I was so young, but over time I’ve learned not to worry about things I can’t change. -Giftson

Also, make efforts to stay balanced while in school. So many people seem to put everything aside for their grades- mental health, relationships, exercise, sleep– but those things are necessary to be successful. -Erica

We all are starting at different parts of our life, and just because you don’t have experience doesn’t mean you can’t do well. You have to understand your limitations, and strive to push those limits every day! You’re going to make mistakes. Learn from them, and keep pushing forward so you can be the best PA you can be! -Giftson

I realized when I ate healthy, it definitely helped my energy level and helped me focus better and not get so tired studying. -Michelle

Self-doubt was a huge problem for me. I would always see other people that knew so much, and wonder if I would ever get there (still haven’t got there by the way). -Giftson

Sometimes it can be challenging when you compare and think how far ahead your kiddo classmates are in terms of being about to start their career when you would have still been waking up at noon on a Wednesday to go do a half-shift of bagging liquor- but hey, whatever path you take, you are bound to have learned something that someone on another path hasn’t. - Craig

You learn quickly that your classmates are in the trenches there with you, and you depend on each other far more than for just explaining a concept you didn’t understand in lecture.  -Silas

How to Stay Sane in PA School


If you are just applying to PA school or just starting in a program, it may not have hit you just how intense it is.  When they say the program will pretty much become your life for the next 2+ years, they mean it!  But with all of the studying and multiple tests per week, you have to take care of yourself and find some way of maintaining your sanity. Here are some of the tips that helped me to get through it all.

Find some friends!

When you start PA school, you're going to be meeting a lot of people who are pretty similar to you and ya'll will become fast friends.  A strong support system of people who can relate to what you're going through is so important.  You'll not only be spending hours together during the day, but it also helps to have someone to study with, take a break with, or even cry with.  Some of my best friends have come from PA school, and as much as I love my family and the friends it definitely helps to have someone to commiserate with who can actually empathize.

Stay Active!

It can become very easy to feel like you need to devote every waking second to studying, but you need to take care of yourself.  By working out or doing something active, it will most likely help to relax you and get some of your focus off of the vigorous routine of school.  I personally do not enjoy working out a ton, but my friends would invite me to the gym and encourage me to work out with them and I'm so glad I did.  You are probably already paying for a gym membership as part of your fees so take advantage of it!  If your school offers intramurals those are also fun.

Get Involved!

There's no reason to lose your interests while you're in PA school.  If you loved volunteering at the animal shelter or nursing home before school, you may not be able to do it as frequently, but it will benefit you in the long run if you make the time to do what you love.  Or if there's a way that you feel like your class would be able to help people then do it!  A few classes above us started a free monthly screening clinic downtown in an underserved area, and it's still going strong!  You can also consider becoming an officer or joining a committee if that's your thing.

It's OK to not Study 24/7!

And you will probably go crazy if you do!  One of my biggest regrets during PA school is that during the first 2 semesters I would literally turn down any invitation to do anything.  Even if it was just going to Mexican food with my parents (which would likely take about 30 minutes) or going to church.  During the 2nd half of didactic year and especially now, I realize that PA school and being a PA is not my life or my complete identity, so I hope that you figure that out before I did.  I also fully support recreational reading while in school because that is something I missed so much!

Enjoy where you're at!

This is something a lot of people in my class struggled with.  They would refer to Augusta as "Disgusta," and while it may not be the most exciting place in the world there's plenty going on.  Some of my classmates just couldn't wait to get back home and I think it made their experience more miserable than it had to be.  Learn how to enjoy where you've been placed because it is likely for a short time, and there's no reason you shouldn't have a good time!

Here is a post from a fellow blogger with her tips on if you are just starting PA school.   And she is finding ways to not only stay sane, but to do it with kids!  I'm not there yet, so check out her blog if you want advice on surviving PA school as a parent.  

What are your tips for making the most out of PA school and maintaining your sanity?