Tuesday, June 23, 2015

3 Surprising Facts about PA School

The attributes that got you accepted to PA school may not be the skills that help you succeed as a PA student.


What is the hidden curriculum of PA school?

One of my many anatomy drawings.

If you are starting PA school, you probably spent a substantial amount of time and energy on the application process.

You practiced interview skills, polished your essay, composed your thoughts about what it means to be a PA and why you want to be that person.  Indeed, you practiced saying these things in a professional manner in front of a mirror.

You managed deadlines, submitted transcripts and letters of recommendation and finally got on a plane or in a car -- made it to the interview and PULLED IT ALL TOGETHER!

And no doubt you arrived on the first day of PA school fresh-faced, unstressed and ready to take it on, thinking "I can do this!"
Hard work got me here, and hard work will get me through it.

And you are RIGHT.

But, SURPRISE it isn't the same type of hard work.  Those same skills that got you to PA school may not be the ones you need to help you succeed in PA school.

You may need to re-tool your study processes.

And here's the thing-- the skills that got you here aren't the skills you need to succeed as a PA student.

Wow, you say-- how could that be?!  I'm smart, dedicated and hardworking...

#1  Being a perfectionist can work against you

We all know what being a perfectionist is about.  You want all your pencils sharpened, you want between a 93 and a 100 (or better) on every exam.  And you are accustomed to working however hard (really, really hard) it takes to make all this happen.

Well, get ready to give it up!  The fast paced feed of classwork and study demands in PA school will force you to give up this mindset.  Time constraints force you to quickly give up perfectionist ideals.  The sooner you put aside perfectionist ideas here - the sooner you will succeed in joining "the pack" here and by that I mean learning what you need to know to be a PA.

Being a perfectionist can work against you here because it takes extra time to be sure that every thing is just right - time you don't have.  So consider giving it up - or at least parts of it.

#2 Being Well-rounded

The name of the game in PA school is to learn the material to the best of your ability and stay on the island.  Everyone will find their own unique way of doing this.  And there is no wrong or right way.  Just learn and know your stuff.  And there's a lot more STUFF now!

However, being well-rounded  - interested in many things - may not be your best attribute here.  You will have to block out competing demands for your time and attention - things like movies, boyfriends/girlfriends, parents, spouses and children, housework, even fitness and gym time, personal appearance will all need to take a backseat at some point to your schooling.

Being well rounded can be the enemy of being intense.  If you are getting ready to go to PA school, get ready to be intense!

#3 Relating to others & the hidden curriculum

You may have heard that Drs. are not known for "playing well with others."  It may have something to do with ego, huge responsibility, or lack of time.  But MDs, especially residents and young physicians can be abrupt, non-listeners who like to interrupt and jump right to the point - whether it is what you were talking about it or not. 
(Disclaimer:  this is a personal observation of mine.  You may choose to disagree or be offended.)

Physician assistants (PAs) on the other hand have the reputation of being good listeners, of taking the time to hear you out, validate your concerns and work with you towards your best treatment.
And likely these were attributes you displayed and practiced during your PA school interview process.

Now in PA school you may need to temporarily take off your "listen and socialize cap" and adopt the medical student's attitude of "if it ain't in the notes - I don't need to talk it about it" right now.
I emphasize right now because as you move out of the didactic portion of your PA school years you need to get ready to reacquaint yourself with your peers, your classmates and your patients to be.

Please note this is a temporary adjustment to your learning strategy - one you will employ to get you through anatomy, pharmacology, microbiology- rather tedious topics that aren't what you came to PA school anxious to learn.  It's all about focus and not getting distracted while you learn some of the necessary but tiresome memorization that lays the foundation for your medical education.

Some hint that is part of the "hidden curriculum" of medical school such as my fellow blogger Ken Noguchi, a father, husband and medical student who writes and thinks at SidenoteLife.  His blog is kind of a thinking medical students response to his environment.  He ponders why the process is how it is and why there is a hidden curriculum. 
I think Ken will make a great MD, one who listens and is responsive to his patients.
Anatomy by Buffchic (Netter wannabe)

I think that the hidden curriculum of PA school is that the attributes that got us in may not be the ones that make us successful in completing and getting out of PA school.  Once you know this, it will be easier to change to meet this challenge when you face it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

5 Tips to Surviving PA School

My great looking class of PA students ready to start clinical rotations.
Disclaimer:  There is no one formula for success in PA school (other than LOTS of hard work and dedication).

Here are my top 5 Proven Survival Tips for PA school:

1.  Study hard, study early and study often.  

This is a no-brainer and if you have already gotten into PA school you probably arrived at that point by doing just that - studying hard.  But it never hurts to say it again - so I will - study hard and study often.
Studying in PA school will not be the same as in undergrad or your prerequisite courses.
  • It will be harder, more intense and more important!  
  • Remember you are learning things to make you a PA.  You have to know EVERYTHING!  It's not like American History 201, where you may learn just what's on the exam and get by.  You need to learn and learn well for the health and safety of your future patients.
  • Procrastination is not your friend here.  Start early!  What is early to you may be relative.  Some study best late at night others are early morning birds - figure out which one you are and use your time wisely.  But above all don't procrastinate.
  • You may find that you need to study in new ways now - the old tools may not be effective here.  So be open to this and ready to learn and practice new study strategies.
    • Try new things:
      listen to podcasts, use spaced recognition flashcards, make drawings/cartoons, look at pinterest for mnemonics, lists & images.

2.  Don't judge yourself by your peers.

In fact, don't judge yourself by others at all.
  • Judge your progress by your past self.  Ask yourself, "where am I now vis a vis where I want to be and where I was yesterday?"  "Have I taken steps to getting closer to my goal today?"  How is my knowledge base increasing?  Am I more prepared than I was yesterday?  If you can answer yes to this, then you are headed in the right direction!
  • But don't waste your mental energy comparing yourself to others in their study or learning process.  You need that energy to keep pushing yourself forward.  PA school is a long distance run - not a sprint!

3.  Streamline your life processes.

Make your daily life simple.
  • Think about a schedule.  Lots of my friends like to make study schedules and plans.  
  • Eat, study, sleep.  Add in a work out and you're good to go.  If you can fit in food gathering and prep - so much for the better!
But the really important part of streamlining your life has to do with your mental and emotional maturity - and by maturity I mean your ability to be emotionally stable through the ups and downs that the road ahead entails.  There will be anxiety, stress and uncertainty in your path to being a PA.  (If you don't question yourself, you're aren't doing it right.)
  • Avoid worry, self-doubt and anxiety - these are your enemies.  You don't have time for negative emotions and insecurity in PA school.  So get rid of them now!

4.  Find a partner or study group

Yes, some people fly solo - and if that works for you - go for it.

But studying with your classmates in PA school can be invaluable because they may think that one item on page 9 of your outline is an important point - you may have dismissed it as an insignificant small detail.  It may be on the exam tomorrow and more importantly you may need to know it for your future practice and patient care.
  • You will absorb more when you interact with your peers.  I encourage you to not miss out on this opportunity even if you are a lone studier.
  • If your school uses problem based learning (PBL), you may find this a good time to initiate a study group.  My school has a course in clinical problem solving which is basically a case study driven overview of what drives the diagnostic and treatment processes.  These classes lend themselves to working in a brain storming group.  Use this time to learn from others - they will think of things that you did not.

5.  Find a mentor

Find someone who has been there and can help guide you through any pitfalls that you may stumble into.  This may be someone at your program - an alum, an upperclassmen, a professor or a PA that you have met elsewhere.  
  • Whoever it is, when you need them they can be an invaluable resource.  They can fast track you to a solution to an issue in #2 or #3.  They will see things from a fresh outside perspective without bias and can steer you quickly in the right direction if you veer off the path of success.
  • Never underestimate the value of a good mentor!  Having someone in your corner when you have a concern or the going gets tough can be a great asset.

Friday, May 1, 2015

PA Student Going to Clinical Rotations - Transitions in PA school

Spring Semester 2015 started with a clinical mission trip to the Dominican Republic then there was Buffalo...

Started the semester in the Dominican Republic
Buffalo temp
Love me some Czajka time in the classroom
The semester started in the sunny Dominican Republic on a Students Without Borders (SWOB) trip where we set up and operated a medical mission for people in need outside of San Pedro de Macoris.

Digging my car out to go to school
Then it was back to not so sunny Buffalo in January, -6 degrees, classroom days and digging my car out of the snowbanks.

There was lots of classroom time - shown here in Advanced Procedures lecture with one of our favorite professors.  (All of our professors are pretty much awesome!  But Czajka is a fave!)

Here are a few more pics from our medical mission trip - we used pink shower curtain liners to divide exam rooms.  Necessity is the mother of invention!
SWOB trip to the DR Jan. '15
My friend in the DR

Then we made it to splinting and casting lab - a highlight of spring semester - lots of photo ops.

Casting lab Spring '15

Match Day occurs each Spring when 4th year medical students open an envelope with their residency program that they matched with.  It's a big moment that they often share together as a celebratory mark of their entering into a professional phase of their medical training.
PA students don't have a match day.  But we do have plenty of transitions.
Transitions are times of growth and change.  We leave the familiar and go out into the unknown.

This semester was certainly all those things. 

In addition to our SWOB trip in January, we conducted a health fair for refugees back in Buffalo, raised $2700 for one of our favorite charities Wings Flights of Hope with a spaghetti dinner and silent auction, held our own PA Prom, learned how to start IV lines, draw blood and put on splints and casts.
All of these events were a huge success!
We haven't been told where our clinical sites are yet - still waiting for our matches.

What's next?

So here's to the next transition - clinicals!

A big thank you to all who participated in our success this semester - our professors at Daemen College and my fellow PA16ers.  Go team!