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!