10 things to know before starting PA training

September 19, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Pre-physician assistant students observe a procedure in TanzaniaA physician assistant program includes lectures and classroom work along with practical, hands-on experience during clinical rotations. Program specifics may vary, but school can be challenging. There will be a lot to learn in a short time and days will be busy.

You probably already know you will need to spend a lot of time studying, but there is more to doing well in physician assistant school than that. Having a good idea of what to expect may help you succeed.  Below are several things to keep in mind before you start physician assistant school.

Give yourself time to adjust before school starts

If you are moving to a new location to attend physician assistant school, be sure to allow yourself plenty of time to get used to your new apartment, city and school. If possible, arrive at least a week before classes start. That will give you time to move in, become familiar with your school and learn a little about your new city.

Physician assistant school will not be like undergraduate education

Don’t count on having the same amount of free time as you did in college. Your schedule during physician assistant school will likely be busier than during your undergrad career. Taking advanced science classes may also mean you need more time to study.

Maintain balance in your life

A physician assistant program can be rigorous, but it is important to try to maintain balance in your life. Although you need to find time to study, all work and no play can stress you out. Carve out some time to exercise, relax and just have fun. Make the most of your time off from school and enjoy yourself. It will help you recharge and work hard when you need to.

Be careful what you post on social media sites

If you are used to sharing your life on social media sites, such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, think before you post. Posting things related to patient care or an experience you had during a clinical rotation may not be smart. Depending on what you post, it could be considered a violation of patient privacy laws. Additionally, what you tweet, post or talk about on social media may be viewed by more than your friends. Some employers check social media sites of potential employees when they are doing background checks.

Don’t be overly competitive

Competition can be a good thing, or it can add to your stress levels. If you are competitive by nature, it may be hard to stop trying to be number one in your class. Instead of competing with your classmates, set goals for yourself. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing, what their grades are or your rank in class. In the end, that won’t matter, but knowing you did the best you could will.

Collaboration is helpful

Collaborating with fellow students may help you perform better in school, and it can be good for your mental health. Consider joining a study group, working with classmates on projects and collaborating with others during clinical rotations. You will often learn more when you collaborate than when you work alone. Plus, working and learning with others can provide you with a sense of teamwork and comradery, which is good for your mind.  In addition to working together with your classmates, consider joining a local or state professional physician assistant organization. Most organizations offer student memberships at a discounted fee. Being part of a professional organization may provide you with the opportunity to network, make friends in the field and may help you get a job in the future.

There is often more than one way to do things in medicine

As you learn how to perform certain procedures or examinations during clinical rotations, you will find out there are often several ways to do things. In fact, different preceptors may teach you how to do something a little differently. Learn what you can each time. As you start working independently, you can figure out what works best for you.

Send thank you notes to your preceptors after completing clinical rotations

Your preceptors during your clinical rotations may be doctors, nurse practitioners or licensed physician assistants. You will likely get some who are excellent at what they do and some who are not so great. Unless you are having a really difficult time or your preceptor is inappropriate, try to stick with them. Learn what you can from the experience. On the last day you will be working with a preceptor, consider leaving a thank you note. Keep it simple. Express your gratitude for what you have gained from the experience. It’s the polite and courteous thing to do, plus it may set you apart from the rest.

Don’t correct preceptors or physicians during clinical rotations

Your preceptors are not perfect and may misspeak or make an error. There is no need to point out mistakes, especially in front of other people. The only exception would be if a mistake is endangering a patient. Pointing out the mistakes of a person with much more experience and education than you have can make you look arrogant. Instead, consider taking the person aside and let them know you are confused by what they did and have a question about it. Approach it as a learning experience and not an accusation that they made an error.

You will never know everything there is to know about medicine

The medical field is always evolving and new research is emerging. It is impossible to know everything there is to know about every disease, condition or treatment. The minute you think you know everything, you need to step away and reassess your attitude. You will be learning until the day you retire.



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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives, and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.