Tips for Setting Yourself Up for Success in PA School

Hi everyone! Please welcome @jamienicole_pa.s, a current Physician Assistant student studying at University of Detroit Mercy! She reached out to me and wanted to offer up her tips to success for PA school for Pre-PA students and here they are!

First, and most importantly, don’t limit yourself to just the prerequisites listed on the school’s website. If the school only requires biology and chemistry, and that’s all you do, you WILL struggle. You WILL have an incredibly hard time.

PA school is very fast-paced. You need a strong background in anatomy. Most schools require you to take anatomy. What they do not require is cadaver lab. If your university or community college offers a dissection lab – TAKE IT. Dissection allows you to get a firm and working grasp of anatomy, which is CRUCIAL to understanding disease.

Another thing that will help you is a pathophysiology course. This one is very rarely required by programs but I will tell you that it will help you to have it. It will help you get in and it will help you succeed once you are in it! Even just a 3 credit course in pathophysiology will give you that introduction to diseases. It will help familiarize you with signs and symptoms and how to approach exams that are based on material like that.

Along the same lines, pharmacology. If you can only take ONE extra class, this should be it. Forget cadaver, forget pathophysiology. Take pharm. You are thrown right into clinical medicine and right away you begin learning a disease – they will tell you the cause of the disease (etiology), the pathophysiology of the exam, the signs and symptoms, any diagnostic tests, and their treatment. I am going to tell you right now that my classmates who have no background whatsoever in pharmacology are really struggling with the treatment aspect of all of our classes. It becomes 100% memorization if you don’t know what the drugs do – if you do not have a background in pharmacology, you will have NO idea why you treat X with Y. It really helps to understand why the drug works to treat it. It also helps when you’re taking the test and you notice the question says the patient has a penicillin allergy and only one of the answers is an antibiotic that isn’t related to penicillin. When the question says the patient has acute angle closure glaucoma and you need something to immediately lower the patient’s intraocular pressure, it helps to know that dextamethasone is a corticosteroid while acetazolamide is a diuretic (pulls fluid out) and rifampin is an antibiotic. If you didn’t remember that you treat immediately with IV acetazolamide but you recognize the other drugs as being the wrong ones, you’ll still get the answer right. Hopefully you see how this is useful!

Lastly, once you’re in the program, study more than you think you need to but don’t give up your entire life. For your sanity, you should reserve one night or one morning a week to doing something you really enjoy, whether that’s playing with your neighbor’s puppy or knitting a scarf or binge-watching Scrubs. Try to exercise two or three times a week. Walk around when you study – it helps you memorize things if you’re moving when you read them (I love walking at a brisk pace on the treadmill while I do flashcards, for example). It’s very, very easy to eat junk food and sit in your chair all day, but that’s not conducive to learning. Eat right, sleep well, and exercise a little and you will learn things much better. Don’t study longer than an hour straight, it has been clinically proven to be ineffective past that hour mark if you don’t break. Taking a break, walking around, maybe eating a snack will help you refresh your brain and get you back on track. Recognize when you should stop – if it’s 2am and you have class at 8am and you’re still trying to cram – you’re not going to do well. You need to realize that at some point, nothing you do will make you perform any better and you cross the threshold into hindering your success. Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have time to take care of yourself just because you’re in school. I go to bed at 9 or 10pm and wake up at 5:30am every day – that’s 7.5-8.5 hours of sleep every night. I also drive two hours a day to get to class. I still exercise, I pack my lunches with healthy snacks. I’m not saying it’s inherently wrong to eat junk food or get 4 hours of sleep, but you will most likely be a nicer, more functional person if you avoid those habits right from the start. Get yourself into a routine that works and stick to it. Study a little of everything each day instead of cramming for one subject at a time the evening before the exam.

Thank you to @jamienicole_pa.s for the huge words of wisdom for those hoping to begin the journey to PA school one day! Follow her story on Instagram or Snapchat (jamienicole3x)!

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