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7 Things You Should Do Before PA School Starts

PA school is like riding on top of a train, all you can do is hang on and hope you make it in one piece, a little wiser and with a humble appreciation for life. With that in mind, there is, quite literally, nothing you can study to prepare you for it.

 

Congratulations! If you’ve been accepted into a PA Program, welcome to the profession! Your life is about to change in amazing ways.

I keep seeing a theme in PA Forums and Groups. Pre-PA students who have been accepted into a PA program, asking about what topics they should study before PA school starts. It’s mind-boggling to me now, but I have to admit- I did the exact same thing.

I’ve come to the conclusion that PAs are some of the most driven people out there.. we have some pre-requisites that most professions don’t, including hands-on patient care and professional shadowing hours, in addition to our undergraduate work. So, it’s only natural that after all that work, once accepted, we just can not sit still. We are excited and want to dig in- especially knowing how intense PA programs are (I assure you, they are). The problem is, you really can’t prepare for what is about to happen.

PA school is like riding on top of a train, all you can do is hang on and hope you make it in one piece, a little wiser and with a humble appreciation for life. With that in mind, there is, quite literally, nothing you can study to prepare you for it.

What you can do, however, is get your “life” ducks in a row. You are about to embark on a fully immersive, all-consuming journey. Weekends become study days, and though you may sneak in dinner or a movie once in a while, I suggest you purchase the most comfortable chair you can find as your rear end will be sitting in it more than you want. So with that in mind here are my top things you should do:

1. Get Your Housing Situation In Order:

You’ve probably already done this, but it’s worth a mention. Adulting is hard, finding the best temporary living situation doesn’t have to be. I commuted an hour back and forth in undergraduate, so on or near campus living was something I had to learn about in graduate school. For those who are campus living pros, life is different now, so you may still find some value in the comments below.

  • Save the money. If you are trying to save money (and though you aren’t asking my opinion, I will totally give it here- TRY TO SAVE MONEY) reach out to your program to see if any of your fellow incoming colleagues want to room together or see if any second-year PA-S2s need a roommate.
  • YOLO Solo. If you are seeking a solo enterprise- find a place that’s quiet and small, there likely won’t be any house parties in the next two years. I wasn’t one to study at home, so make sure the location is conducive to studying for you.
  • Location, location, location. Go for what is closest to where you will be on campus. Those early mornings will be that much earlier when you have to deal with bus schedules. Big college campuses mean parking is a nightmare, which means closer=better.

2. Find Your People

You have people! New ones! One of the most basic human needs is to feel as though you belong, and now is the time to get over the fear and shy factor and jump right in. Many programs give out the names and information of each cohort. In fact, the only reason I joined Facebook in 2009 was to communicate with new my classmates via Facebook groups. All I can say is thank goodness Myspace fizzled out.

  • Make contact. If it hasn’t already happened, get the names and email addresses of your graduating class from your program, and invite them to a Facebook or other social media group
  • Introductions are important. Introduce yourself to the group and encourage the others to do the same! You will likely find many similarities and differences.
  • Hang out with your new people. Plan a meetup date PRIOR to your first day. Your program may already have something planned, but it can’t hurt to plan another, less formal, get together (think meeting at a bar, apartment pool etc)

3. Spend Time With Your Other Half and/or BFF

This may be obvious, but one on one time is about to diminish significantly. There is likely one or two people you are close to that you will be neglecting while in school and now is the time for you to let them know how special they are. They are the people who matter the very most in your life, schedule some time each week just for them:

  • Pick the dates. Work together and march out specific dates on a calendar leading up to your first day of the program.
  • Make memories. Make sure these “dates” are special. Pick their favorite restaurant or favorite activity. If money is tight, get creative! Pinterest is an amazing resource for cheap and fun ideas.
  • Plan. Have a basic game plan for once the program starts. Can you do dinner at least once a week, or promise to try to share one meal a day? You will have to eat after all, and it may involve them meeting you in the library or Starbucks. The first few weeks you will be overwhelmed with so many other things, make sure to put some time aside for them.

4. Spend Time With Your Family and Friends

Your parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and pretty much anyone who thinks you are amazing are very proud of you. They are going to miss you and you might be too busy to realize how much you miss them.

  • Get it on the calendar. Schedule lunch with grandma, golf with dad, a girls night with your sister and maybe catch a movie with a brother.
  • Rinse, cycle, repeat. Schedule another time with a family member, and another (and another) until your entire weeks to months are filled with more social time than you’ve ever had. If you are lucky enough to be able to, go on a vacation with your family. You’ll thank me later, I promise.

5. Take Some Time for Yourself

You are about to lose “you” time, in a very big way. Although PA School is a personal endeavor, your own personal time will be nonexistent. You can combine some of the things listed below with #3 and #4, but I suggest specifically planning out some alone time for you. Stress in PA school is very, VERY real. Rest assured, you will run the full “Seven Dwarfs” gamut of emotions and if you don’t know what makes you Happy, Grumpy and Sleepy may reign as kings.

  • Focus on your passions. Hobbies will be put aside for the next 2-3 years. If you enjoy reading, take some time to complete a book (or a series), same goes for movies and shows. If you are a health and fitness enthusiast, take some classes while you can. Music lovers, go to a concert or even just a simple live performance. Artists, spend time in a studio. Do what it is that makes you happy, take lots of photos and remember that you will get back to it.
  • Reflect. I’m a HUGE proponent of visualization, and it likely got you to this very spot in some shape or form, so don’t stop now. Think about how far you’ve come to get where you are. Think about the hurdles you may face while in school. Visualize your first day, participating in anatomy and physiology lab, your white coat ceremony, clinicals, and then walking across the stage to accept your diploma. And think about that first paycheck, that always helps too.
  • Figure out how you relax best. There will be a time you will have to pull this card, it’s nice to have in your back pocket. What is the most calming environment for you? Is it quiet time by a beach or lake? A massage at a spa? Sitting in a library or going for a walk outside? It may include your passions or hobbies (see above) but since the time for those is minimal, stick with an environment as opposed to the activity itself. Make sure there is some version of your “place” near your PA program.

6. Learn How to Study

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but prior to PA school, I really didn’t know how to study. I made it through high school honors classes and undergraduate courses by listening in class then cramming a night or two before. I graduated summa cum laude with a bachelors degree in biomedical sciences and minor in public health, so naturally, I was narcissistic enough to believe I knew how to study. Let me just correct the record by stating I was wrong. Everyone learns differently, so take this with a grain of salt, but if I could go back to my pompous self, I’d give “me” a good shake and explain that you really have to review your notes the day you take them, not the night before the test. The early fall months were the hardest because you would have two or three tests in the same week which mimicked some of my hardest undergraduate finals. “Sucktober” earned its name for basically being four “finals” weeks.

  • Get organized. Figure out what note-taking method works for you. Written or typed, word document, google drive or ever note. I loved Microsoft one note, I’m a categorizer and it works for my brain, plus I could make tables on the fly and it automatically dates everything.
  • Figure out how you retain information. Being fed through a firehose is the analogy of PA school that you will hear, and it is 100% correct. You should know what study method works best for you. I have always said it’s not the material in PA school that is tough, it’s the volume. You likely won’t have time to make flashcards, so if that’s what works for you, choose which topics you make those flashcards for wisely. Some people in my class recorded lectures and listened later, I had a two and a half hour drive on weekends so I listened to podcasts or lectures to make use of my time. I’m also a visual learner- nowadays there are lots of great drawings representing medical processes (medcomic and PANCE prep pearls are my favorites). Whatever it is, DO NOT try to figure this out on the fly, once you start your program, some programs will remove you if you fail a certain number of tests, and you want to avoid that if at all possible.

7. If You’ve Completed the Above, Here Are Some Other Things You Can Do:

Here are some other things you could consider reviewing prior to beginning your PA program:

  • Read this: Surviving PA School – I may be a little biased, but if you are a planner like me you will really appreciate this book. “Surviving PA School” walks you through the different phases of becoming a PA from Pre-PA School, Didactic and Clinical year, Passing the PANCE and Life after PA School. The Author, John Bielinski, is a PA entrepreneur and leader in the PA world, owns CME for Life, American Medical Seminars, iPANRE, wrote a book, hosts a podcast, youtube channel and has a ton of free CME review courses about PA relevant topics. He has a serious passion for our profession and was kind enough to provide several books for the blog’s giveaways! You can see my interview with him PA Leadership Q&A HERE.
  • Check out some other great books on our resources page: PA Books

I hope you enjoyed this list! Congratulations again on your accomplishment, the PA profession is an amazing one, welcome to the team!

-C

Courtney
Physician Assistant, Owner and Blogger at EmpoweredPAs.com. Currently practicing in a Pediatric Emergency Department, overseeing and developing evidence-based clinical practice guidelines with teams of amazing people, supporting and mentoring Pre-PA and PA Students, with a hope to advance our profession and give PAs the tools and resouces they need to advance their careers.