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Careers in Health Care: What is PA School Really Like?

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Careers in Health Care: What is PA School Really Like?

May 28, 2015
Getting into physician assistant school is an impressive feat itself, but what’s it like once you’re in? We spoke to two students at the University of Utah Physician Assistant program about how tough PA school really is. They give some sound adbvce for staying focused on the coursework and the absolute importance of holding onto the things that matter to you, including staying active.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Think you got what it takes to survive physician assistant school? Find out the details of what life is actually like for PA students next, on The Scope.

Announcement: Navigating your way through med school can be tough. Wouldn't it be great if you had a mentor to help you out? Well, whether you're first year or fourth year, we've got you covered. The Med Student Mentor is on The Scope.

Interviewer: So you may think a career as a PA sounds pretty cool. But you may be a little nervous about what the schooling looks like to get there. We're here with Mia Gah and Kelly Moylen, current student at the University of Utah P.A. program, who can help you make sure PA school is the right fit for you. Hey ladies, thanks for joining us.

Mia: Thanks for having us.

Interviewer: Absolutely, so what does a typical day look like in PA school?

Kelly: Well let's see, we are typically in school Monday through Friday, from 8 to 5. So it's like a full-time job. We do get an hour at lunch to go outside and run or keep studying. Whatever kind of works for you. You're up early and you're at school and your brain is firing all day long. And then you come home and you just kind of got to keep with it and it goes all night long as well and it's just one day at a time.

Interviewer: Wow, that's intense.

Mia: I would say that time management is key. I know that some of my classmates study less during the week and study more on the weekends, and some study more on the week days and less on the weekend, and really finding what works for you is important and just not getting behind, just staying on top of it and managing your time well is key.

Kelly: Neither of us have family with children, but there are students in the program who have multiple children who are also managing a home life with kids. And it's doable but it's totally time management and I think it's really important to not let go of the social things that drive you and keep you sane. And not let go of the physical activities that drive you and keep you sane.

Interviewer: What would you say is the most challenging aspect of PA school?

Kelly: I would say it's the amount of information and the rate at which we get it and are expected to obtain it. It is like mini medical school. They go for four years and they get the summers off initially. We go for two years constantly, no summers off all day long, and it is everything shoved in really quickly. So really taking that all in and being able to process it knowing like I need to know this stuff, I don't just need to memorize it. I actually need to know this stuff. So making sure that you're really sinking it in.

Mia: Managing time is hard as well. It's hard to stay on top of it and still make time for family and friends and fun.

Interviewer: Sure. So on the flip side, what is the most rewarding part of being in PA school?

Kelly: Knowing that it's all going to be done in two years and then I'm going to be able to be a PA and I'm going to be able to be a health care provider at the level I've been after for so long. And to be able to be hands on with patients all the time. And to be a positive part of our health care system that seems so messed up at this time and how can we help get people healthcare who need it.

Interviewer: Great. And what's been to most rewarding part for you, Mia?

Mia: When I think about it, and I think about two years down the road, it's not all over. It's really just the beginning. But that is exciting and I would agree with Kelly and that we are a part of a profession that is unique, and exciting, and we can do so much with it. And so that's kind of... that's always in the back of my mind. And it's going to be a career for life and I am so excited to have that.

Interviewer: How many hours a night are you up working on homework, how much work do you have?

Kelly: I would say that kind of depends on the block that we're focused on at that time. Summer semester was our first semester and that seemed to be this real trial by fire. All of a sudden your whole world changed. This semester I feel it's going a lot better. I feel like I'm able to study maybe a little less because I'm studying in a more focused manner. And I'm more in tune with what I need to do to be successful, where in the summer it was like oh my goodness, what have we gotten into and how do we take this all in. I try to get in at least an hour of studying every night of the week. Sometimes I get in a little bit more and sometimes I get in a little bit less, but then I really hit it hard on the weekends, is where I tend to do most of my studying.

Mia: I would agree. I feel like I pretty much study the same and then on the weekends, say I get four hours in, I feel like I always need to study more. So, you get three hours in, you get six hours in, I feel like it's never enough.

Interviewer: How do you balance that work and play?

Kelly: You just have to. You just have to do it to stay sane, you absolutely do. And so we're lucky in that our building is located just where there are some trails right behind the school and to have a set of running clothes and to go run at break or to go for a bike ride or just to go for a walk. I think getting outside is huge. We sit all day in the same exact classroom. So just having a change of scenery is huge. If school gets out early or you have an opportunity to go have a hike or go do something fun outdoors with the family and friends, you just have to find the time to make it work because it's so key.

Interviewer: And is that what you personally do for your own stress relief is hiking and being outside, or what do you do?

Mia: Yeah, I like to run, I like to bike, I like to spend some time on the trails with my dog. Kelly and I went for a bike ride after class a couple weeks ago with another classmate. So I think we're pretty good at doing that.

Kelly: And you can study and run and bike at the same time.

Interviewer: You listen to recordings? [inaudible 00:05:54]

Interviewer: You do a little pop quiz when you get to the top of the hill, okay tell me about whatever and then you can process it a little bit, so you can, you know...

Mia: I listen to lectures when I run.

Interviewer: My goodness, it never ends,

Mia: I know, it never ends.

Interviewer: So what qualities does it take to succeed in PA school?

Kelly: A lot of time management is definitely, I think, the key to it. I mean you could be a super smarty pants, and if you can't manage the time, I think you might explode. But to be driven, to take the knowledge in, is I think being driven is key.

Mia: I think working well with people is really important. We do a lot of hands on, practicing the provider-patient role and that's a big part of health care. And so you need to have that drive, you need to have that care.

Kelly: And I think working together is key, too. Like everyone has their little study groups that they work with. And sometimes they're bigger and sometimes they're smaller depending on what's going on and I personally don't think I could do this on my own. And I don't know that anyone in the program feels like they could solely do the studying and everything that you need to do on their own. So being able to work with people is huge.

Interviewer: PA school isn't exactly cheap, so how do you balance student loans and debt with your day to day life and do you find yourselves living that typical rogue grad-student lifestyle that you hear of so much?

Mia: We were just talking about this actually. And I think it just depends on the person and their financial situation. and their background, and you make it work. You somehow make it work. Everybody can do it.

Kelly: Yeah. By the tine you've gotten into grad school, you've played the "What is the financial aid available to me?" I think folks often know what that is. So taking whatever your financial aid situation is to the office and presenting it. And if you have a lot of need, you're more likely to get more, and using what the school has to offer knowing that when you're done you are going to be making more money. And you're going to be able to pay back in the end.

Mia: It's less daunting than a four-year program.

Interviewer: Less to pay back.

Kelly: There are scholarships available. There's bigger and smaller things that you can apply for. And I think if you're someone who needs that extra to look for them and to apply for them, because they're out there, too.

Interviewer: So both of you are in PA school right now, but what's next for you, what's on the horizon?

Mia: PA school.

Interviewer: More PA school.

Mia: Yeah.

Kelly: I have a strong desire to practice in primary care upon graduation. In lots of areas there are clinics for under served, and I think that is a huge population that I would like to help.

Mia: I feel the same. I worked in a small clinic for three years that served a lot of undocumented and under served. And I could definitely see myself working in a similar clinic. But clinicals are coming next year and we have a lot on our plate, and I'm excited to see what else is out there for us.

Kelly: Our program has a primary care focus, not all PA programs across the nation... some of them have specialties and such, but I think too, until you get into the clinicals and really see what all the different aspects are like, maybe you get there and you're like, "I love cardiology, who knew?" But and that's kind of the beauty of being a PA is that you can be like, "I actually really like cardiology and I want to do that." And then you're like, "Gosh you know what? But actually I would like to do some dermatology." And you can change and do that.

Where as, as an MM you have to do a residency and do a whole new set of training in order to change a field. And it's kind of the joy of being a PA is that if you decide that your life moves in a different direction, you can go with that and really harness it.

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