An Inside Perspective

Caitlyn McBride, '18

PA School Student

What did you do to prepare for PA school?

My preparation for Physician Assistant (PA) school began my freshman year at Ithaca College in the fall of 2015. I was fortunate enough to have had an idea that I wanted to pursue a career as a PA, therefore I was able to focus on completing my prerequisites as early as possible. 

In addition to coursework, PA schools place a heavy emphasis on hands on experience. I was able to achieve this through my internship as well as various shadowing opportunities. I started shadowing after my freshman year and continued every summer until graduation. I shadowed both physicians and PAs which allowed me to see the overlap and differences between the two professions in action. 

Towards the end of my sophomore year I began working with Professor Julie Boles, my internship advisor, who help me secure an internship that would both fulfill my graduation requirements and prerequisites for PA school. I was incredibly lucky to have had found the perfect internship that is still helping me every day in PA school. I spent a year and a half working as a Resident Aide at Longview, the senior living community located across the street from campus. There I cared for over 30 patients with varying medical, and physical needs. I learned how numerous different conditions manifest such as dementia, cancer, heart failure, and multiple sclerosis. 

Outside of the medical field I was also involved in various extracurricular activities. I was a member of IC’s Women’s Gymnastics Team as well as Leadership Academy and the Student Athlete Advisory Committee. These experiences helped me grow in leadership and team environments while learning the importance of commitment, hard work, and supporting others. I am surprised every day how my student athlete background has helped me in various aspects of PA school. The medical field is incredibly team orientated and my school, Thomas Jefferson University, offers the unique opportunity to work in these team environments before graduating. Since starting school I have worked with pharmacy, physical therapy, nursing, family counseling, and medical school students. Being able to understand how to approach, organize, and lead a team has proved immensely valuable.  

Throughout my current classes now I find that I am able to connect the new information I am learning back to my previous coursework, shadowing experiences, and my time at Longview. 

Describe your day-to-day life in PA school? 

There is no such thing as a “typical” day in PA school. Unlike Ithaca where there is a set class schedule for each day, our schedule changes week to week. While this took some getting used to, I have found that I enjoy the variety. On an average day I get to school about an hour and a half before our classes start. My friend and I always meet during this time to quiz each other and study. We then spend the day in lecture learning how to diagnosis and treat patients. Many times guest lecturers from Thomas Jefferson University are brought in to teach us their respective fields. These faculty members always bring a unique and insightful look into the ever changing medical field. On Wednesdays, we spend the afternoon in lab applying all the diagnostic techniques we have learned which is always a nice break from the classroom. After class ends I, head back home to study for the rest of the afternoon. Since I live far from campus I don’t typically stay late in the library but I am fortunate enough to have friends that FaceTime me into any study sessions I may be missing. As long as we stay focused we are very productive!

Describe your day-to-day life outside of PA school? (or your job)

As PA school has become more and more demanding, I have found that it is also just as important to take time away from studying. Before my gymnastics career at Ithaca College I competed for TNT Gymnastics. On my way home from school every day I pass TNT where I am fortunate enough to have a close relationship with my previous coach. Any day I have an extra minute I visit my old coach and teammates. It is always nice to help out or distress by jumping on the trampoline. Anytime I need a practice patient I can always stop in to practice my diagnostic techniques on the girls on the team. Everyone got ear exams the other day! 

Is there anything that you wish you would have known before entering PA school? (or your career)

I began PA school at Thomas Jefferson University nine days after graduating Ithaca. I was still in disbelief that I was done undergrad and already missing my second home and best friends. As soon as school started so did the stress, during the first few days my brain made the realization that someone’s life depended on my ability to learn, understand, and remember all the information taught over the next 27 months. Thankfully our medical director reassured us that this feeling is normal and that we all deserve to be here. This was incredibly helpful for myself and my classmates to hear and has continued to stick with us. 

Is there anything that you’d go back and do differently?

Since I decided to enter PA school directly after graduation I did not have as much extra time to gather hands on experience as some of my classmates. While I am extremely glad I decided to go directly to school, and that is what worked for me, if I did have more time I would have gathered more hands on experience in different medical fields. Although I only worked hands on care in one setting I am thankful Longview granted me the opportunity to care for a wide variety of medical conditions which crossed all aspects of medicine.

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Haley Coleman, '14

Life as a PA

What did you do to prepare for PA school?

   First, there were some academic things that I needed to take care of before I could apply. I went back to school at night to take the required courses for most PA schools that I had not yet taken. I also took the GRE which most programs require. They also all have some sort of entry medical terminology test during the first few days of starting the program that you have to pass to continue on. I didn’t take a specific medical terminology course, but was given a book to study from by my specific program that I had to work through in the months before school started.

   Aside from the classroom stuff schools also require that you have patient contact hours. My specific program did not require as many hours as most programs do, and I was able to use my hours volunteering at a summer camp for kids with cancer as my hours. Most of my friends that I met in school were ER scribes, CNAs or EMTs before coming in order to obtain the hours.

   Lastly, I would say I spent a lot of my energy into writing the personal statement piece of the application simply because it holds a lot of weight. I invested a lot of time going back and forth with good proofreaders and friends who know me well and we’re able to offer extra thoughts and edits.

Describe your day-to-day life in PA school?

  During my first year of school I was in the classroom full time and all classes were mandatory attendance. This meant being in class on average from 8am-5pm with exams usually 2-3 times a week. Each day we had different classes broken up differently, but in each class we would be talking about the same overall topic (i.e. in clinical medicine we would learn cardiology pathologies, in diagnostics class we would learn about electrocardiograms). My program started in may and we took 18 credits the first semester and 25 each for the fall and spring semesters. A typical day meant waking up at 5am to study before class, going to class for the day and then coming home getting in some exercise and then studying until about 11pm.

  The second part of the program is all clinical work where we would rotate through various specialties and medical settings. Each rotation would have a comprehensive exam that was mandatory to pass for graduation. My program was set up so each clinical rotation was 4 weeks and we had 11 of them, including 3 electives. During the second year our schedule varied depending on the rotation, but we would return to school every 3 months to take the exams. Mandatory rotations for all accredited PA programs are: Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Women's Health, Emergency Medicine, General Surgery, Behavioral Health, and Pediatrics.

Describe your day-to-day life as a PA?

   Today I work as a PA in a Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. My day starts with sign-out of patient events from the person that was there overnight. Then I "pre-round" which really means just doing some data collection on each of our patients (overnight labs, vital signs, and critical events). Then we will round as a team with the attending and write our notes for each of the patients. The rest of the day is spent talking to families about care plans, doing procedures, checking in on patients and adjusting medical care as patients progress.

Is there anything that you wish you would have known before entering PA school?

   This is a tough question because I'm not sure anything quite prepares you for PA school, so I don't know what I could have known that would have made it any different. However, I do wish I had known how I studied best beforehand. The first few months are a lot of figuring out what works best for you before you fall into a routine.

Is there anything that you’d go back and do differently? 

   I believe my experiences prepared me well for PA school and that everyone's various backgrounds adds to your overall education, but with that said I do wish I had more clinical experience before I went off to school. My friends who were CNAs or EMTs just had a wealth of knowledge about basic nursing and triaging skills which I had to learn. But no one was particularly ahead of the game in all fields, so if your experience differs from most of your classmates don't worry! -- we were always learning from each other as part of our education.