For some people, PA school can be some of the most stressful and anxiety-ridden years of their lives. On the journey to becoming a Physician Assistant, this is something every student will have to cope with.

Following a few of these tips may make your marathon of a journey feel like a walk in the park.

Don’t beat yourself up

In the words of a wise Michael Scott, “Greif isn’t wrong, there is such a thing as good grief…ask Charlie Brown.”

Sorry, had to slip something from The Office in here.

Don’t let yourself grieve over one bad exam, frankly, there isn’t enough time to do that. Instead, find what you could do better for the next exam and apply it.

In medicine, you’ll find that you’re not going to be perfect all the time. The lesson here is to try to learn something from every mistake made. If this is speaking to your current state, we both know you’re going to have to start studying for the next exam right about now, so wipe your tears, dust yourself off and get to it.

Work smart, not AND hard

Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re either already started your program or you are about to. If you somehow aren’t aware, completing a PA program is going to take some hard work. With that hard work, you also have the ability to work smart.

Utilizing your time wisely from the start is one of the best pieces of advice you can receive.

While you’re in class try to absorb as much information as you can, and resist the urge to stray off into Facebook/Instagram land. Some of my classmates have found that blocking out specific times to study has helped them with staying on task.

Finally, find what study methods work for you most effectively and go with it. For some people, studying with a group helps them learn the material most effectively, for others it may be flying solo.

Different classes may require different techniques whether it be practice questions or Quizlet, so keep yourself open to exploring other methods in mastering exam material.

Exercise

This is one I wish I would have followed throughout graduate school. When starting my program I cut back on my exercise regimen heavily and I wish I would have just stuck it through. I cut time out of my gym routine and chose to study instead when in the end I probably would have had better time on task and less stress, had I just gone to the gym.

Even if you only have 15 minutes, I advise you to donate even a little time to fitness, it will undoubtedly pay off.

I agree with Pat’s sentiment’s here. Neglecting my running habits or gym-going habits was a big regret of mine during school. While it may seem like you don’t have time for a quick workout, there is time if you prioritize it. Exercise is a great stress reliever. 

John Elkhoury

Physician Assistant

Plot out time for yourself

When you have some advanced knowledge of future time off, plan out some days for yourself (or you and others). This can give you the ability to plan something to look forward to. Think of it as creating a “light at the end of the tunnel” for yourself and others.

Remember its much easier to think of a bunch of little hills to conquer with a reward at each, than just the gold mine at the top of the mountain.

Confide in others

If you’re feeling a certain way, chances are there are others feeling that same exact way. If you think an exam or a specific question was unfair, talk to people about it; chances are, there are MANY others that feel the same way.

When you have the ability to vent with others, it can help ease your stress and give you some time to cool off. After all, venting to faculty, while caught up in the moment, could cause you to run into professionalism issues.

Practice what you preach

If you have your sights set on a career in primary care, you’re going to have many patient visits talking about health maintenance and stress management. Find healthy methods that help you manage stress and run with them.

I cited exercise previously because it was something that helps many with stress and also provides numerous documented health benefits. But if Netflix is something that helps relieve some stress, toss on an episode of Parks and Rec before you go to bed.

Making stress management a priority for you is critical to a healthy journey through PA school (and life for that matter).

Surround yourself with positive people

Wrapping up with a somewhat sentimental message. Surround yourself with people that lift you up not bring you down. If you find someone is causing you more stress than joy, give yourself some distance. We all know you don’t need that extra burden while dealing with the rigors of a demanding program.

Patrick McDevitt

Patrick McDevitt

Physician Assistant

Pat is a currently practicing PA in Pennsylvania. He holds his MMSc in physician assistant studies from Salus University as well as a BS in exercise science from West Chester University. His clinical interests include trauma, critical care, and interventional radiology.

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