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PA School Survival Tips from First Year PA Students



PA School Survival Tips from First Year PA Students

Congratulations!! You’ve been accepted into PA school and you are one step closer to your dream of becoming a PA. Suddenly, the anxiety starts to settle in as you realize you have no idea what you should be doing if anything before you start, and what are the best resources to utilize once you get there.  So, I sat down with two first year PA students to give some ideas that will help make your transition into didactic year a little easier. 

first year pa students

Andrew is a 1st year at Ohio Dominican University (@ajgaietto) and Gaby ( is a 1st year PA student at University of Detroit Mercy. I learned so much from them as teaching and study methods for PA school have changed since the dark ages when I was a first year…okay it was 2003 but still, I am no millennial. As most of you know, I attend the Yale University PA program. I asked them the most frequently asked questions I receive from those who are entering into their first year of a PA program and they graciously shared their experiences thus far.

1.Did you do anything to prepare prior to starting PA school?  

Both Gaby and Andrew agreed that taking a vacation was a great idea and I could not agree more. You are about to enter the most intense year of learning you can imagine, so spend time with your friends and family or take some time away to set yourself in the right mindset.  Both also connected with their assigned 2nd or 3rd year PA student “buddy” or “pals” to ask questions and learn the ropes.

As for myself, I had been out of school for a few years prior to starting PA school but had taken some pre-requisites like anatomy as a post-graduate. I made sure to familiarize myself with the program I was attending, but did not review any material prior. I had to move to another state, find a roommate and make sure I was settled in which was my number one priority prior to the first day.

Some students will review anatomy since some programs start with anatomy/physiology, so it is nice to have a refresher prior to starting.  Others have mentioned reviewing some pharmacology to get a jumpstart since there is so much to learn. Andrew and Gaby also mentioned trying to implement meal prepping and a healthy routine prior to starting school but struggled the first semester. More on this below so keep reading…

2.  What is the one thing you cannot live without in PA school?

Andrew: Quizlet. I had never heard of Quizlet before but it is actually an awesome, free tool to create your own online flashcards. You can also search through their library. Through Quizlet you can share flashcards with others or create quizzes out of them.  

Gaby: Her MacBook laptop and Osmosis Med. I adore my MacBook so I am with her on this, but I also had not heard of the Osmosis Med platform. It includes over 1500 videos to reinforce topics, a flashcard library and board style test questions.

Michele: Headphones and a dry erase board. I love classical music when studying and to keep me focused without distractions. I am such a visual learner that videos would have been awesome for me especially with topics like endocrinology or nephrology, but these tools were not available at the time. So I would re-write things on a dry erase board, study it visually, wipe it off and start again.  It may seem archaic, but it certainly worked.

first year pa students

3. What do you think are the three best resources for didactic year?

Gaby: Step up to Medicine, Osmosis Med, and Epocrates. Step up to Medicine is a book originally written by 3rd year medical students that is full of clinical pearls, full-color illustrations, and quick tools that provide essential information in an efficient, easy to remember way.  You can get it at any bookstore or amazon. Epocrates is a mobile medical reference app that provides information on diagnoses, drugs and information on management. It requires a subscription but is at $49 for students. 

Andrew: Quizlet, Access Medicine and Up to Date.  Access Medicine is basically an online portal for textbooks so you never have to buy one or carry them around. However, if you struggle reading online as I do sometimes, you may still want to get a few.  Otherwise, this is a great way to access all the books you need during didactic. 

I agree with Andrew that Up to Date is an absolute essential for clinical practice, I use it at least once a day.  It is an online reference tool that is continually updated and provides evidence-based guidelines. It has actually been shown to have a positive impact on patient outcomes and utilized at over 90% of academic centers. It also requires a subscription, but most schools will offer it free on their computers and there is a reduced fee for students or trainees. 

first year pa students

4. How do you study best?

We all agree the amount of information that is being presented to you is overwhelming at times, so while reviewing slides prior to class is always a good idea, in reality it almost never happens due to time constraints. 

Andrew takes notes directly on PowerPoint slides during the lecture. Then he will transfer the notes onto an iPad and write notes directly on the iPad with a stylus or apple pen.  Then it’s all about reviewing, reviewing, reviewing, and utilizing Quizlet or other resources. He also admits his study habits may change depending on the semester. 

Gaby also writes notes directly on the PowerPoint slides. Then creates an outline from her notes to review and combines this with resources from Osmosis Med and Step up to Medicine. Then again, it’s all about review and repeat. Gaby has a study buddy that she works well with for studying, but for some studying with others is challenging. You have to find what works for you and stick with it. 

I personally liked to study at the library so I was alone, but not really by myself. Classmates would be there so we would commiserate on study breaks, but I never liked to compare what I was doing with them as it would make me anxious. I needed to focus on what worked for me. It helped that my now husband Dave was in medical school at the time so we would often study together. Again, like Gaby and Andrew, repetition was key for me.

Ultimately studying is a very personal thing, but understand what worked for you in undergrad, may not work for you in PA school. It’s a lot of trial and error, but you will find your way.

first year pa students

5. What is the hardest part about PA school?

Both said the first semester was the hardest.  Andrew said and I quote: “It’s like taking a drink from a fire hydrant. No breaks.” He also gained 10-15 pounds just from being stressed and not making his health a priority with everything going on at school.  Gaby, a registered dietician, also struggled with stress from the amount of information being presented and the speed at which it is required to learn it.  She too had difficulty making time for herself to exercise regularly.  For me it was not only the amount of information but figuring out how to actually learn the material without just memorizing it. I struggled with finding time to relax and travel back and forth to Albany to visit Dave.

The good news, we all agree IT GETS BETTER!!  

I woke up every morning before class and would workout in my bedroom or the apartment living room using DVDs like Denise Austin or Tae Bo..admit it you remember Billy Blanks. I wish I had the Spandex Squad back then to keep me motivated on the dark, cold early mornings in Connecticut. But it kept me focused, centered and ready to attack the day.  Dave and I found a good routine of alternating weekends to see each other so the driving was not too intense for either of us, you can read more on how to survive a long distance relationship in PA school here. With my family an hour away, I made sure to schedule time to see them as well. We all need a break, and removing yourself from a stressful environment even for a few hours just the thing you need to feel refreshed.

Andrew joined me and the Spandex Squad and was able to lose those 15 pounds. He also says he feels less anxiety, takes fewer naps because he has more energy, and it’s easier to pay attention because he’s not so tired. He has more confidence in the way he looks, which helps with confidence in other areas of life like school and relationships. He spends free time with his girlfriend, dog Oscar and going out with friends. Gaby does online workout programs like we do and has been consistent with her programs and nutrition. She has more energy, stays confident and promotes healthy living always on her Instagram.  She dedicates time to her husband and dog Marley to help her relax, and is a new homeowner!

Gaby also admits she sought the help of a counselor during her rough patch which was a game-changer for her.  She wants to make sure you all know it is OK to ask for help, and I could not agree more. I cannot stress enough how important it is to take care of yourself during the first year and beyond to reduce stress, anxiety and keep you focused. But know that you do not have to struggle alone, you have resources. Reach out to your program, instructors, classmates or a counselor to get you through. It is not a weakness to ask for help, rather a sign of strength to recognize you need help and allow others to guide you through. 

first year pa students

6.  Did you buy all of your equipment new?

For Andrew his school presented a package which most programs do, and you can buy your ophthalmoscope, stethoscope, white coat, and all the other fun things you probably will never need like a tuning fork, for a flat price.  This is what I did when I was in school as well. Nowadays however, you can find almost everything you need gently used which is what Gaby did.  eBay, resale from upper classmates, you do not have to break the bank buying your supplies. As far as my recommendations, check out my PA school survival guide.

There are so many questions that will come to mind as you approach your first day of PA school. The most important things to remember are: 

1-Ask for help when you need it. Utilize your resources in your program, other students, social media and me! I am always here to guide and counsel you along the way. You can book a time slot here.

2-There is going to be a lot of trial and error before you find your groove. Be patient with yourself.

3-Keep yourself healthy physically and mentally. It so easy to let your health slide when life gets overwhelming but doing that will only perpetuate the stress and anxiety of PA school.  Easy to access workouts, support and nutrition are key in keeping your brain and body in shape.  Join us on the Spandex squad and I can show you how to fit it all in.

A BIG THANK YOU to Andrew and Gaby for their time and information! You can find them both on Instagram @ajgaietto and send them a thank you and tell them The Posh PA sent you!!

For More Information

For more information about income share agreements or questions about PA life in general, you can contact Michele at or from her contact page.

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