One Month as a Physician Assistant Student
By Aly Siragusa, @alysiragusa
#TeamLandau member, Aly Siragusa, recently started PA school at Albany Medical College. She's received a lot of questions about her experience from her audience on Instagram and decided to also share them here.
Check out the top six questions Aly receives and her answers below!
Question One: What does a typical day look like for you?
One month into my first didactic term, and I can say my days do all look fairly similar. For my first term, I have lectures Monday through Friday, and I am taking six total courses, one course which also includes a lab. On my least busy lecture days, Fridays, I have one course from 8 AM to 10 AM. While my busiest days, Tuesdays, I start at 8 AM and end at around 4 PM with an hour break for lunch. My lectures are all virtual, with the exception of a couple of labs that are in-person but still following COVID-regulations.
I start my days between 6 AM to 7 AM, to give myself enough time to eat breakfast and get dressed. On occasion, I do utilize this time to get in some studying or other work I want a head-start on. I usually watch my lectures from my apartment (I live in the northeast, so not having to go outside is a major win), but I will sometimes go to my school’s library to change up the setting. After watching lectures, I really try to take a brain-break. Whether that means talking with friends, grabbing lunch, watching some YouTube, anything to just take a break from school. After that, it is full-on get assignments done and studying. I will be in full PA school mode until dinner but do take mini-breaks along the way. Forever a HUGE fan of the Pomodoro methodology of studying, it helps to keep you focused and not feel too brain-fatigued. Similar to mid-day I use dinner time to just take a break, focus on any other responsibilities I have to complete, watch a show, and just relax. After dinner, I go back into another shorter session of either studying or getting assignments done and try to be in bed by 10:30 PM or 11 PM at the latest.
With COVID preventing a lot from in-person activity, my days do sometimes start to feel like “Groundhog Day”. I have found it valuable to find different ways to change up my routine, such as changing the setting I am watching lectures or studying in. And weekends tend to just be the largest intervals of studying and getting assignments done.
Question Two: How difficult is PA school?
My first month down as a PA student, and in my opinion, the most difficult aspect is the pace that we are learning. The expression, “drinking water out of a fire hydrant,” is the most accurate analogy to explain it. You are learning an incredible amount of material, at a high-speed rate. Acclimating myself to this pace has been a huge challenge and I know it will take me much longer than a month to get down. I am still in the ‘testing period’, finding out what works best for me to make the most out of my hours and days.
Outside of the pace itself, the material can definitely be challenging. I think any past experiences you bring with you into PA school may make some topics easier than others. That has been the case for me, there are days where the material gets absorbed pretty easily and other days when I will find myself studying a single PowerPoint slide for over an hour. Although the material is difficult, that is not a unique challenge to any pre-PA or pre-medical student. We have been learning incredibly difficult material for years!
Question Three: How often do I study?
Since the beginning of PA school, I am studying daily, anywhere from 8-12 hours per day. This definitely sounds like A LOT, but it is definitely the standard for schooling. You are expected to treat this as your full-time job, and there is a ton of material being thrown at you to learn. And although hearing that may be daunting, studying in PA school (in my opinion) is much more fun and enticing than anything from my undergraduate education. That makes the time go fast and not feel as much of a chore!
Question Four: Do I have any free time?
Anyone who has met me knows, one of my biggest strengths is my ability to time-manage and stay disciplined to a schedule. A result of this, is I am able to make free time throughout my weeks and allocate time towards non-PA school-related responsibilities. With that being said, there are many days where even finding a few minutes to do anything besides studying is challenging. I am a massive believer, that to prevent burnout at any point in your life you need to put effort into finding the balance that makes the most sense to yourself. I work extremely hard to create schedules each day that I follow diligently, knowing that it will allow me to have time for the other things I value.
Question Five: Would I have done anything differently to prepare before my program started?
Prior to beginning my program, I had been working in the job where I was gaining patient contact hours. I left my job and moved to the area about a month before my program began. Part of this timeline was affected by COVID regulations that were required to follow to safely begin my PA program. When I moved to the area, I debated on how I should spend that month. Wondered if it would be best to start studying or getting ahead, but knowing myself, I knew the two best things I could do during that time were get rest and just simply organize myself before the program began. I adapted to the mindset of, taking on the program as it started. Personally, I felt all my experiences and education were enough to make me feel prepared for my program. Therefore, I would not have done anything differently prior to the beginning of my program!
Question Six: Is PA school what I thought it would be like?
The answer to this is a yes, and no. I had known I wanted to be a PA since my junior year of high school! As a result, I had done extensive research into the schooling and heard countless experiences and insights from PAs and current PA students. This gave me a lot of very realistic expectations to have for the schooling. For example, understanding the magnitude of the work it would be and the pace at which you are learning at. Also, I had been told that I would develop amazing new friendships with my cohort and would establish a familial-like connection with. I can definitively say both of these aspects of PA school are true, you learn very fast but do it with an amazing group of people!
With that being said, there is one aspect of the schooling that I never was expecting – just how fun it would be. I have always LOVED school but being in PA school brings a whole new definition to that. I get to wake up every single day to study what I have so much passion and excitement for.