I doubt there is a physician assistant out there that did not study for the PANCE. The reason for studying seems so obvious. You want to pass your boards so that you can become the physician assistant you always aspired to be. Without passing the test, you cannot achieve this dream. Studying helps ensure that you will pass the boards and become a PA. So of course you should study. We all know this obvious reason for studying, but I want to tell you about the less obvious reason.
When I graduated PA school, half of me was elated and proud of all I learned and accomplished. The other half of me was worried about the responsibility I was about to take on. After all, there were about to be lives depending on the decisions I made. I feared I would miss something. My medical knowledge felt somewhat scattered. I had spent two years trying to scratch and claw my way through PA school absorbing all of the information I could. It was so easy to miss the big picture. I knew a million facts about a million diseases, but does that did not necessarily mean I had clarity. I wondered when I patient came to me with a complaint, will I be able to draw on all the knowledge I acquired to take the next best steps or will I have difficulty pulling it all together? This question plagues many new graduate physician assistants.
When I look back at my career as a physician assistant, I remember theses insecurities. I also remember when came to an end. Though I learned millions of tid bits of information throughout PA school, the time when I felt like I learned the most was when I studied for the boards, because that was when all the little pieces of knowledge came together. When I was studying throughout PA school, I was just seeing the information for the first time. This was a time of basic exposures and memorization. I tried to tie things together, but it was challenging so there were gaps in my knowledge. When I studied for my boards, I went back through my notes, listened to lectures, read books and took practice questions all over again. This time instead of just familiarizing myself with these concepts, I was building on the knowledge I already had gained from classes and rotations and refocusing on the important concepts. I was able to detect small differences between diseases and understand the important concepts I should not miss when caring for a patient with a particular collection of symptoms. The two months I dedicated to studying for the boards did more for me as a practitioner than I could have imagined. Not only did I pass my boards, but I gained confidence and knowledge that would affect the way I practice medicine.
I will never know for certain, but based on my exam scores throughout physician assistant school, I suspect I would have passed my boards regardless of whether I spent 8 hours per day studying for my PANCE or not. That said, I still advocate for studying hard for this exam. The importance of studying for the PANCE cannot be overstated. Only two months separated my last rotation of PA school and my first job, but the difference between how I practiced medicine was incredible. I went from an insecure student to a confident physician assistant. I went from following orders and regularly missing diagnoses, treatments and important questions to being the physician assistant that would correct the mistakes of others. The difference in those two months was not the PA-C that followed my name, but rather the knowledge I gained in that time. A classmate once said to me, “what was I doing in PA school? I learned everything I know when I was studying for the PANCE.” While that is not exactly true, it can feel like that because, finally after years of pouring over text books, it all clicks.
I hope instead of dreading studying for the boards and having anxiety about failing, you can see this studying as an opportunity for you to grow as a general practitioner. Whatever reason you chose to study, I think you will see many benefits- not only your certification and ability to work in the field, but also confidence and knowledge. To boot, your patients will be glad you were dedicated to excellence during your formative years as a physician assistant.