Things to Know Before Entering PA School


PA school will be a new challenge. To make your life a little easier when you get there, there are a few basic things that you should know. Of course, it would be awesome if you knew a ton about medicine before you even stepped foot into PA school, but really, the majority of the information you should take with you is skills to help you succeed. PA school will teach you medicine.

1. How to study

This beautiful skill is usually kind of a gimme from undergrad… Maybe. Those of you who had to actually try to get good grades as an undergrad are at an advantage here. Everyone has to work hard and study in PA school. People who have never had to study for a test are often in for a rude awakening. Those of you who know how to study hard and efficiently will need to maintain those habits in PA school.

2. The role of a physician assistant

I hope when you apply to PA school, you know what you’re getting yourself into, but if you don’t, definitely make sure you know before you enter PA school. The physician assistant career is awesome and rewarding, but too many people expect one thing and are disappointed when they enter the field. Know what to expect out of the career before you get there. It’ll also help keep you excited and determined throughout PA school. It’s nice to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Shadow, shadow and shadow some more. Shadow different specialties and in different settings. Do this not just because it’ll look good on a resume or application, but because it’ll help you in the long run.

3. Familiarity with different specialties

You don’t need to know which specialty you want to get into the day you enter PA school, but you should at least know a thing or two about the different fields. About 6 months into PA school, you’ll be scheduling your clinical rotations, including your electives. Usually you don’t know what field you want to get into exactly by the time that scheduling comes around, but it is helpful to have some idea. Here again, it is helpful to shadow, shadow and shadow some more.

4. Organizational skills

Time management is a must when you get into PA school. Everyone says when it comes to good grades, sleep and a social life, you can only pick two in PA school. Erroneous! If you are good at organization, you can and should have all three. Make a schedule and keep to it. Finding balance in your life will be important for your sanity.

5. Coping mechanisms

You will inevitably have struggles through PA school. That may include poorer grades than expected, difficult rotations, class drama, life drama, etc. Once you jump over one hurdle, you’ll get another one. You can’t spend valuable time and resources on struggles; you need to just keep running. You need the wherewithal to get you through. That is something you should bring with you to PA school.

6. Medical terminology

Would you want to take classes in French when you didn’t know French? Probably not. So you probably don’t want to take classes in some foreign medical language either. I took a medical terminology class in undergrad and the summer prior to PA school I read another medical terminology book. I considered myself blessed when my classmates struggled with bridging the language barrier for the first few weeks of class. Medical terminology is not difficult to learn and surely you can pick it up in your spare time if you have a medical terminology book, but it’ll make you that much ahead in the first few weeks of PA school when you speak the language. First step- talk the talk; second step- walk the walk.

7. Basic anatomy and physiology

If you’re going to PA school you should be required to take an anatomy and physiology class, but keep that knowledge fresh. There is a lot of brand new information getting thrown at you through PA school-medications, diseases, tests, equipment, examination techniques/findings etc. Also inevitably there will be more anatomy and physiology than you touched on or recall from undergrad in PA school, but the stronger your foundation, the better off you’ll be.


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