With it being the holiday season, I thought now was a great time to talk about the importance of having a support system during your time in PA school (or honestly, just in life). PA school is going to be one of the most stressful time periods of your life. You learn an incredible amount of material in a very short amount of time, and the expectations for your retention of this material are very high. At my program we also have additional non-medicine based classes to enhance our understandings of justice and ethics, and how to properly read and interpret articles. While this may seem easier, these classes require a lot of work and can be even more stressful on top of all of the medicine we are learning. It’s a lot to handle, and you need to do your best to make sure you’re not getting overwhelmed or burnt out.
I’ve found one of the best ways to prevent this is through having a support system, preferably someone who is outside of your class. This could be a single person, different people you use for different occasions, or simply your family. But you need to make sure you clarify with them how stressful PA school is, and how you simply need their support. Having someone who listens to you when you complain about how stressed you feel or when you’re feeling down about your ability to complete school or pass the exam is so incredibly important. You don’t want, or need, someone who is going to agree with you and tell you that you can’t do it, because there are definitely going to be days when you question yourself and whether you deserve to be there.
On that note, my mother is the biggest part of my support system. She listens to me when I am stressed and tells me it’s going to work out for the best in the end. She encourages me to keep moving, helps me come up with different study methods, and is always willing to help quiz me on material (I am lucky in the fact that my mom is an NP). However, there are definitely days that she tells me I need to get my ass into gear and get over it. She encourages me to step outside of school and go for a run, or take a shower and a nap when I’ve feeling overwhelmed. She’s been there for the days that I’ve broken down and cried during finals week about something as silly as spilling my water bottle on my backpack and it not being dry 24 hours later. And, I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have made it this far in life and in school without her support and her occasional yelling at me to get it together.
Other members of my support system include the PA-C who wrote me my letter of recommendation for PA school and a dear friend who lives in DC with me (but isn’t in PA school). Both of these individuals function in different capacities. My PA-C friend is there to tell me not to listen to the nay-sayers and to kick ass. She reminds me of how good it feels to be on the other side, and how important it is not to get caught up in any drama. My DC friend simply reminds me to have fun. She brings me out of my shell and makes me try things I never would have without her.
And, as silly as it may sound, a big portion of my support system is all y’all! It seems like whenever I have a bad day, someone reaches out to tell me how I’ve helped them. I’ve meet some of the most amazing individuals from social media, and I’ve learned so much from watching them.
I also recommend that you reach out to your advisor or professors. That is what they are there for, to help guide you and make your journey in PA school run a little smoother. They’ve been in your shoes at some point and remember how overwhelming PA school can be. They’ve all had a first patient, and made mistakes. And they’ve made it through. So ask them for advise, ask about going over material with them, and ask how they made it through. They’re going to help you, if only so that you succeed and the school looks better (but really, no matter what, you affect the school and they want the school to do well, so they will help you). Find someone you mesh well with, and constitently reach out to them. They’re not going to think any less of you for asking for help. Why struggle and cause yourself more stress when you can ask for clarification?
Outside of a support system, find something you love and stick to it. I like to go for a run or a swim because moving clears my mind and makes me think and feel better. I do better on exams when I’ve gone for a run beforehand and have cleared my mind. Often times I use my body when I’m studying and go through what I’m learning on myself (this is a GREAT trick for anatomy class). On days when I’m studying and nothing else, I take a break when I eat and watch an episode of Friends. It makes me laugh and I’ve learned that eating while studying makes me not feel well.
You have to take care of yourself during PA school by eating healthy and getting sleep, because getting sick can cause some serious problems when you go to take exams. I have classmates who have missed an entire week of lecture and then feel flustered and more stressed going into exams. If your body is telling you something, listen to it. I need a full night of sleep to function properly, and there have been days that I have gone to bed at 8pm because my body is telling me it’s exhausted and can’t function anymore. Pushing through would only hurt me in the long run, because I wouldn’t retain the material as well and I could impair my body’s ability to fight off an illness by depriving it of the sleep I need.
No matter what, you need to remember that you can make it through anything. Adversity and challenges make use stronger. But, when you lean on others for support, those mountains become a lot easier to climb.