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Student Insights: Letter to a New PA Student

Megan McCaleb is the Joint MSPAS/MPH program 2016 Alumni & Class President

Megan and friend.

PA school requires a whole new set of study tools from your tool belt. Maybe you thought you had finally figured out what worked for you in undergrad, or while completing another master’s program. Don’t freak out, but welcome back to the beginning.

The pace is faster, the materials are more difficult, and the standards are higher. It’s okay, have your moment of freakout. But then take a step back and try and understand what Touro will help you become: Bigger, better, faster, stronger — wait wait wait . . . that’s Kanye, retract that! In all honesty, though, at the end of this program you will be faster. A faster thinker, a quicker test taker, someone whose synapses are firing and connecting more rapidly than the med students’ standing next to you on rotations.

You will also be stronger: Mentally, emotionally, and quite possibly physically (depending how many times you run up and down the stairs from Lander Hall). And, best of all, you will be better: A better person. A better caregiver. More empathic. And more tolerant, because your classmates are a diverse group of individuals who will challenge you, push all of your buttons, and who you will walk away from after three years as family.

Okay. So now that we have that settled . . . how do we get you from where you are now to graduation?

This answer will be different for each one of you reading this. Sit down and figure out what worked well for you in the past (flash cards, group study, audio lectures, whatever). Then sit down and figure out what definitely did not work for you (these might be some of the same things that work for other people). For me, what worked best was a combo pu pu platter of study stuff. I have a short attention span and needed multiple ways to stay engaged.

Class lecture was the hardest part for me, personally. But many classmates found it helpful to complete the objectives during class as the lecturer was speaking about each topic. I took all of my notes electronically and would draw pictures, funny sayings, or random tidbits of information the teacher was saying to clue me back into that time and place for when I would go back days later to study.

Most helpful for me, personally, was my study group. I cannot stress this enough . . . you will be with them more than your family at times. I really hope you like them. My study group was composed of my best friends that I could be locked in a room with for 12 hours at a time.

Some of my group was extremely interested in the pathophysiology (the how and why a body organ worked); others, like me, were interested but did not have the type of brain to wrap my head around those concepts. What’s great about a study group is if you can explain a complex idea to a fifth grader, than you yourself truly understand the material. My brain, on the other hand, is really, really good at taking difficult names or diseases and developing mind tricks to help with rote memorization. This comes in handy for drug names and side effects.

Anyway, it may be helpful to find a group that you, 1) like the people, and 2) have different strengths and weaknesses. Conversing about a topic out loud and getting lots of input about it, you end up remembering more than you ever thought possible.

Lastly, like I stated before, pathophysiology is not my strong suit. Sometimes a lecturer would jump in assuming we knew the basics of an organ or topic. I probably knew them at some point, but that was years ago. So, in order to play catch up, I would try and watch basic YouTube videos online prior to the class or right after lecture. My personal favorite free medical videos are from Khan Academy. They helped me grasp the basics before mastering the next level material.

And to answer your question, yes . . . the friends that matter from before, your partner if you have
one, and your family will all still be there at the end. It will not be easy to maintain these relationships, but they will understand. The good ones will talk you off a ledge before your first End of Rotation Exams. The best ones will remind you that you have nothing to apologize for. You will miss birthdays, forget anniversaries, and sometimes not seem like your former self.

Do your best, though, to keep some semblance of a work/life balance and do what you can. For me, it meant a 9 p.m. Skype date with my spouse every night while away on rotations. Without fail, no excuses. That was our time. We also made our relationship a priority and traveled every other weekend to see each other. Sometimes that meant both getting in our cars and meeting in the middle.

Do what works for you. But please know that others before you have felt these struggles, and others after you will, as well. Then it will be you reflecting on how you made it through this process. Reach out if you need support (with school or mental health). Touro University has tutors, learning specialists, and counselors that are available if or when you need them. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.

Best of luck!!

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