Want to be a successful as a pre-physician assistant student?  Then start cultivating good habits now.

If you become an effective pre-physician assistant student, before you know it, you’ll be successful (non-pre-) physician assistant student.  Borrowing from things we did, saw others do, or feel are vital in PA school, we present here the top 5 habits that we think will make you highly effective. 

None of these items require particular expertise in science or medicine.  But practicing them will cultivate behaviors that will speed your learning and make good impressions in PA school, your preceptorship, and eventually in your workplace.  Some are things we wish we did back when we were pre-pa students.  How cool is that for you?  Our loss can be your gain!

  1. Highly effective pre-physician assistant students arrive early.  Whether for a lecture, an exam, to shadow a PA, or work to accrue health care experience (HCE), we believe this is huge.  In medicine and the working world, arriving on-time is arriving late.  Arriving a minimum of 5 minutes early does several things: it helps you settle in and prepare your mind for what’s coming; it shows others you are serious about your career and are self-motivated (you arrived early because you wanted to, not because you had to), and it prevents being late (duh).  We try to arrive an hour early for exams to refresh from notes, and to get in game mode.
  2. Highly effective pre-physician assistant students fill in the gaps.  Every day should present you with new concepts, or at least one you don’t understand well enough.  If not, you aren’t pushing yourself.  Go home at the end of the day and get better acquainted with at least one new or tough concept that came up during the day.  You don’t need to spend an hour obsessing over it; just research or review until you feel better off than when you started.  The former is wasting time, the latter is cultivating a habit of being curious and satisfying that curiosity.
  3. Highly effective pre-physician assistant students dress impeccably when shadowing or working.  You don’t need flashy or expensive clothes, but you should be appropriately attired, clean, and wrinkle-free.  It may seem superficial, but it isn’t.  It’s a very visible statement of your seriousness that speaks to your attention to detail and projects professionalism.  Between a PA who practices with scuffed shoes or a shirt tail untucked, and one who dresses impeccably, which one do you think is more likely to be told, “I don’t want to talk to a PA – I want the doctor.”
  4. Highly effective pre-physician assistant students “sharpen the saw.”  Okay, we “borrowed ” this one from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but only because it’s geniusThe metaphor is that you can saw all day long with a dull saw and only get halfway through the log, or you can sharpen that saw and buzz through it in a few minutes.  Similarly, you need to sharpen your own saw to stay at your best.  How?  Get plenty of sleep.  Exercise (our strong recommendation), eat healthy food, and take time to relax and socialize. It’ll make you happier, and a more efficient learner.
  5. autonomic pupillary response

    You gonna memorize all this? Do yourself a favor: ask "Why?" and reason it out.

    Highly effective pre-physician assistant students constantly ask “Why?”  You can’t memorize everything in medicine.  If you try, you’ll fail, and you’ll be left with a huge collection of facts that don’t relate to one another.  For example, you could memorize what sympathetic and parasympathetic arousal does to the bronchioles of the lungs (dilates/constricts), but this rote memorization leaves you prone to forgetting.  Instead, if you ask, “Why would sympathetic stimulation lead to pupillary constriction and not dilation?”  you might learn that a caveman doesn’t need much light when sleeping (parasympathetic stimulation – pupillary constriction), but he would need plenty of light when running from a tiger, especially at night when tigers are active (sympathetic stimulation – pupillary dilation).  Understand this and you don’t need to memorize anything because you can reason it out whenever you need to.

Do you do these things?  Honestly, we don’t always do them all, but we aspire to and try to, and we think the more and earlier you try, the more effective you’ll be as a pre-physician assistant student.

  • CJ July 29, 2011, 5:58 pm

    Ditto to everything you said, but I will be a dissenter on one point… the pre-exam hour “review” (for probably 90% of people, this is simply “cramming”).

    I can always tell the people who did some last-minute exam “review”- they sit at their seats tapping a pencil or foot and nervously asking the prof “can we start yet? Can I flip the page yet?” As soon as they get the green light, they whip the page over and brain-vomit all over the exam margins, writing out whatever mnemonics or diagrams or rhymes they came up with but just couldn’t commit to long-term memory. :P

    Rather than spend an hour flipping through notes and trying to get that short-term memory to work (it rarely does), I’ve found that waking up early to work out makes a world of difference. 30 minutes of cardio followed by a good breakfast = fantastic exam performance rather than sitting outside the lecture hall or exam room building up tension. Arrive 15 minutes early and slip on some headphones, and absolutely do NOT listen to the chatter and frantic quizzing going on around you. Not only does it make you nervous (“wait, did I study that?”), but sometimes the answers your peers are giving are wrong. Whoops.

    However, everyone’s mileage will vary… the ones who had the right strategy and the ones who had the wrong strategy knew equally well where they stood after we got our first anatomy exam results back. :)

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