PA School Success: Embrace Opportunities and Challenges, Relieve Stress

New Campus, New Routine, New Friends

January 18, 2019

By Joe Ballent, PA-S

UPAP's St. George cohort after a successful health fair

It’s not every day you get a chance to be the ‘first’ something.  I already missed my chance to be the first to walk on the moon, and walking on Mars doesn’t fit my timeline.  So, I went to another intriguing landscape defined by breathtaking red rock vistas: the new Utah Physician Assistant Program campus in sunny St. George, four hours southwest of the main University of Utah campus.  Having long been enchanted by the sheer red cliffs of southern Utah from years of whitewater rafting and rock climbing, my jaw almost hit my keyboard when I saw this new campus option. Good thing I managed to control myself – that could have severely messed up my CASPA application.

New campus brings new opportunities
Joining the first class at the new UPAP campus seemed too good to be true; it was a convergence of a recreation-intensive area, a PA program with a sterling reputation built over five decades, and a foothold in an area with medically underserved populations. The core of the UPAP mission is to serve these populations and that resonated with my own interests and experiences, including volunteering with veterans and refugees. I know other PA students can relate to the relief of successfully navigating the interview process in this hyper-competitive field of PA schools, and know how humbling it felt to receive that offer.

[UK Wildcat PA Students: All About the Team.]

Two didactic semesters in, the first class of 16 students as well as faculty of the St. George campus have volunteered at events like the Hildale Health Fair – helmed by Site Director Dr. Richard Bennett – as well as student-led events in coordination with the Pacific Islander Coalition aimed at macro-level health solutions for an underserved community. Our team of four student volunteer directors successfully opened extended hours at the Doctors Volunteer Clinic where we see patients bi-weekly. We are just getting started and we’re thrilled about the opportunities that are still to come.

Joe Ballent builds a guitar.
Ballent says: “No better way to decompress from a final than to get a little sawdust in your hair.”

Find balance during PA school
During orientation week, I asked our Didactic Director Sandra Stennett what commonality she saw in all her successful students. Her emphatic response was ‘balance.’ Knowing the driven personality type that makes it into PA school to begin with, it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to predict burnout. As a PA student you’re continually surrounded by people who absolutely push themselves past the limit in pursuit of success and perfection. Balance and non-school time can feel elusive, but PA students must make it a priority to take some time away from the books.

Personally, I feel lucky. At UPAP, I’ve found myself surrounded by people who keep each other in check, safe from burnout with weekly climbing trips led by our Wellness Chair, fellow student Craig Degen.  We’ve also held class cookouts, visited the local therapy dogs, gone paddleboarding, biking, and hosted a Halloween party all as means of counterbalancing the stress of daily student life.

[PA Program Prioritizes Student Mental Health.]

Relieve stress with personal hobbies
Sometimes my stress solutions haven’t involved a group outing or get-together. I’ve found it’s important to seek peace in solitude, and everyone does it in their own way. Music has been a passion of mine for years, and I’ve also found guitar-building to be an incredibly relaxing and focused means of removing myself from the stressed mentality. Having built both electric guitars and cigar box guitars, I undertook the significantly more difficult challenge of building an acoustic guitar from scratch. While there wasn’t an excess of free time to work on it during the semester, I finished it during the break after finals and have enjoyed playing it with numerous classmates. When I played a gig at the local venue in town, more than half of my class came out to support me.  Not only was it stress relieving, it was a truly joyful time with many of my favorite people, who remind me daily that we can successfully complete this awesome journey we’ve undertaken.

Additional Resources
Student Perspectives
International Rotations Expand Opportunities for PA Students
Wanderlust Lessons: Advice from Travel Medicine PAs

Joe Ballent is a first-year PA student at the University of Utah’s St. George campus. He can be reached at [email protected].

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