It’s Not Just You: The Pressures of PA School

Feel Burned Out or Stressed? You Aren’t Alone

January 31, 2020

By Anisa Laska, PA-S

Before I started PA school at the University of Florida, I heard it was like drinking directly from a fire hose from a lot of people. Trust me, they meant it! My time between undergrad and PA school was short – only two months. Suddenly, I was in this rigorous program and feeling a little underwater (no pun intended).

At the start of PA school, I experienced daily emotional strain along with many of my classmates. We spent many hours in the classroom and tons of information was being thrown at us. It was daunting. I remember going home afterwards, feeling burned out and questioning whether I belonged in this field. I wondered if I was cut out for the PA profession. Anxiety increased in intensity. During PA school, you’re expected to do more critical thinking and detailed application, as well as always maintain professionalism. It was a lot different than undergrad. Adapting to this new environment was stressful, on top of learning a vast amount of material that I was expected to know in a short period of time.

[What I Wish I’d Known Before Didactic Year]

Trial and error
It took a long time of trial and error before I figured out how to deal with my stress. I worried that I wouldn’t have enough time to study all the material once I got home around 5 p.m. I worried and complained that I wasn’t prepared enough for exams and quizzes. I considered sacrificing sleep, hobbies, seeing friends and family, and all other obligations. For many weeks, I felt burned out, as PA school was not getting any easier. We started having two or three exams each week. After a few emotional breakdowns, I decided I needed to change my perspective and act on the way I felt. I started to schedule time to work out and cook dinner instead of napping and eating takeout. I would go to sleep at 10 p.m. every night. I started making some time to hang out with friends, and I visited family about once a month. Now, I wake up every morning listening to music that puts me in a good mood. I wake up grateful that I am attending a prestigious PA program. Let me tell you, mindset is everything, and changing it will shift your life in a positive way. After I changed my perspective, I figured out what worked for me: being disciplined, planning ahead of time, and taking care of myself.

[Volunteering in Immokalee, Florida: Finding My Purpose in Medicine]

Realize it’s normal
For other PA students who may feel similarly, I think they need to know that it is normal to feel somewhat shaky at start. This is the adjustment period, the time when you adapt to the new environment and get to know the people you’re going to spend the next two years with. It is important to have a good support system, so I would advise talking to your classmates and checking in with each other. Here at the University of Florida, I am proud to say that all of the students support each other and everyone is willing to help. At the end of the day, you’re in it together and there’s no reason for competition. I’ve also found it helpful to get to your faculty and communicate regularly with them. They play one of the most significant roles in our experience and having a good relationship with them facilitates discussion and learning.

[PA Program Prioritizes Student Mental Health]

Prioritize your mental health
It is important to prioritize your mental health.  It affects how we think, feel, and act. We cannot help others if we don’t help ourselves first. If there is one piece of advice to give future students, or students who are currently lost and struggling to find balance, it is that you should know yourself. Know your boundaries and know when you need to take a break. Not everyone will study at the same pace or same style as you. Do not compare yourself to your classmates. Everyone comes from a different path and their strengths and weaknesses are not yours. So, learn to be confident in your own skin, breathe, and enjoy the beautiful journey. PA school is something we all worked hard for, and we should be glad we’re here.

Anisa Laska is a first-year PA student at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. She is originally from Albania. Emergency Medicine is one of her top interests. She can be reached at [email protected].

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