COVID-19 and PA Students: Joe Hwang Connects with His Cohort

Joe Hwang, PA-S, Created His Own Opportunities to Help

April 20, 2020

By Joe Hwang, PA-S

Joe Hwang taking a patient's blood pressureMy class of 68 PA students and I were in our 10th clinical rotation. I was in an ED, and I had just performed my first intubation, central line placement, and ultrasound guided IV insertion in the span of one week. The following week was supposed to be dedicated to our final exams before we went out on our final clinical rotation before board reviews and the PANCE. I was scheduled for an interventional radiology rotation, which I had been looking forward to for months, when the email came.

All clinical rotations would be suspended until April 3, 2020. Our week of testing was cancelled. Questions began to surface about graduation and taking our boards. A week later, we were told that we would be finishing our curriculum online and that we would have our degrees conferred on time (though the hooding and graduation ceremonies would be postponed indefinitely) so we could take the PANCE as originally scheduled…if a testing center would be available.

These past few weeks were not what any of us could have anticipated the final steps of PA school to be. What normally would have been a regimented schedule for board prep, licensure, commencement, job applications, and interviews has been completely revamped.

[COVID-19 and PA Students: How the Pandemic Affected Me]

The strangest feeling I have had regarding these radical changes to our final month of PA school is the possibility that I may not get to see most of my classmates in person anytime in the near future. PA school is an intense two and a half years, and it just feels weird without the closure of the hooding ceremony and graduation before we all venture out on different journeys to start our careers. Sure, we will probably have some sort of commencement ceremony sometime in the future, but there is no guarantee that every single person in my cohort will be able to attend.

Find ways to help and motivate each other
My advice to current PA students is to take care of each other. Support each other. Find ways to motivate each other during this time when our routines have been upended. Throughout PA school, I’ve seen selfless acts of care and compassion that have warmed my heart and made me so proud to be a part of my cohort. One of my classmates, Carly, sent individual hand-written notes of encouragement for our entire class – almost 70 of us!

At times, we may feel disappointment that we can’t get out and help by seeing and caring for patients. But look around and see if there are people you can help.

I was a member of my PA program’s Challenge Bowl team last year, and I understand the hours of hard work and thousands of flashcards that go into preparation. When AAPA 2020 was canceled, I knew that the three students representing our class at this year’s Challenge Bowl would never be able to compete at AAPA and have the amazing experience that I had as a participant last year. But I thought about it, and I knew I could help in a small way.

I used my experience as a board review question writer and former Challenge Bowl participant to organize a quiz-style competition for the three cohorts within our PA program. I wrote 60 questions and created an online quiz so the other 200+ PA students could play along simultaneously.

I have also joined a team of current PA students and practicing PAs to collaborate on a project that consists of writing nearly 750 board review questions based on the NCCPA blueprint. The aim of this project is to enhance online learning and provide a nationwide resource specific to PA students in their didactic year and to PA students in their clinical year. I have also organized small group study sessions online so that second- and third-year PA students can work through various case studies together.

There are ways to get involved and make an impact if you think creatively! It helps break up the monotony of isolated studying and online lectures. We still need supportive and encouraging interaction, now more than ever. And soon, together, we will be able to join the front lines and practice medicine during this pandemic.

Joe Hwang is a PA student at Mercer University.

Please consider sharing your own experience on the front lines of the COVID-19 response with us.

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