What it’s Like to be a Single Parent and PA Student during a Pandemic

“Hard, But Not Impossible”

October 27, 2021

By Caitlin Harrison

PA school can be difficult for anyone: the never-ending studying, the amount of information required to learn in a short period of time (drinking from the firehose, anyone?), managing time, and balancing PA school with other priorities. Like being a single parent. And then add a global pandemic.

Jason Breen, PA-S, with daughters Veronica and Emma
Jason Breen, PA-S, with daughters Veronica and Emma.

Established routines and COVID-19 adjustments
Soon-to-be-Quinnipiac graduate Jason Breen, PA-S, is a single father to two daughters – Veronica, 19, and Emma, 17. He has been in school full-time since they were toddlers and has also worked full-time for the last eight years. Veronica is at the University of Connecticut taking pre-med classes, while Emma is a senior in high school is planning to go into the PA profession. Veronica and Emma are also certified EMTs.

“A lot of people think because your kids are older, it’s easier. You would be surprised how much more you have to watch over your teenagers. We try to have dinner together the same time each night—if I have a late class and have to miss dinner, it bothers them and they text me asking when I’m coming home,” said Breen.

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Rebecca Mortensen, PA-S, with daughters Abby and Lydia
Rebecca Mortensen, PA-S, with daughters Abby and Lydia.

Rebecca Mortensen, PA-S, is in her didactic year at Mercer University in Georgia, and is a single mother to Abby, 7, and Lydia, 3. On a typical weekday, she gets her daughters ready and drives them to their father’s house, where Abby attends second grade online. Lydia is not in school yet. Their father works from home and can assist with online learning and childcare. Mortensen was also able to hire a nanny to help while she is in school.

“I’m an older PA student. I went to med school before PA school. I didn’t finish and then got married. Then I was a chemistry teacher and I figured out what I wanted to do—work in healthcare. Abby has seen the process, she has seen my classrooms as a teacher and seen me as a student and studying for tests,” said Mortensen. “I wish we could do our schooling together, but I know it’s better for her to be with the nanny and her father while she is in school.”

While both Breen and Mortensen’s daughters are attending school online, Ra’Shun Conner’s daughter Dania, 5, attends first grade in-person. Conner would prefer that Dania participate in virtual learning, however having Dania attend school in person works best for Conner while she attends pre-clinical rotations and clinical classes at Samford University in Alabama. Conner’s mother, Joanne, and godmother, Anna, are able to help with childcare when needed.

[COVID-19 and PA Students: Adapting to Emergency and Lending a Hand]

“I miss out on some social aspects of PA school like getting to know my classmates. I’m the only parent in my class and I’m the oldest in my class. They call me the mom of the group, and I say I can be the auntie or big sister,” said Conner. “My classmates are supportive and will send me outlines or notes to lighten my load, especially now that I have to be up early for rotations.”

Ra’Shun Conner, PA-S, and daughter Dania
Ra’Shun Conner, PA-S, and daughter Dania.

Hard, but not impossible
Conner is also able to assist the Samford University PA program with prospective student interviews. She likes to ask if any of these potential students are also parents. “I explain that it will be hard, but if you utilize their support system, it is something that can be done,” said Conner. “It’s okay to ask for help when you need it, and don’t try to do everything on your own. You can do it; it’s not impossible.”

Breen agrees. “Don’t let school overwhelm you. It’s not easy for anyone. When you’re a single parent, you have to adjust schoolwork around the time when you have your children. Some people have their kids seven days a week, some have them a few days a week. I have my girls seven days a week and I make sure I set time every day, even if it’s just an hour, to spend time with them and keep open that line of communication. I explained to them early on that I’m in school so we can live a better life and they seemed to appreciate that. The key to getting through school is you have to allow yourself to have some free time – even thirty minutes a day.”

Mortensen adds: “Find the joy for your kid, make it fun for them, and don’t make them feel like that they are second fiddle to your school, because they are your kids and they have to come first.”

Jason Breen is a third-year PA student at Quinnipiac University. He lives in Connecticut with his two daughters. Outside of studying, you can find Breen working full-time as a Clinical Lab Technologist, hiking, and traveling the world with his daughters. They have a few more states left to complete all 50 and have been adventuring through Europe as well. You can reach Breen at [email protected] 

Ra’Shun L. Conner is a second-year PA student at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. She received her B.S. in Biology from Tuskegee University and an MBA and M.S. in Biotechnology and Bioinformatics from Cal State – Channel Islands. Her greatest peace comes with building and nourishing the character of her daughter and simply enjoying the innocence of her youth. She is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Conner can be reached at [email protected]. 

Outside of PA school, Rebecca Mortensen enjoys being outside with her two daughters. She is a firm believer in equity – in healthcare and in social systems – and she is passionate about being a voice for inclusion and diversity. Mortensen is excited to advocate for her patients in the future as a PA. She is a member of the Student Academy Communications & Outreach Committee and can be reached at [email protected].

Caitlin Harrison is AAPA’s senior manager of Student Academy and Volunteer Engagement and Governance. She can be reached at [email protected].

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in November 2020.

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