Preparing for Physician Assistant Graduate School

Graduate school can be a frightening and overwhelming time for many students. Whether you are returning to school after several years or completing an undergraduate program and immediately transitioning to graduate school, it can be a huge challenge. It is important to remember that graduate school is not a continuation of your undergraduate years. The schedules, expectations and demands are entirely different and strategies that worked previously may not be effective now. 

Physician Assistant (PA) school is without a doubt one of the most demanding and challenging courses of study. The full-time course of study, along with the extremely long hours required for preparation and examination can be exhausting and at times staggering. The following tips can help you navigate your time in PA school or any other graduate course of study.

Organize your life. The time demands of a graduate student can be stringent. To help, work from a schedule, planning class time, study time and relaxation. Make time for yourself daily. Prioritize the activities in your life. Organization will help guard your precious time and prevent you from being tempted or distracted by multiple demands. Learn to say no. Try not to procrastinate. Remember, graduate school is a temporary pursuit. 

Develop a support team. Surround yourself with individuals who are positive influences on you and are like-minded with similar goals. It is ok to ask for help. Find a mentor who can provide honest and sound advice. Find an individual to whom you feel safe venting. Have friends outside of PA school. Engage your family to provide much-needed distractions from school. Let them know that you will not always be readily available due to the demands of school. Ask them for their support.

One step at a time. As you prioritize, you will find that completing one task before starting another may make better efficient use of your time. You will gain a sense of accomplishment, which can be motivating. Keep a list of tasks and find satisfaction in checking off completed work.

Strive for great, not perfect. Recognizing that “perfection is the enemy of success” will help you manage the finite time that is available to study and prepare for class.

Practice good self-care. For PA students, sleep, diet and exercise are the first things to be neglected. When your physical and emotional health is well, you can work more efficiently and effectively.

Budget and spend wisely. Financial issues can often become burdens for graduate students. Because there are many expenses in PA school, think of ways to save money and trim excess spending. Buy used books and equipment. Packing your lunch and carpooling are other ideas.

Practice active listening and observing, take good notes, read smart. Stay focused on learning, not just your grades. Take advantage of time throughout the day to study and prepare for classes. Ensure that you feel well-prepared and can get down to work when needed. Consult your faculty to discuss strategies for learning.

Network. Recognize that those you meet in graduate school may be future employers or coworkers. Always be on time and professional. Stay connected with those you meet and show appreciation for those who help you along the way. Even a simple “thank you” goes a long way!

Believe in yourself. In order to gain admission into a graduate PA program, you must see that you have what it takes to be successful. Those around you believe in you, so believe in yourself. Avoid comparing yourself to your peers and try not to compete with others. Take advantage of opportunities to grow and learn.

Approach PA school with a positive attitude and be prepared to learn. This is an exciting time in your life and in your professional development. Take the time to enjoy it!
Get prepared to pursue a physician assistant career in healthcare with a Master of Science degree in Physician Assistant from Carlow University. The program provides a holistic and supportive academic environment that provides transformational, clinical educational opportunities in Pittsburgh and beyond, and prepares students to take the Physician Assistant National Certification Exam.

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