Friday, September 8, 2017

Real Talk: Thoughts on General Surgery Rotation

So this post is extremely delayed (as in, I finished my surgery rotation in July haha), but I wanted to post it now that I actually had time to type out my thoughts I had previously hand-written. Hope you enjoy!

Seriously, how am I already on clinical rotation 2?! Time has been flying by, and I am totally not ready to be on my second rotation. Emotionally, at least. I really loved my first rotation, and I am so sad to have to leave it, especially because I learned a ton and was super interested in everything I was seeing and learning about!

Well, now it is time for my thoughts on general surgery! This should be interesting, since I was really not ecstatic about leaving endocrinology and never had a huge interest in surgery to begin with.

Day 1: No matter how many times my parents smile and ask me "aren't you excited to start your surgery rotation?!", I am really not excited. Partially because I loved endocrine so much and was just starting to feel comfortable there, and partially because I cannot see myself liking surgery. But alas, I am trying my best to go in with an open mind and really going to try and absorb all information possible because it will only help me in any field I eventually land in! After Day 1: I was oriented to the hospital I am working in, met my preceptor, saw 2 patients (compared to the 20+ I was seeing daily in endocrinology), and then was bored out of my mind for a few hours. It was exciting to see a lesion excision, but it was a simple office procedure which only required local anesthetic. Yep, on my first day in surgery, I didn't see any surgeries.

Day 2: I finally saw 2 surgeries! And actually scrubbed in on one! The second surgery (and first surgery I ever scrubbed in on) was a thyroidectomy (can this be a sign that my calling is endocrinology?)! It was a more complex case, and it took about 5 hours. The surgeon told me to get scrubbed in, so after one of the amazing nurses helped me and made sure I scrubbed in correctly, I was deep in a patient's neck staring at their thyroid and watching it come out. I didn't get to do any of the excision or suturing, but I was able to hold the retractors and help cut sutures which I was super happy about since it was my first ever true surgery. But after standing in my New Balance sneaks for 5 hours, my feet were screaming. Immediately after I was done for the day, I decided to purchase some Nurse Mate clogs because they were the only brand I've been able to find that don't feel like they fit awkwardly (more on these shoes coming up!).
Okay, now for how I honestly feel about this rotation: it's fun, but I don't think I can see myself ever doing surgery or even having a desire to do it. There is so much waiting around and not a lot of patient interaction. Maybe this is because of the facility I have my surgery rotation at, or maybe it is like that everywhere, but either way surgery isn't my thing. Yes, seeing a real life thyroid after I palpated hundreds of them in my first rotation (and questioned whether I was feeling a thyroid, their trachea, or making up things) was really cool, but as I was standing there, I found myself longing to talk to patients and to physically examine them instead of cutting, excising, and suturing.

Day 3: I saw 2 more surgeries, scrubbed in on 1 of them, and then had the rest of the afternoon free (see? more sitting around or finding myself something to do - of course I chose to find something to do though!). I eventually found an ortho PA to work with who happens to be part of the ortho surgery team. He was in clinic for the afternoon, so I hung out in his office and saw several joint injections which was really awesome! Plus, I finally got to talk with patients instead of hanging out with them while they are under anesthesia. I wasn't able to do any of the injections, but I was promised a shot (pun intended haha) at them tomorrow, and was taught how to find the appropriate spaces on several joints. PS my Nurse Mates shoes saved my feet SO much today - I walked in with my sneaks on and my feet were still hurting from the day before, but after wearing the clogs for the day my feet were barely in any pain. Definitely worth the money if you'll be standing for long periods of time!

Day 4: Today was my last day on this rotation for the week, since I will be back at my school to TA a clinical assessment lab. I am pretty relieved because I am exhausted and need a day to just relax some and get back into my comfort zone (no shame in an occasional easy day, right??). I didn't get to do any knee injections today because I was observing and scrubbed in on some surgeries.

End of Rotation: This rotation was definitely fun and interesting, and a huge adjustment coming from endocrinology where I was constantly busy! I got to see some really cool surgeries, and was able to assist in a few awesome cases. I wasn't pimped as much as I was during my first rotation, which was nice at the time (no nervous sweats for me while in full sterile attire! haha, well for the most part), but I honestly loved when preceptors actually asked me questions (even if I did break a sweat and have drips of perspiration on my face shield haha) because it helped solidify the material for me. I was able to do some joint injections and suturing (post-surgically and for lesion removals) as well. It was really fun to do procedures, and not as scary as I thought it would be! You kind of have to just go in with confidence, ask questions if you are unsure, and make sure to remember your basics that are in the back of your mind from didactic! It was really sad to leave some amazing preceptors and nurses who taught me SO much about surgery, sterile technique, and various procedures. But again, I am fairly confident that surgery is not my calling. That takes 1 of many more specialties off my long list of possibilities for after graduation.

I am looking forward to having a little diary of each of my future rotations, and deciding what I like and don't like about specific areas of practice. Feel free to let me know if you ever have any questions about my experiences! Of course, my experiences won't reflect everyone else's, but I would be happy to help in any way I can or to chat about anything PA school! :)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

7 Days of Thoughts on My First Clinical Rotation (Endocrinology)

Recently, I began my journey through PA school clinical rotations. I have to say, the transition from didactic year to clinical year was not nearly as terrifying as transitioning from working full time to starting PA school (maybe that can be attributed to my absolute exhaustion that I accumulated through didactic year? haha). However, I was still anxious, nervous, and feeling like I was not prepared for clinical rotations. Luckily, I only had a weekend to dwell on this, and was subsequently thrown right into my first rotation in Endocrinology! It's actually considered an Internal Medicine rotation (my program requires 2 IM rotations throughout clinicals), but I expressed interest in endocrine, and my advisor had an amazing Endocrinologist in mind for my preceptor. I am super glad that I mentioned this in my meeting, and I am really loving endocrine and learning a ton!

As I started rotations, I decided I'd write down my thoughts throughout the first 7 days, and I am glad I will be able to look back on these thoughts and see how far I've come even in 7 days.

Day 1: I am absolutely terrified. I am not ready for this. How did a year of classes already fly by? Did I learn enough...did I retain enough of the material? I hope they don't think I am dumb. I hope I know enough to pass the rotation. After Day 1: Well, I only answered 1 pimping question right! Out of many. I definitely feel like I barely know anything.

Day 2: Okay, I just have to remember that I know more than I think I do, and to not psych myself out. This is a learning process (after all, I am still in school!) and I should not expect myself to know everything I am asked or encounter. After Day 2: I answered 2 questions correctly, and got a "correct!" as a response! Wooo! I also can see that I am following along with the patient cases more easily than I was yesterday. Plus, I heard my first murmur and was able to identify it based on my preceptor saying "I want you to identify the abnormal finding on this patient's exam and tell me what it is". My preceptor knew I got overly excited when I confidently stated "it's a systolic murmur!" and proceeded to poke fun at me every time we had another patient with a murmur during the rest of the day.

Day 3: I was with another provider today, and got to see/hear/feel a fistula! Also learned about an insulin sensor, which is a device that continuously senses a patient's insulin levels throughout their day (and night!), and can warn diabetic patients when they might be getting into dangerous glucose levels. What a cool life-saving device! In all honesty though, after day 3 I felt overwhelmed again because I spent the day with a different provider who had a completely different style, but they were really thorough with patients and definitely knew what they were talking about! Also, I am still terrified that I am not good enough to be here/that no one will like me.

Day 4: I was with 2 different providers today, and was able to see a whole lot! I learned how to calculate insulin needs/calibrate insulin pumps, which makes SO much more sense now than it did in the classroom! Plus, I am super excited that I was following along with the providers' thought processes and actually came up with the same differentials on a pretty challenging case (pending labs to find out the patient's actual diagnosis). I don't feel as terrified anymore and actually feel like I am opening up a little more (anyone who knows me knows that I typically take some time to observe situations first and then open up and act more myself). I made the conscious decision to be myself and open up today (quicker than the norm, but time to step out of my comfort zone!!), and it actually worked!

Day 5: I'm completely exhausted from this past week, but I learned a ton. I saw my first 2 patients alone today and presented the cases to my preceptor. I am pretty proud. My preceptor was impressed with my physical exams, and I only missed 1 question that they wanted me to ask on one of the patients. They were both relatively easy-moderate cases, so it was not challenging in that aspect. But it is pretty terrifying seeing an actual patient and not simply practicing on your good friends in a simulated exam room! I was given a ton of endocrine/internal medicine topics to read up on and keep me busy for the weekend.

Day 6: I was with 2 providers again, and went to the hospital with my main preceptor in the afternoon. It was a fun change of scenery, and I got to see the inpatient side of endocrinology. While we were in the office, I answered 2 (!!!!) questions correctly in a row. Woo! I honestly don't know where they came from (one of them I didn't even realize I knew haha), and I actually answered several other questions correctly throughout the day, although I still definitely had a few swings and misses. I am hoping with time and experience, it'll get easier, which at this point that definitely feels like a possibility. I am not as exhausted as I was after last week, and I am starting to get into the swing of things with of course a lot of work to still do.

Day 7: This is actually possible. I am feeling more confident than I have been, and am not sweating up a storm (as much) when I am asked a medical question (I should've mentioned this earlier, but we so lovingly call them 'pimping' questions, as in questions that our preceptors either want us to know, expect us to know, or don't expect us to know and are just testing our depth of knowledge). I am really liking endocrinology and all of the providers I am working with.

End of Rotation: This has seriously been an absolutely amazing rotation, and far exceeded my expectations. I received my preceptor's evaluation of me, and it said that they expect me to do well in my clinical year! That is a HUGE relief, since I honestly didn't feel like I had any idea of where I was at. Preceptors often take on multiple students, so it is a nice complement when they think you'll succeed.

Real talk: clinicals aren't as scary as I thought they'd be. I was not once yelled at or told to do something I was completely uncomfortable doing, but was definitely pushed out of my comfort zone in a good way. Guys, rotations are totally do-able! Plus, if you are positive and put in the time and effort to do well, get to know patients and your preceptor and the staff in the office, it makes your time so much better! Be nice to everyone, and take on every opportunity - you won't regret it!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Influenster Poppy Vox Box!

I'm SUPER excited to share my first ever Influenster Vox Box, called the Poppy Vox Box!

I've been a member of Influenster since early February of this year, and thought it would be really cool to be able to review and receive complementary products. So I started reviewing products I've used, connecting my social media accounts, and being an active Influenster member on both their website and app. I wasn't really expecting to receive any free products any time soon, but it is such a fun concept, that I actually enjoyed frequenting the site and looking up new products or raving about my favorites! I eventually received an e-mail to complete a survey through Influenster to be on the "short list" for a box, so I completed it like I completed other reviews and "snapshots" (little tidbits of information you provide Influenster about products you use in various categories such as beauty, health, and more!). A day later, I received an e-mail saying that I was in for the Poppy box!

I was absolutely shocked when I received the e-mail. I honestly was not expecting to receive many products, if any, through the website. But I was in for an entire box! How exciting!!! I love trying out new products, and am constantly searching high and low for good quality products (especially in makeup, hair products, and beauty/hygiene products in general). After I found out I was in, I checked my profile constantly to see where my box was in the shipping process. I watched the Influenster Facebook Live video where they talked about and tested all of the amazing products I would be receiving in my first ever box. And I continued to complete snapshots and review products on Influenster.

Finally, after a lonnggggg wait (well not really, I think I was just that excited about it haha), I received my Poppy box in the mail! Unfortunately, it was smack in the middle of the week when I had about 6 hours of sleep for days and had a bunch of exams in my most challenging subjects (pharm and critical care, I'm talking about you!). I opened the box with the biggest cheesy smile on my face, and then it sat there for the rest of the week until I could actually make the time to really look through it and start the campaign on Influenster's website and app.

Sooo, are the products I received! As of now, I have not tested any of the products, but I plan on doing so very soon and posting what I think of each of them! Until then, here is what I received:

  • Nyakio Kenyan Coffee Face Polish. I am super pumped to use this. I have really difficult skin (oily, acne-prone, and of course with some dry patches here and there), and am constantly on the search for scrubs, since I feel like they make my complexion look less blemish-y and dull. Currently, I always reach for my St. Ives Blemish Control Apricot Scrub. However, I am always on the lookout for more scrubs and cannot wait to test out this product and see what I think of the brand!
  • 7th Heaven Soften Sock Masques. I think the folks at Influenster might have secretly followed me around and seen how atrocious my feet are. When I was watching the Facebook Live video about the vox box products, I was like "man, I could really use those foot masques". My boyfriend lovingly calls my feet "ogre feet" because they are constantly so rough and dry, despite my best intentions to keep them super soft and beautiful. I blame my constant use of sandals and being barefoot in the summer haha. I've never tried a product exactly like this (but I have tried foot scrub, powder, sprays, lotions, and even pumices and similar products with not so great results). I SO hope that it works so that I can go and purchase some more of these at Walmart for $3.97!
  • Rimmel Scandaleyes Micro Liquid Eyeliner. I am a HUGE fan of liquid eyeliner, especially when it comes in a fine-line marker-like form. I was literally just thinking about how I haven't had to buy an eyeliner in a while, when my Physician's Formula liquid eyeliner started to run out on me. Enter this vox box to save the day! I have several liquid eyeliner brands and types to compare this against, so I think it will be fun to see where it stands on my eyeliner lineup!
  • Rimmel Oh My Gloss! Oil Tint. Again, Influenster like read my mind or something. While the lovely ladies at Influenster were testing this product out on Facebook Live, I kept saying how I so hoped that I would be getting the pretty color so perfectly called "poppy". I mean all of the colors were beautiful, but I was especially excited about the bright and cheery red-pink color. Guys, I got this exact color in my box!!! How perfect! I've been loving trying out different lip products, including a tinted lip butter I recently purchased through the Ulta "21 Days of Beauty" sale, and I am in love with the color and the moisture it provides my lips. I've never tried an oil tint, but I am super excited to do so! 
  • Tide PODS Plus Downy April Fresh. This is apparently a new product on the market in laundry world. Although I don't do my own laundry too often (thanks mom, for putting up with me not being able to adult and PA school at the same time haha), I was excited to share this with my mom. We often use little pod-like products in our dishwasher, but have never transferred over into pod-world for laundry, so I am excited to see how these little balls of freshness work! Plus, I received a $2 coupon in my box as well, so if my family decides we like it, we are also saving when we purchase it!
  • NIVEA In Shower Body Lotion. I'm a fan of some Nivea lotion right now. I've never used an in-shower body lotion, so I am obviously highly intrigued by this product. However, I will say that I am also slightly terrified of this product as well. Back in my high school bacne days (even though honestly my skin has not changed much since then, and I still rock the acne on my face, chest and back haha), I thought it would be a great idea to try out a cute Bath and Body Works body wash. Terrible idea for my skin type. I broke out everywhere, and looked like a giant human pizza. It also irritated my skin so much, so I had a red base with a bunch of acne (a lot more than usual) everywhere. Not fun at all. Since then, I've stuck with Dove Sensitive Skin soap with lotion as needed on my legs, hands, and arms (where I don't break out). This product testing is going to be saved for a rainy day (or weekend actually), when I won't care if I have some crazy reaction to it.
  • Eva NYC Freshen Up Dry Shampoo. Ever since discovering dry shampoo, I've been obsessed. I have a super greasy head to go along with my oily face (yay), so it has consistently been a struggle for me to not look like I haven't showered in days by the end of each day (I almost always shower at night, and never ever go longer than a day without washing my hair). I started out with a CVS brand dry shampoo which I didn't like at all (it smelled weird and also made my hair look like it had little chunks of white sand dusted throughout), then moved onto Kristen Ess dry shampoo, which I absolutely love! I've noticed with dry shampoos that cheap is not effective, so I am absolutely willing to spend a little bit more on a dry shampoo now that I've seen amazing results with the Kristen Ess product. Both Kristen Ess and Eva NYC retail for around the same price (~$12), so the competition should be tight! I also received a $2 Eva NYC coupon in my box, which may sway my opinion for the next time I have to purchase some dry shampoo.
How cool is all of this?! I really cannot wait to test out these products for the many reasons I listed above, and then some! I will be sure to share my honest opinion about each of these once I've had some time to try them all out. Be sure to check back!

Disclaimer: I received these products for free for testing products through Influenster, but all opinions are my own. I will always provide my 100% honest opinion. 

@Influenster #PoppyVoxBox #Contest


Saturday, March 11, 2017

7 Tips to Improve Your Physician Assistant School Application (& My Acceptance Story)

applying to PA school

Hi all!

[Disclaimer]: My apologies in advance - this is going to be a long one! Scroll on down to the bottom of this post (the 2nd floral photo) if you'd just like some application tips that really worked for me &, I'm convinced, was what got me acceptance letters to my top 2 PA programs (the second time around)!
So today, I want to share with you a pretty personal story: my PA school journey, from deciding I wanted to become a PA to actually being accepted after quite a few trials and tribulations. Don't get me wrong - every PA student and practicing PA probably had a challenge (or multiple challenges; most probably a lot more difficult than mine) that they overcame in order to get to where they are today, but I am sharing my story in hopes that it might provide you with motivation, hope, encouragement, and actual steps that you can take to get into Physician Assistant School (again, see the bottom of this post if you'd rather skip the deets of my story)!

I was an undergraduate sophomore when I first heard of the PA profession. I initially was super attracted to the idea of being a healthcare provider, but not having to be in school for 4+ (but actually 8+) years after graduating with my bachelors degree. I also loved that I would be working on a team of providers and would be under the wing of a physician that I could get second opinions from and discuss cases with. I was so attracted to the PA profession that I obsessively researched everything about becoming a PA. I took notes on the pros and cons of pursuing this career (versus going to medical school or getting a PhD to do clinical research). I decided that the PA profession was an ideal fit for my personality and professional goals. I researched how to apply to PA school, along with probably hundreds of programs. I made excel spreadsheets of PA programs I was interested in, and their requirements (such as prerequisites, cost, GPA requirements, location, healthcare experience requirements, and basically anything I thought I would need to know to compare and apply to programs in the future). And then I decided to take my efforts from behind a computer screen to actual real life. I helped start up my college's pre-physician assistant organization and became an executive board member. I found a clinical research position where we focused on obesity and healthy lifestyle change approaches. I started taking prerequisites that also coincided with my major requirements (neuroscience). 

Everything was going great. I felt like I was making progress toward my dream career...

And then I attended a pre-health advising appointment. I went to a large, urban school, so it took a few weeks to actually get an appointment after spending hours completing a required online portfolio through the pre-health office. I walked in, and was excited to have someone help me figure out what I am doing well and what I can work on in order to get into PA school after graduating. I sat down and gave the advisor my portfolio along with a few other documents so that she could assess my progress. She skimmed everything for maybe a few minutes, continued looking at it in silence, and then said "based on the material you brought in, you aren't going to get into a physician assistant program".

I. Was. Stunned.

She went on to tell me that they had many other pre-health students that had better grades, better experience, and were overall better applicants than I would ever be, and that she only choose the top students to be reviewed for a committee letter of recommendation from the school (I initially thought a committee letter would look really good on my application, but have since completely changed my mind - I got in without one!). She recommended that I consider a post-bacc program, since I did not have straight A's in my science classes (I had a decent amount of A's, but plenty of B's as well). I thanked her for her time as my words quivered, and walked out of there crying. I thought my dreams were never going to happen - I mean this message came from a pre-health advisor! I immediately went to another one of my advisors, an honors program advisor who knew me relatively well. I broke down in her office and told her I wasn't ever going to be a PA and that I was devastated to learn this. She talked me out of a dark place for about an hour. She told me it would be okay, and that I was a hard worker and that was what would help me achieve my dreams. 

It was then that I decided to never go back to pre-health advising and to create my own path to success.

I continued progressing toward fulfilling program requirements while gaining some experience in somewhat related fields, since I had a pretty hard time finding shadowing experiences. I continued as a clinical research assistant, I did some academic coaching (basically like a mini academic advisor and counselor), I was a teaching assistant for several courses, I tutored in science classes, I continued volunteering on the e-board of the pre-PA organization in addition to being an active member and e-board member of the university's Habitat for Humanity and a leadership organization. And of course, I tried to fit as many pre-requisites in my already pretty packed class plan in order to graduate in 4 years.

Early in my senior year, I decided that there was no logical way that I'd be able to apply to PA school and be accepted immediately from undergrad. I needed more experience, and still had a few classes that I needed to take for several programs. I also wanted to take the GRE, and did not want to sacrifice my undergraduate grades in order to study for a standardized test that would be waiting for me whenever I felt prepared to take it. For the rest of my senior year, I continued relentlessly keeping up with all of my classes, jobs, internships, research, campus organizations, and friends/family. I basically had my time planned down to the hour. I spent weekdays on attending classes, working, organizations, and clinical (and some animal) research. I spent most of my weekends camped out in my university's tech center (hello soooo many computers & room to spread out studying!), which I fondly called "club TECH" (heh...that was the club I spent the most time at on weekends). And then of course gave myself 1-2 breaks at night to spend time with friends. However, other than taking a class or two that fulfilled PA school prerequisites, I wasn't actively doing much else to move forward career-wise (other than running around gaining more experience in a bunch of things). 

When it came time to find a full time job, since I'd be a college graduate soon, I searched near my hometown for health-related jobs that would give me some additional experience for PA school. I submitted maybe 3 applications, and landed a full time job as a mental health worker...and then got a call back for a part time direct service professional position working with children who have autism. Neither was 100% perfect or "ideal" (from what I understood at the time) healthcare experience for PA school, but I figured these 2 positions would get my foot in the door of healthcare-related positions. Then began the journey of working roughly 70 hours a week between my 2 jobs for about 6 months. I was a zombie, but I made quite a decent amount of money (that I barely spent because I only worked and slept - except on coffee every day) and racked up some health-related hours pretty quickly.

Then I decided I needed to finish up a few pre-requisite courses. I still needed microbiology for every program I had on my excel spreadsheet, and was considering a few other classes as well. While I searched for somewhere local to take this class (and while I worked 70 hours a week), I put together my first CASPA application (the centralized application that many PA programs use so that you only have to submit 1 application to many schools). I figured I'd apply to the 3 programs that I had already fulfilled all requirements for (except micro, which I would have completed by the time PA school would start). I had already had a draft personal statement prepared from a writing class I took my senior year of undergrad, so I figured I would compile the rest of my information into CASPA, send it to 3 programs, and hit submit! 

It took me much longer than I anticipated to complete my CASPA application, and I had a lot of questions and things that I needed to figure out before submitting my application. Talk about a complicated process, but once you're finished, you have a complete and detailed compilation of basically everything about you (academically and professionally at least!). My advice: plan ahead & give yourself plenty of time. I gave myself 1-2 months, but just was completing random sections whenever I felt like it and did not really have a great game plan. I was kind of expecting I'd be accepted to maybe 1 of 3 programs, but I was okay with that because I just wanted to get in somewhere.

My first round of applying to PA school: accepted (0); offered interviews (0); denied (3).

I was so upset. That pre-health advisor way back when was potentially right. Maybe I wasn't good enough or smart enough to get into one of the most sought after careers in health care. I had no idea what to do. I was embarrassed. Ashamed. Upset. Had no direction. I kept working, spent some time moping around and wondering what I should do, and eventually made the conscious decision that I would pick myself up out of this rut and move on. But the only thing I wanted to move on to career-wise was becoming a PA. Many discussions were had with previous professors, past supervisors, advisors that I became close with, close friends, family, and my boyfriend (whew! it really was a lot of people and a lot of discussion with some extremely wonderful and supportive people).  I was encouraged to continue pursuing my dreams and that nothing worthwhile comes easy. Well, mostly. Someone relatively close to me pretty matter-of-factly told me that I wasn't smart enough to become a PA (without even knowing anything about my grades, experience, etc - goes to show you that some people are just jealous or not out for your best interest...and no one needs that kind of negative influence in their life!). I decided to ignore the negativity and worked with the positive people in my life to improve myself, my experience, and my application. I felt like if I could just be offered an interview, I'd be able to show an admissions committee who I am and how I would be a good fit for the profession.

Ultimately, many discussions and additional research made me decide to take 2 more summer classes before applying again for the next round. I also found a new job that allowed me additional health care experience which was the closest I've been yet to working near PAs! Many thanks to my cousin and her husband, I discovered the beautiful yet intense and stressful position as an ER scribe. I moved around my schedules at my other jobs so that I was a call-in mental health worker, part time direct service professional, and part time scribe. I know - what was I thinking?! Still not sure...well actually I wanted to be in PA school that bad

While taking 2 summer classes, I mainly worked with 2 previous professors (a writing professor, and a neurolinguistics professor/clinical researcher), a previous academic coach supervisor, and a previous principal investigator that I did clinical research under. These absolutely amazing people, whom I will forever be grateful for and probably never be able to express how much they mean to me, helped me on various aspects of my application. It literally took a village to help me put my best foot forward as a 2nd time PA school applicant! They helped me write my personal statement, edit and finesse my experience and descriptors, gave me tips on how to determine which schools to apply to, gave me tips in general for applying and how to put myself in the best light, encouraged me, encouraged me, encouraged me. Seriously, I would have never been able to get through this without so many people helping me and encouraging me along the way. There were so many tears shed, so much self-critical behavior which could have ended very poorly, but these angels kept me afloat and pushed me to get to where I wanted to be.

I chose 6 programs to apply to for this round after going through several of my extremely helpful tips below. These programs weren't chosen on a whim, and I actually dedicated some time to most of these programs outside of simply reading every detail on their websites (again, see below). I also applied earlier in the cycle in hopes of having a better shot at being offered an interview. I was definitely more hopeful, but also still extremely critical of myself after hitting 'submit' for the second time on my PA school application. I remember my boyfriend, B, telling me this one day after I had probably been saying self-destructive and demeaning things for a few days...or weeks: "Any program that doesn't offer you a seat in their program doesn't know what's good for them. You're the most hard-working person I know, and they would be crazy not to accept you". 

About 2 months after submitting my application, I received my first interview offer. At my top school. WHAAAAA?! I am pretty sure I was cheesing and prancing around that entire day. 

I attended my interview, and was absolutely a ball of freaking nerves. I relentlessly prepared for this interview and made sure I had an idea of what I wanted to say, and also wrote down a few questions I had for the interviewers. I was interviewed by 2 program professors, which was intimidating, but they were super nice and welcoming. They probably sensed how intensely nervous I was haha. I interviewed, got a tour of the program facility (again - I had seen it at a prior open house as well), and then thanked everyone I met and walked to my car. I felt okay. I reviewed my interview responses in my head and thought of a few instances where I could've answered better, but it was done. And I felt like I did pretty well. Once I got to my car, my stomach dropped. I forgot to write and submit essays that they told me to complete after touring the facility! I ran back in and told the secretary, and thank goodness she allowed me to finish off my interview.

Then, I waited. Seriously, the amount of waiting you have to do as a PA school applicant can be daunting. I started loosing hope. 2, 3, then 4 weeks rolled by and still no response on this school's decision. Then one day, I was laying around on a day I had off from work when my dad came up to my room and told me "you've got mail - and it's a big package!". I hadn't ordered anything recently, so I knew exactly what this was. It was my decision letter. My heart was pounding. I showered in about 30 seconds, got dressed, and ran downstairs to open up my mail. It was a folder containing the school's logo. Inside acceptance letter!

I was officially accepted into PA school!

After that, I was literally on cloud 9. I definitely was smiling for about 2 weeks straight after that, and was super excited to go to the ER and scribe (more than usual - I always enjoyed learning more about medical diagnoses and management of patients in the ER). I was going to be a PA! It was surreal. It was surreal for probably the next 6 months until I actually started PA school.

After my first acceptance, I received an interview for my other top school that I was interested in, and interviewed there. I was so much more confident. I again prepared, but I wasn't as nervous, and felt like I interviewed a lot better (the interviewer even said to me that she really liked me and saw me truly succeeding in their program). I got a call a week later that I had been accepted, and was ecstatic!  But that also meant that I had a decision to make between my top 2 schools, which is not a bad decision to have to make, but still difficult. More on that in a future blog post!

So...basically that is my extremely long story about how I was told several times that I wouldn't achieve my dream of going to PA school and becoming a PA, but how I persevered and made it here! I want everyone to know that even if it seems impossible, it is in fact possible with enough hard work and dedication. If you want it bad enough, work hard enough, keep at it long enough, it'll happen. I'm an example of how this was true in a profession that is pretty difficult to get into (my PA program had a roughly 6% acceptance rate for the cycle that I was accepted in!). This can also be true of any other dream that you might have, even if it isn't PA school. I hope to encourage at least a few people who are in pursuit of what they want in life.
And now, for the main attraction: 

7 Steps that You Should Take for your Best PA School Application!
  1. Research, research, research! I talk about this in my story, above, but make sure you do your research. Research programs, program requirements, cost, and any other factors that might affect you. Keep notes, lists, spreadsheets - whatever will help you that you can reference throughout the process! Make sure that programs you apply to are a good fit for you both personally, academically, and financially. You don't want to waste your money on a program application fee if you don't meet all of the requirements!
  2. Take pre-requisite classes, and get good grades. Do whatever you need to do (except cheating - that is never a good route to take) in order to ace not only the class but also the material - it'll only help you in PA school! I personally was not a straight A student in undergrad. And that is OK! I had all B's and A's in prerequisite classes, and only had a decent GPA. I had to retake a class (general chemistry I, and I still am okay pretending it is not a real subject) after getting a C the first time around, and I got a B my second time. I know, not the greatest, but this is one of those subjects that I just really don't fully understand and don't think I ever will - math and mathematical equations really are not my thing.
  3. Find a few advisors, professors, health care professionals, or role models that can help you get to where you want to be. Again, see my long story above, but I utilized many many people as resources and support. I had a writing professor critique and help me perfect my personal statement throughout probably 15+ meetings or emails back and forth. I spoke with a former research principal investigator that I worked for via phone, who helped me decide how to approach choosing schools and how to present myself in a better light on my applications. I met with a past supervisor who helped me with my personal statement and also advised I put my face out there for schools I was interested in (through attending open houses and PA program events). I had a past professor review my entire application, critique it, and give me suggestions and encouragement through all of the challenges I was facing. I had friends and family who had no idea what I actually needed to achieve academically and professionally, but who supported me whole-heartedly and encouraged me continuously. I had friends and family who also looked over parts of my application and helped me find positions that exposed me to further health care experience. In my experience, as a hard worker (but not necessarily the next Einstein), you need to create a multifactorial support system like this for yourself. If someone isn't supportive or helpful, then find someone who is. It took a lot of trial and error to find the truly amazing professionals and academics who helped me through all of this.
  4. Gain as much clinical experience as possible, and be creative about it. I still to this day have never shadowed a PA. I don't personally know any PAs (well now that I am in PA school I guess I kind of know my professors haha). I found it practically impossible to work my way into this profession without having contacts. However, I gained a lot of really great experience that has been extremely helpful for me as a PA student. I know what it is like to deal with people who are going through a mental health crisis. I know how many medications some people are on, and how complicated dosing schedules can be. I know some basic medications (mostly psych meds) from my mental health experience. I've briefly seen how a doctor observes and creates a treatment plan for a child with autism characteristics at a young age. I know how challenging it is to work with a young child who cannot talk or express their feelings. I know how a behavioral intervention treatment plan for a child with autism is carried out. I know how clinical research works and how to talk to patients about specific healthy lifestyle changes that they can make. I know how to talk individually with people and how to ask questions and help someone arrive at a good plan of action for their academics (which can be related to how to interact with patients, how to motivate them to work toward health goals, and how to break more complicated ideas into easy to understand and initiate plans). All of these experiences are ones I mention in my story above, and none are 100% perfect experiences for PA school. In fact, most of these positions I've held are not on PA program websites as "preferred experience". However, I eventually did some ER scribing for both doctors and PAs which was an invaluable experience and has helped me tremendously in my understanding of a PA, and how to diagnose and treat my hypothetical patients in class. I highly recommend scribing if you are having trouble finding additional health care experience!
  5. Have a well-rounded application, including volunteer hours, belonging to organizations, part time work, extracurriculars, and/or academic-related positions while a student. Again, discussed above. But find yourself a club that fits your interests (can be a pre-PA organization or a non-profit that you like or both!). Become a volunteer tutor in a science subject (if you can teach a subject, you also understand it better!). Become a TA. Find a job that will allow you transferrable skills, as mentioned in #4. Do something you find fun that is unrelated to becoming a PA (or whatever your dream career might be). I joined a symphonic band and picked up my clarinet after 5 years of not touching it once since high school! Playing clarinet came up in both of my PA school interviews, and I assume the interviewers enjoyed hearing that I was interested in something other than bumping up my health care experience and boosting my PA school-related resume. 
  6. Visit programs that interest you. At the very least, you will be able to tell if you like the program, some of the personnel (hopefully some professors or people you can potentially be working closely with in the future!), the location, and the overall vibe you get while there. Hopefully they'll give you some useful information about the program, and hopefully you will be able to decide if you want to spend a decent amount of money applying to the program you're visiting. Anything else you can get from visiting programs will be certain additional bonuses! The program that I am in now actually had me fill out an information form after attending an open house, and told me to call them once I submitted my application so they could look at mine before other applications coming in at the same time. I received interview offers at 2 other schools that I attended PA school open houses for. Some programs don't have the time or staff power to look through every single application and appreciate you showing that you have a specific interest and investment in their program! Another added benefit: I was able to talk to some of the programs about my application and was able to ask if they had any tips or advice for improving my application (I visited all programs between cycles so that I still did not yet submit my second time applications but had already submitted and heard back from my first round - I did not necessarily tell them that I was a second time applicant, but simply asked if they had any advice or if they would be willing to critique my application material).
  7. Write an outstanding personal statement...and put in the time to get it there! Again talked about above. I spent probably the majority of my free time for 6 months writing my second cycle personal statement. My first one was garbage, and it was because I did not put in nearly enough time. I am not the world's greatest writer, and I hate writing about myself in a personal statement fashion (I hate feeling like I am bragging about myself, and I usually tend to way downplay my experience). I sought out a lot of outside help with my essay, and for the majority of the editing process I worked with a writing professor I had in undergrad. She really gave it to me with critiques - I actually balled my eyes out several times in her office. But she was so sweet, helpful, and motivating and pushed me to write about myself in my own unique voice and in a way that shed light on the amazing experiences and life perspective that I have. I encourage you to find someone (or many someones) to continue to critique your statement. Don't accept "it's good". You want to hear "this needs work, and here are some suggestions".
If you are able to follow these tips, I can assure you it will only help you chances of getting into PA school! From personal experience, this is what got me 2 acceptance letters and 3 interview offers (I declined the third since I was already accepted in my top 2 schools). I am certainly not the smartest person in my PA program. But I think that my hard work is really what got me here, and what has allowed me to succeed thus far (80% is a passing grade in my program, so my friends and I always say that "80 is 100%" and I use that a lot! grades aren't everything and what I strive for is to understand the material as best as possible). I hope you can find some motivation and encouragement in this post, and please feel free to ask me any questions! I'd love to help in any way I can. :) 

- xohollyd

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What I'm Up To

Well, it is only the second week of 2017, but I've got big plans! Here is a list of 5 things that are on my mind.

1. I went to visit some college friends in Philadelphia this past weekend, and it was a blast! We ate (a LOT), and saw some pretty amazing farm animals! 

On Friday night, we went to a totally unique and authentic Moroccan restaurant called Marrakesh. I was there once before during undergrad when I went on a trip through my school that basically allowed students to try authentic cultural cuisines (which was amazing not only because I was able to try so many different foods that I would be afraid to try otherwise, but especially because it was free!).Walking up to Marrakesh, you can easily mistake it for another row home. There is a sign above it, but the door is locked! Once you knock, a greeter opens the door for you in what I would assume to be traditional Moroccan attire. They greet you, then lead you to a table (which is actually like a couch). The atmosphere is dark, almost like it is candle-light and without electricity. The walls are covered in patterns and fabric. You sit at a small table with your dinner mates, and the server then comes over to wash your hands before you begin eating. You actually don't use much silverware for your meal! After washing your hands, the server places a towel over your lap, and brings out your first (of many) shared courses. My friends and I had so much delicious food, which included some yummy chicken that fell right off the bone (even with pulling it apart with a piece of flat bread - I have no idea what it is actually called), couscous, lamb,  a sweet egg and meat pie, baklava, and some fresh fruit. And of course with our meal, we had some wine! It is such a fun experience going to Marrakesh!

On Saturday, we took a day trip to the Farm Show. There we saw pigs, goats, ducks, chickens, alpacas, cows, horses - basically every farm animal you can think of! We also ate some delicious food. My favorite were the fried vegetables - it was the best mix of healthy and unhealthy I can possibly ever imagine, and I swear I will be dreaming about those delicious pieces of broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, and onions! At night, we went to my friend's house and had a the frigid weather. Not really sure what we were thinking, but it was really fun!

On Sunday, we went for brunch because I had to get back that night to get myself together for work bright and early the next morning. We made reservations for Cafe Lift, and while we waited we hung out at the Prohibition Taproom which was across the street. The food was SO delicious!

2. I'm attempting to soak up every last bit of my break before I go back to school next week. I worked today (yay for some spending money!), and plan on seeing friends & family and going on a little getaway with B. I'm not sure of my exact plans yet, but trips are always more fun when you don't plan and just go, right? :)

3. Even though I want to have all the fun, I'm also attempting to continue leisurely studying. I want to review all of the subjects that we already went over in my main class, Clinical Medicine. I love this class, and feel like I truly understand the material once it is taught there, so I've been following what we have already covered. I actually feel pretty good about what I learned in the past 2 semesters - reviewing the material makes me feel like I've been retaining a lot of the information! I also want to start planning my days once school begins - time to dedicate some time to my pretty planner!

4. I've realized that I may not have it all together, blogger-wise (or any other way actually! haha). So I've been researching like crazy how to actually do this whole blog thing the right way. I want my blog to be more visually appealing, have good content, and be a place to make connections with other bloggers and non-bloggers alike. But in order to do that, I need to figure out this entirely new language - so bear with me as I go on my temporary hiatus from blogging any complex content. I've already found some really great information, and I cannot wait to learn how to use a few new apps! I'll certainly be working hard to make sure I can rock this whole online writing deal while I am gone, you can count on that! And I'd be happy to take advice or any suggestions for anything blog-related. :) Feel free to leave a comment below!

5. It's a little late, but here are my 2016 top 9 photos on Instagram. I cannot wait to see what is in store for 2017!

Monday, January 2, 2017

A Day in the Life of a PA Student: Didactic Year

Hey all!

So I wanted to share with you a typical PA school day. I am in my didactic year, which means strictly classroom time. That includes mostly lectures, but some lab time as well each week. Here is a typical day for me:

7:00 am: wake up, get ready for class, pack my lunch and snacks for the day

7:30 am: travel to get coffee, then immediately to class (or just class if I am running late)

8:00 am: class #1 until 10:00 am

10:00 am: break in the day (I usually study during my breaks, or go get coffee, or study going to and from a coffee place with some PA school friends by quizzing each other)

12:00 pm: eat lunch while studying

1:00 pm: class #2 until 3:00 pm

3:00 pm: class #3 until 4:00 pm

4:00 pm: another break (to eat, get coffee, study)

5:00 pm: class #4 until 8:00 pm

8:00 pm: study at the library, study at home, get more coffee, etc.

12:00 am: (but sometimes almost always later) shower, prepare lunch/outfit for the next day, sleep

...and repeat.

Some of my very colorful (then: in progress) anatomy drawings from my first semester. I used this method to study for all of my anatomy practicals!

My schedule changes every day, but I usually have 3-4 classes per day. All classes are mandatory in my program, and if you miss you have to write a 10 page paper on the material. Ain't nobody got time for that! So I really strive to be early to classes, and at the very least like to be there 5 minutes early to get settled in.

Sometimes, we go straight through with classes, but typically don't get out until 3 or later (but usually later, between 5-8). Most of the classes are in a lecture hall, but 1-2 times a week we get to venture into the lab (where we practice clinical skills on each other - so much fun! but it can also be painful sometimes haha).

my hand: a few days after a friend of my successfully placed her first IV

There is a whole lot of studying involved every day, but I usually take some time off on Friday or Saturday nights to spend time with family or friends, or to spend some time alone. PA school can be draining, and sometimes you just need to sit in silence (or with some background music) and veg out!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

a new year & new beginnings

Happy New Year's Eve!

2016 has been a great year for me - I started PA school and passed 2 semesters of classes, which I am extremely proud of. My big girl career is off to a great beginning and I cannot wait to see what comes next!

With a new year comes new beginnings. I know, it is such a cliche, but what better time to kick old habits and start new ones?!

In 2017, I have a few goals for myself. Over the years, I've learned that I like to set extravagant goals that I usually don't reach, so this year I am trying something different and setting more manageable goals for myself.

Basically, I want to manage my time better. Of course, PA school kind of forces you to manage your time well or you will definitely fall behind. I have been succeeding in all of my classes, so that must mean I at least have some pretty good time management in the study and learning department. But I would like to improve my time management outside of the realm of school. I want to have more time for exercising and taking care of my body. I already gave myself Tuesday nights each week off for Symphonic Band practices, since that is literally one of the only hobbies of mine that I feel like I can enjoy without a nagging guilt coming over me - making time for creating music gives me a sense of calmness and clears my mind. I would also like to give myself a little bit more time to myself to do whatever is calling me at that time. PA school is insanely stressful, and that means needing a definite time to relax, even if it is once a week every other weekend. I can remember definite times in the past 2 semesters where I procrastinated and was not as focused as I could be while studying. I want to make the most of my study time so that I can have some me time back. Finally, I want to be able to get a little bit more sleep each night. Again, going back to procrastination, when I procrastinate, I don't sleep as well. And we all know, sleep is important!

So how do I plan on improving my time management skills? Well, I am super excited about this new planner from Target! It is a monthly/weekly planner made by Sugar Paper, and I am in love with the layout. It has your typical days per week sectioned off so you can write any notes in there, and then it has a page full of to-do check boxes. They are my absolute favorite to use!

In the past, I always penned in my own checkboxes for each day, but in PA school at least, it usually always takes a lot longer than 1 day to complete a task (maybe my tasks are about as manageable as my past New Year's goals?? - something to definitely look into), so this planner should help me with being organized and reminding myself of weekly instead of daily to-do tasks. This planner is also a little bit larger than my past planners, so I am hoping that I can fit all of my color-coded chaos better than I did in my last planner. Finally, it is absolutely adorable! Motivation in itself right there to be better with my time management!

What are your New Year's resolutions? What do you want to accomplish in the next 365 days? I'd love to hear!

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