Is PA School Hard?
The question I often get asked is: how hard is PA school or Is PA school school hard?
Typically, my answer is that it's not difficult in the sense you might imagine.
The material is by no means hard to understand, but it is hard to retain because of the shear volume you're expected to know. The never ending influx of information is constantly battling for a spot in your coveted cerebrum. This is what people struggle with.
On a positive note, you are studying more medicine in the same time frame, than our pioneers had to study 30 years back.
Amazing isn’t it? This is something you should be proud of!
Alright, so what can we do to alleviate some of the stress?
How to Study in PA School
There are two goals you need to be aiming for while in school that are related, yet require different approaches:
- Study so that you can pass the PANCE
- Learn medicine you can use in the real world to help your patients
Like I said, these are related, but aren't always the same.
The boards will give you all the information you need to pass and they will never ask you anything which isn't clear.
In the real world, you get the information you ask for and management isn't always so clear cut.
This means, that studying for your exams is actually a lot easier than dealing with real patients.
As you can see by the chart above, 97% will actually pass the first time they take the PANCE. This should give you some confidence to know that you are statistically inclined to perform well.
If you've made it this far along the journey, then you are capable of doing well.
But, the first step is to understand the PANCE blueprint. This will be used to guide your studies throughout school and as you get closer to the boards.
Step number two is to focus on high yield information...
Learn What To Study
So many students and clinicians studying for the PANCE or PANRE tend to focus on things that don’t matter.
Let me explain…
The minutiae of each disease is not high yield and there’s a high likelihood it won’t be tested. The problem? As a student or as a clinician who's in a specialty, everything seems important!
We get countless of emails from students who are unsure how far they need to dig. For example, how much do you really need to know about atrial fibrillation?
Are we expected to know how to rate control? Yes.
You need to know that beta blockers and the non-dihydropyridines (verapamil and diltiazem) are first line. You should probably know that digoxin is occasionally used as an adjunctive medication.
But, you most likely don’t need to know the mechanism of action for digoxin in regards to rate control.
Now, I’m not saying these things aren’t important – what I’m saying is that if you want the best possible chance of passing, then you need to focus your attention on understanding the bread and butter of each disease process.
Think of the details as the icing on the cake.
Once you understand the basics of what you are expected to know, THEN you can dive deeper. That is the time to turn your attention to the minutia.
We know how difficult this can be to do on your own. Because of this, we created high yield cheat sheets that have this exact information for hundreds of diseases.
You Will Learn Medicine Over Time
If you put in the work, you will begin to retain the information.
Little by little, you will start to increase your knowledge. You will learn medicine without even realizing it's happening. Every now and then make sure to take a step back to see just how far you've come.
We often forget how much we are progressing, because we are always so focused on the day to day. Like they say, it's hard to see the forest for the trees. Be proud of what you have accomplished. Be proud of you.
PA School Is Not Difficult, But Practicing Medicine Is...
Now that we have established that pa school is not difficult, we can move to the more appropriate question.
Is practicing medicine difficult?
So, what changed? Well, a lot! Studying for and passing exams is the easy part!
But, clinical rotations will kick your butt; the reason being is that the two are entirely different beasts. It’s one thing to be given a vignette that gives you the classic presentation followed by a multiple choice question that contains the correct answer.
It is something entirely different to see a patient presenting in a way that is not classic, identifying the diagnosis, and then formulating the correct treatment plan.
This is what takes skill. This is what takes many years of practice. This is the art of medicine.
Think about it, you are practicing medicine. The more you practice, the more proficient you will become.
But, never make the mistake to think you know it all, because you won’t and never will. You have embarked on a quest to be a life long learner.
Even after school has finished, get in the habit of learning something new every day.
Need a little extra help? Click here to see how we can help.
As Jim Rohn so eloquently put it, “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going”.
Free Resources to Use During PA School
Like we've said before, the best long term strategy is to study and learn something new every day.
It's our goal to help as many clinicians as possible. Because of this, we've created a multiple of free resources to help you get ahead...
We are extremely proud of the Medgeeks Podcast which now has over 2.4 million downloads as of the time this article was published:
We publish one a new episode every week and get straight to the point to help you learn better medicine. You won't find any fluff here.
We also publish two videos a week over on our YouTube channel. We focus on one case study per week and one emergency medicine skill from a physician assistant emergency medicine fellow.
We also love to post medical pearls, humor, and a little motivation on our instagram:
Good luck in PA school and we hope to help you along your journey as much as possible!