When I signed up to write this blog post last year, I never would have guessed I would be completing PA school amidst a global pandemic. As a physician assistant student (far right in the photo) used to the routine of face-to-face interaction with faculty/peers, now put in the setting of a fully online curriculum, it has been a jarring reality check. Adaptability is a vital attribute possessed by any successful PA and that aspect has been tested dramatically. Many doubts have crossed my mind on whether I can effectively learn an often-overwhelming amount of information from the confinement of my living space. However, I have personally found that these 4 principles have helped me study effectively, no matter how much toilet paper is left in the store!
- Utilize group study…. ONLY WHEN YOU’RE READY
Studying as a group can absolutely be the most helpful part of PA school! Hearing different perspectives, comparing notes, and being able to ask questions freely can be an effective way to broaden your scope of information. CAUTION: group study can also be incredibly detrimental to your studies. It is crucial that your study group has a common goal to accomplish for that session. If that goal does not line up with your idea of studying, DON’T JOIN! It is super easy to become overwhelmed by not being on the same page and ultimately can be a waste of precious study time. My goal is not to discourage you from study groups and if you prefer to self-study, that is totally appropriate. I just want to highlight the importance to be honest with yourself and not force yourself into a difficult situation.
- Find your style of taking notes
I HIGHLY recommend taking notes as a form of studying. There is a crazy amount of information to delve through in PA school and notes are your roadmap through all of it. Explaining something through your own understanding will effectively make things stick in your mind. How you take notes is something you develop over time and it will undoubtedly change throughout school. There is a dramatic difference between my notes from our first test to my notes now! My personal style is to write my notes on a whiteboard, take a picture, and download it onto my laptop. Whether you prefer typing everything, writing with paper and pencil, or printing all the PowerPoints and highlighting, find what works for you and refine your style as you go along.
- Take mental breaks
Staying focused for hours studying is a struggle for most people, including me. Going over hundreds of pages of material can seem monotonous and flat-out boring sometimes. Taking mental breaks, whether it’s 5 minutes or a whole day, are crucial to successfully retaining what you have studied. Quality should be the focus of these breaks rather than the amount of time spent. Do something that clears your mind and refreshes you for future studies. I see 30 minutes of high-quality studying as more beneficial than 3 hours of unfocused work.
- Be resourceful
This applies to the normal PA school setting but has become even more essential while navigating a remote curriculum. With a professor or peer not right around the corner for questions, it’s important to utilize the substantial online library resources at your disposal. Virtual learning has revealed a lot of the resources I was previously missing out on and it has improved my knowledge dramatically! Technology has allowed us easy access to information from remote locations, so don’t waste this opportunity.
-Mitch Gullifer, PA-S1