Now that the blog has been up and running for a few months, there are 2 questions that I get asked the most — “How do you study?” and “How do you get into PA school?” Since the first question is vastly easier to answer, I’m going to address it today. In the future, I plan on answering the second question in a series of different posts because the simple truth is that there is no one way to PA school. My classmates and I all have very different backgrounds and have taken various routes to the program.
With that being said, How do I study? After a lot of consideration about what I do that works, and what I have done that doesn’t work, I’ve come up with these key things. I understand the varieties of study methods ( btw, I reject the idea that everyone has ONE “learning style”) and I believe that these strategies are applicable for any focused study session. Disclaimer: the beautiful notes featured on this post were done by a senior in our program. Not me. HA, I wish. Now let’s talk about tactics that do not require special pens or incredible creativity.
Consistent Integration of Material
When you’re studying a particular subject or chapter, try to constantly integrate other information that is relevant to whatever it is that you’re studying at the moment. I developed this strategy in pharmacology and began to use it while studying for everything! For example, we recently discussed how non-DHP calcium channel blockers are one way to treat proteinuria in kidney disease patients. Do you remember what the non-DHP CCBs are? What are they primarily indicated for? What is the physiology behind proteinuria? What is your differential diagnosis when you see it? (bonus points if you drop the answers in the comments) Make room for little side notes to remind yourself of all the things you’ve learned in previous courses and keep it fresh! This doesn’t have to be comprehensive whatsoever. Just jot down what else you remember about the topic (medication, organ, signs and symptoms, etc.) at hand! I promise you will be surprised at how much you retain.
PS – To piggyback off this, write out the meaning for acronyms whenever you see them. Don’t assume you know what they stand for. It’s so easy to forget in the ocean of medical terminology and some have 2 or more meanings. Quick, what is TPN? AKA? DDx? LVH? PERRLA?!
Also do this with any of your basic lab values. Whenever you see sodium or potassium or glucose (aka all the time), jot down the normal value. This will cement the information in your mind and you won’t have to struggle to remember or count on a pocket chart each time you need it (aka every day).
I am a marathon studier. Some days I won’t study at all and some days I’ll study from sun-up to sun-down. I’ve always been this way and I just can’t change it now! This used to be a serious downfall until I discovered the Pomodoro Method, a time management technique created by Francesco Cirillo. The idea is that you can focus on anything for at least 25 minutes at a time. You start
the timer and concentrate on ONE specific task for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break to stretch, get a snack.. obsessively check your Instagram (let’s be real, yall). When the 5 minutes is up, it’s back to the task at hand. After completing 4 rounds of 25 minutes, take a longer break. I stick to 30 minutes. This prevents burn-out and tunnel vision on information that you probably aren’t retaining. My favorite timer to use is on tomato-timer.com. Stick to the method and you WILL see results.
Collaboration, Not Competition
On the very first day of class your class should set up some type of file sharing account. We use Box.com but there are plenty of options (Google Drive, etc.) Our class president Katie records all lectures and posts them in the box and classmates post their study guides, links to good explanatory videos, and anything else that will help us study. This exchange of study materials benefits the entire class. My classmate Erica makes the most amazing charts for pharmacology which I print out and then fill in with little subnotes. Unlike medical school, PA students are not ranked by GPA and performance. Lean on your cohort for help, it will make the whole process much more bearable.
Teach It To Someone (like your partner or dog..)
Lastly, on the night before an exam, I like to go through the information and say it OUT LOUD in an understandable, sequential fashion as if I were giving a lecture on it. (I do want to teach anatomy in a medical program some day!) Most of the time, I teach to my dogs or to my partner (actual listening is optional). Occasionally to my mom via Facetime. It helps you realize what you’re still struggling with when you attempt to talk through it. If you can go through your little “lecture” with no cursing or long pauses staring at the ceiling in attempt to recall, you’re probably gonna ace your exam!
If you try these techniques and have some feedback for me, please drop a comment or DM me on Instagram @coutureinclinic! I love to hear from you all.
With love and light,