Friday, April 22, 2016

Fins up!

None of my classmates are very good at taking a time out for our lives during this semester. We often talk to each other and find that someone woke up at 4 am to study... or went to bed at 8pm in order to get more sleep and wake up early... or stayed after school and studied for 3 hours in the library. Its tough. And tiring. I find myself constantly tired and as soon as I leave school feeling as though I have so much more energy... until I tell myself that it is time to study. I think this deep exhaustion is normal, but being exhausted is exhausting. I am not able to focus in class and I can tell I am ready for this semester to be finished.

This week a group of my classmates decided that we were going to see Jimmy Buffet. It was amazing! It was nice to pretend that school responsibilities didn't exist, even if it was only for a few hours. We drank beer, ate BBQ, and danced to margaritaville. I am tired today, but for a different reason... getting home at 11:30 does that to you! You know what though, I made it through the day, I passed my radiology quiz and am ready for the weekend :) It was the most fun I've had in several weeks. B and I got to relax and enjoy each other's company with some great people, who I normally only see in stressful school situations!

Balance is something that I am constantly working on. I am trying to find the way to meet the expectations of school, while my own personal life expectations. Sometimes I know that I have to focus on school only... but sometimes I need to make sure I am still living my life whenever I often sacrifice so much for school. Again I am grateful to be in school and wouldn't trade what I am doing for anything, but you can be grateful and tired at the same time. Which I usually am these days!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Life happens

Life happens... all the time.

One of the things that makes school so difficult for me lately is that life just keeps happening. It would be nice if all the family and friends that I left behind when I moved to NC could just pause. This past semester I have seen that real life doesn't work that way.

My family is the most important thing to me. I truly believe that I am who I am because of them. Their support and love means the world to me and I worry about them.

My dad had to have his gallbladder taken out (the 6 hours until we knew a diagnosis, we're great by the way), my so's grandmother passed away, and I am planning on getting married in a month.

All of these things are happening along with a job-like PA program. Several of my classmates have babies due this month. I cannot imagine how they are going to balance their lives with school.

Every single person in my class has their own lives, families and friends that they have had to sacrifice time for to be successful in school. But eventually those things still come crashing in to tell you that they are important! And that you need to pay attention to them.

I am very lucky to have a supportive family! I think it also helps that I moved away for school. I know that seems counterintuitive because having a close family can give you a good support system, but in my case I never have to choose between going to dinner with my dad or studying. I never have to miss my nephew's baseball game because I live 9 hours away.

I luckily still have a great support system in B-casey, my fiancee. He is a resident at UNC and therefore understands completely when I make the choice to study before anything else. He has already gone through this and knows the choices that have to be made in order to pass the class.

This does not mean that my family isn't important to me, if someone was sick and I needed to be there. I would fly home in an instant and tell school to just send me the lectures for the day and I'd catch up when I can.
For now though I can usually get away with daily text messages, calls while I'm on the bus to and from school, facebooking, and sending out messages while I'm winding down in the evenings and finished with studying. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

CASPA - The application process

How I got to PA school:

I applied two years in a row for PA School. I recommend (even if you aren't submitting this year) to set up your CASPA account. It is important to understand how long the process will take. I wish that I had taken screen shots of my personal application. I can tell you that the second year I applied the application was much easier to fill out (CASPA also updated their system) than the year before. But it was still a beast. CASPA communication when I was applying was all via facebook, which is very, very frustrating for people applying (especially if you don't already have facebook). CASPA makes their announcements about the site being down or how long it will take to verify your application via Facebook (super annoying).

I printed out my application from the year before in order to re-enter the information into the new CASPA application. I am not sure if now you can roll your information over, but because their was a new system in place I didn't have that option. This was helpful for me because I had already calculated my volunteer hours and remembered all my community service and I didn't want to have to go back through that process.

I tried to ask my reference letter writers in January. That way they had 4 months to work on the letter before they needed to submit it to CASPA. CASPA only takes letters via online. So your letter writers need to post the text into the system, which is different if they aren't used to it.

One of the big things that I wish that I would have taken the time to do (and you should do #epicfail for me) is go to each school that you are interested in applying too and look very closely at their prerequisites. There are minute differences in each school I applied to. When I applied, I really just thought oh I live in North Carolina I am going to apply to a 3-4 radius circle from Raleigh, NC and yes that sounds like the best school. Some schools, which I paid to apply to I later learned oh they don't take online labs (which I took two online courses post-grad) or they don't take courses greater than 5 years ago (I graduated and went to grad school, my undergrad, basic science courses were a long time ago). These are important things to look at.

I kept a notebook with all my schools and what I still needed to do for them. Many of my classmates kept an excel spreadsheet with what still needed to be done: supplemental application, GRE scores, transcripts, reference letters, etc.

I love that CASPA has worked in some of the schools supplemental applications into their system (not all). That is very nice and is so much easier that it is all in one place.

Most of the schools that I applied to worked on a rolling application system. Check with your school! email their admissions and see if they can provide you with any advice. I tried to apply as soon as possible, I thought that my application had a better chance of getting positive feedback and an interview.

These are just a few things that I remember working on last year!

#CASPA #PAschool #PA

enjoy my rough looking photo! Good luck to anyone working on their application this year!


There are several things throughout this last semester that have kept me motivated. Here are a few and why's.

1. The waitlist:
When I initially got into PA school I wasn't on the top 20 for my class. I was 22nd. 22nd for a 20 class group. I spent the first month and a half really pushing myself and really doubting my abilities and the reason that I was there. I felt as though I needed to prove myself. It is the hardest that I have ever worked in my life. Which is probably why half way through the semester I was feeling very burnt out. Succeeding in school with my exams and making friends really helped me to feel like I belonged.

2. Spring break
Although this may seem silly having a week break halfway through the semester is definitely necessary for mental health. I feel as though if my class didn't have a break we would have imploding on each other. Every day is so long and the exams are so stressful that having a break is necessary. I spend 8-10 hours a day with the same 20 people everyday. And we all need to pass our classes to stay in the program.

3. Meeting with the pre-PA group
Last week I had the chance to meet with the pre-PA group. It was a nice reminder of why I have chosen the path that I have and how many people wish that they had my seat. It makes you think that the small things that you complain about everyday 900 other people (the number of applicants to the program) are wishing they were sitting in your chair. Meeting with the pre-pa students made me smile and again remind me of the choice I have made to get to school, all the hard work, the applications, the hours, the shadowing... I am literally living my dream (and theirs).

4. Patient experiences
This is my favorite. Any chance that I have had the opportunity to talk with patients had made the rest of the week a more happier place at school. That is why I am here. To work with patients and help them, to learn how to treat illnesses and hope that it will make a difference. Most people who are willing to work with a student are very kind and enjoy having the opportunity to tell their story. There isn't much more that I can ask for at the end of the day.

School - life balance

This is a topic that I am still feeling out. I realized while looking back on the past month of my life that I have been really hitting the studying hard. Every weekend in January I would wake up Saturday morning, have a cup of coffee, and head upstairs to my office to work on studying. I'd spend hours reviewing the recorded lectures, taking notes, making notecards, and then using the whiteboard to replicate and try to reproduce what I learned.

I had a lot of school and not much life balance.

I think that my brain last weekend told me that it needed a break. I found that no matter how hard I concentrated I could not make myself focus on school. I needed a mental recuperation day over the weekend. I actually cleaned the house, cooked dinner, and watched Friends. It was amazing how relaxing the mundane can seem when you're constantly stressed, tired and feel as if you're running out of time.

I sometimes like to take a step back and try to see the bigger picture. I know that I will make it through PA school. I know that I can pass the next test. And I know that if I take a few hours to relax mentally, then it will not affect my grade either was too dramatically. (If anything taking a break may help me to study harder when I come back from it).


I wrote the above posting several weeks ago. Now I can add a little refresher on how I'm feeling since deciding that I am mentally burnt out. I can assure you even though I am not studying as much I am still burnt out and mentally exhausted.

I think this is because of several reasons:
1. I am near the end of the semester. The first finish line is in sight. I see the line... I am very out of breath and tired... but I am hoping that in a few more weeks I can have a few days of rest before a lighter summer semester
2. My grades have definitely uh have not been as better. I think this the sacrifice for time that I am making. Although I am not failing I am not making high B's and A's right now.
3. I need to get back on track. I took about a 2.5 week hiatus from heavy studying, but I am trying to get re-focused for the home stretch of this semester
4. I can tell that my whole class (20 students) are exhausted. Things that I know would not have seemed a big deal in January are huge now... study sessions, friendships... many of these things seem like a huge deal, but I think its because everyone is so exhausted any time a perceived slight occurs it is easy to think that everyone is out to get you.
5. I am still loving that I am here in school.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Being a student again

Hello again!

I thought I'd give an update on my classes. I was in college, undergraduate and graduate, from 2007-2013. I have taken online courses since then, but haven't been a full time student in quite a while. And I have never been a full-time student and not been working at the same time, even during undergraduate I had a part time job as a pharmacy technician in which I worked during the weekends.

As a pa student this past month I have been in classes on average about 5 hours a day. (This is an average... minimally I always have about 3 hours of classes, maximum 7, including gross anatomy). I can honestly say that although I love it, I am exhausted by the time I get home. I am lucky to have a support system in place through my fiancee, but sometimes I want to come home in sleep.

I am in awe of the parent's in my class. I know that when they get home they take off their student hats and slip on their parent hat. I cannot imagine the amount of energy that goes into balancing all of the pieces of their puzzles. (I have two lab mixes, they are not children and literally are asleep most of the day when I am home).

Being a student has been an adjustment, but a welcome one. I feel as though I have been craving intellection stimulation. I am so excited that everyday I have the opportunity to learn and grow. I know that not everyone's academic experience is like this, but I am so lucky! I have a great group to study with at UNC, 20 classmates, who are all excited to start this new chapter in their life. I am hoping that we'll all become and remain friends throughout the next two years and beyond.

I am posting a picture of my schedule next week :) It is starting to get a little more packed!

Wish me luck!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

UNC Physician assistant program

One month in! I haven't posted in several years, mainly because although my life has been full of many exciting things I haven't felt the need to journal or share the journey that I was on. To catch you up to my life to date after studying abroad. I graduated from Bellarmine University in 2011 and then went on to get my master's degree at the University of Louisville and finished in 2013. After that I spend the next few years deciding to become a physician assistant, working on my pre-req's, and applying for two years in a row while living in North Carolina.

My first round year applying to PA school did not go very far. I think part of the reason was my heart was not in it. I had so many personal issues in addition to moving to North Carolina to be with my fiancee as he started his medical residency, that my application may not have reflected the best candidate I could be.

During the year off I worked on myself, both personally and academically. I volunteered at a free medical clinic, I took an anatomy class and I started working again as a pharmacy technician as a specialized oncology pharmacy.

I got two interviews out of the 10 or so schools I was initially applying too. I am not sure if I would have gotten more if the schools that I applied to weren't some the best in the nation. Although I hoped I was a great candidate, my GPA was not the highest and I had just reached the correct number of direct patient care hours.

My first interview, in September 2015, I BOMBED! I believe that it was a combination of over confidence and excitement (hey! if you can't be real then why write). I thought that I did okay, but I will admit at one point I cried. I am not going into details, but I was very excited and when I get excited I get emotional.

My second interview was for a new program... UNC! I had made my interest know earlier in the summer for the program and did not receive the positive feedback that I hoped for, but because my fiancee was matched at UNC I truly thought it would one of the best programs for me and for us as a team.

I got an invitation to interview. At the interview they told us that around 900 people had applied and they invited 60 to interview and would be taking 20 students.

Through my pharmacy work I had set up several mock interviews in the weeks before my UNC interview. Thankfully I was much more prepared!

Two weeks after my interview I found out....... I was waitlisted! They hoped to give the people on the waitlist more information in the following weeks so although I was very disappointed I held out a small shred of hope. I contacted UNC in order to figure out if there was an update on the waitlist (about 2 weeks after the initial email) and found out that everyone had accepted their seats and that I would be welcome to try again in April. I was crushed. After being on the waitlist I thought maybe, maybe I'd still have a chance.

The day before Thanksgiving I got the good news. One of the faculty reached out to me to tell me a spot had opened up in the class and I was the next person on the waitlist. I immediately accepted (probably while talking a mile a minute about how excited I was).

My program started January 4th. I have been in class for 1 month. It is the most exhausting work I have ever done. But I can honestly say that everyday I am excited to go to class. I love the fact that I feel constantly challenged and that I am slowly learning to "drink out of the firehose."

The first month of school I felt as though I had to prove to myself (and everyone else) that I deserved that spot that was given to me. (I don't know who turned down UNC but I thank you everyday for the opportunity you gave me!) I realize the act of proving myself is all a mental mess in my own head, but I think it makes me fiercer, more determined to prove that I can be an amazing asset to the team that UNC is building.

Right now, as I should be studying for Microbiology, I am writing this because my journey it amazing. And I want to share it even if it is only with myself because I feel amazing and am loving the life I have been given everyday. No matter the trials and tribulations that I have been through 2016 is a great year.

I am going to hope that I can continue to write about my PA school journey with my family and friends and anyone else who is considering following a similar path.
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