Learn how real students navigate their way through the graduate school admissions process and grad school itself with our What is Graduate School Really Like? series.
Meet Daniela, a new PA and fitness enthusiast who shares how to achieve your dreams without breaking the bank.
Daniela, thank you for sharing your story with us!
How and when did you first become interested in a career as a physician assistant? Had you always known about this profession?
Daniela: It was after I graduated college and was not accepted into medical school. I had always had this profession as my back up plan if medical school didn’t work out.
I see you were a member of the charter physician assistant program class at Florida State University. What was it like being a member of the first class?
Daniela: It was definitely challenging, we had nobody to ask for advice or help when exams came up or when things got difficult. I felt like it was a very rigorous program and to be the first class was comforting and not comforting at the same time. I felt like we were going to be very prepared but I also felt like we had no sanity, we were pushed beyond our limits to set the example and at times I felt like our emotions, our struggles, and how we felt were not being heard.
I understand you’re a graduate of a health sciences high school. Did you accrue some of the patient care hours needed for physician assistant school while still a high school student?
Daniela: Yes, I completed Practical Nursing during high school, and during this time we had to complete about 1,800 clinical hours in order to graduate with this degree. I used these hours for my patient care experience in my CASPA application.
Can you share a bit about your resolution to graduate PA school debt-free? Were you able to achieve this goal?
Daniela: I applied for the National Health Science Corp (NHSC) program and I was accepted my second year of PA school. This scholarship covers tuition, living expenses, and other things like traveling, books, computer, health insurance, etc. The total of my scholarship was $98,000.
I also lived in a scholarship house during my didactic year and my parents helped me out with my living expenses. I think living like a student is very important while you are in PA school if you want to have the least amount of debt.
Can you tell us more about the National Health Corps scholarship?
Daniela: It is a national scholarship for students who have a desire to work in underserved areas and with minorities. Basically, you have to be willing to relocate and work in a federally qualified clinic for 2 years in exchange for a scholarship to pay for PA school and living expenses.
You don’t just get placed anywhere; you still apply to clinics all over the United States and negotiate your salary once you are ready to start working.
You mentioned living in a scholarship house. Is this something unique to your university, or do other universities have this option as well? What was your experience like?
Daniela: This scholarship house is called Southern Scholarship Foundation, it’s in Florida State University, Florida Gulf Coast University, and University of Florida. It’s a nonprofit organization that offers free housing to students in college. This was a very unique experience; it felt like I lived in a sorority house with 30 other girls of different majors, cultures, interests, and backgrounds. I learned how to live with others, to work as a team, and to understand how different we all are! I grew so much as an individual with this experience and I also met some of my best friends in this program and had so many cool experiences because of it. Not only that, but it allowed me to graduate debt-free from undergrad!
As a busy PA student who was also committed to personal health and fitness, how did you structure your time to fit everything in?
Daniela: I was probably not as balanced as I would have liked to be or as people assume I was. But I made sure I took time out of the week to go to the gym and take care of my health and my happiness. I did spend hours and hours at the library, however, I did not make any time to watch movies, TV, or things like that. I rather used my free time in the gym, being with friends, going out to do something.
I kept a planner and I would write down all of my exams and depending on what was most important I would structure my day. I would say my main priorities were studying, sleeping, and going to the gym.
What rotations did you enjoy most during PA school?
Daniela: I loved surgery. For some reason I really enjoyed my preceptor and the freedom he gave me in the OR and doing rounds on patients. He did not have a PA-C (a certified PA) so I quickly became his first hand and it just felt super cool working with him during surgery and helping him. I loved the mixture of different environments, seeing patients in clinic, performing procedures, going into surgery, seeing patients post operative, and also being on call for trauma. It was a great mixture, and everyday was exciting.
I also loved women’s health, it was very fun and very active. I feel like you have a little bit of every field in women’s health. In rotations, you quickly learn what environments you enjoy and what kind of place makes you happy. It’s very fun getting to know your medical self during rotations.
Congratulations on your recent graduation! What kept you motivated when things got tough?
Daniela: Thank you so much! Honestly, I just knew the end result would be worth whatever struggle I was going through, the amount of hours I was studying, every bit of effort I had put in. Just keeping my eyes on the GOAL was key to my success. I think the gym had a huge impact- it helped me relieve stress and be happy. My friends and my colleagues who helped me through the hard exams and rough times also motivated me. Just know that the struggle is temporary, you can get through it.
What are your top tips for studying for the PANCE?
Daniela: I would say it’s key to plan a study schedule and try your best to stick to it. Don’t just think because you have been in school for this long, you know everything. Just study, like for any test you took in PA school. This shouldn’t feel any different than what you have been doing the last 2 years so don’t quit now, push, study every topic again, do practice questions, watch videos. Start with your weakest subjects based on your packrat and work your way to your strengths.
Review things that always get you. For me that was murmurs. Use Rosh Review for questions and practice real exam blocks (60 mins for 60 questions) so you get a feel for test day.
If you have time you can do practice exams, I didn’t do any to be honest, but they can be very helpful. Also start studying about 1.5 months before if you can. Don’t leave it for the end, or you will be so stressed.
What personal qualities do you think a successful PA should exhibit?
Daniela: I think a PA should be a role model, empathetic, trustworthy, honest, and a team player.
Do you have questions for Daniela? Questions for us? Do you want to be featured in our next What is Graduate School Really Like? post? Know someone else who you’d love to see featured? Are there questions you’d like us to ask our students in this series? LET US KNOW!
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