This interview is the latest in an Accepted blog series featuring interviews with medical school applicants and students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top medical schools and the med school application process. And now, introducing Jourdyn…
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad? When did you graduate?
Jourdyn: I am originally from a small town in rural Wisconsin called Merrill! After high school, I attended a small private institution called Edgewood College which is located in Madison, Wisconsin. There I studied Biology and received a minor in Ethnic Studies. I graduated in December of 2015.
Accepted: Where are you currently attending PA school? What year are you?
Jourdyn: I attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison for PA school. I am in my second year of school, which is typically called “clinical year.” This year I’ll do five, eight-week rotations. So far I have done internal medicine, which was broken up into four weeks of oncology and four weeks of hospitalist medicine, and eight weeks of family medicine. Next, I will do a surgical rotation and emergency medicine rotation. My last rotation is an elective, which I may split between gynecologic oncology, dermatology, or plastic surgery.
Accepted: What inspired you to pursue a career as a Physician Assistant?
Jourdyn: When I shadowed my first PA, I knew this was a profession I had to find out more about. The PA had such a unique way of connecting with patients. He sat down and really worked through what the heart of the issue was. He was extremely focused on the fine details of the diagnosis, spending extra time to take a thorough history and do an extensive physical exam. More important than that, I was struck by how the patient responded to the PA. Yes, there were moments that the PA was stumped on an issue and had to run an idea by a colleague or refer to one of his many medical texts, but the patient never expressed frustrations or was demeaning to the PA. They actually admired him for double-checking his diagnosis and being thorough. Needless to say, my hours spent shadowing not only this PA, but also many others, increased my understanding of the PA profession and increased my desire to pursue a career in this field.
What really solidified my desire to become a PA was my job as a CNA. I found work doing in-home care for patients who suffered spinal cord injuries. I had such admiration for their spirit because even though life had dealt them an unfortunate hand, they continued to stay strong and have a positive attitude. One patient in particular really changed the way I viewed patient care. This man, who as a young adult was involved in an accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down, continued to smile and be happy about the little things life gave him. Every day, this patient felt significant pain, yet without fail he found something positive each day to be thankful for. He was also genuinely a good person and took an interest in my life. He made an effort to get to know me, and I did the same for him. We spent countless hours talking about everything and anything. He was one of my biggest cheerleaders during the PA application process and was absolutely thrilled when I found out I was going to UW-Madison. He taught me so much about being a future PA. From him, and many others, I learned that you are not simply treating the symptom, nor should your profession ever become a job. No, you are treating a living breathing human being who has needs and goals and desires. When a patient comes to me as a PA it is not simply putting a Band-Aid on the problem, but diving a little deeper to get to the root of the issue in order to correct it while also respecting what the patient wants to get out of the experience.
Accepted: How did you find success with your PA school applications? What do you believe helped you be the best applicant?
Jourdyn: I think what is the single biggest component of a successful application is being prepared. This means allowing yourself enough time to develop a solid CASPA application and not rushing through it. My suggestion is to open a CASPA account a year before you apply so that you can get a feel for the layout and peruse through different essay questions for the programs you want to apply for. Once you find the essay prompts, write out a rough draft and have five people review it. If possible, have one of those reviewers be a person from a writing center and the other be a current PA. They will both have very valuable feedback for you to shape your final essay around.
When I was an applicant, I believe my vast volunteering experience made my application more desirable. Volunteering is not something that is a solidified deciding factor for most PA schools, but it shows that you’re able to make time for underserved populations even as a busy undergraduate student. You don’t necessarily need to have volunteering hours in the medical community – I spent the majority of my volunteering hours at the local food pantry.
Accepted: What has been the hardest part about PA school? How do you manage having a social life and still succeeding in school?
Jourdyn: The hardest part of PA school is trying to balance school and life. PA school is very demanding of your time, so it can make it hard when your friends and family have something fun planned but you have to stay in and study. On the flip side, it can be hard to spend time with family and friends because you feel guilty about not studying. It is a constant battle. My tip: have scheduled time for fun and family during your weeks. For my boyfriend (now fiancé), we made an effort to see each other at least two to three times a week. Yes, sometimes our study dates meant going through flashcards while watching a movie but it was still time spent together. It is also really important to establish how important school is prior to starting school with your loved ones. It can be easy for them to become frustrated with you, and you with them once your life gets crazy busy in PA school. By establishing standards, it allows everyone to be on the same page and can save you lots of headaches down the road. Plus, it’s good to remind everyone (including yourself) it is two to three years of tough sacrifice for a lifetime of a really awesome career.
Accepted: You have a blog, The PA Life, and share your daily life happenings on your Instagram account, thepa_life! What pushed you to start sharing your journey with others?
Jourdyn: When I was applying to PA school, I felt like I really struggled to find decent information from current PA students that was true and honest. I felt PA school was near impossible when I applied (which is so not true). Once I became a PA student, I wanted to be someone that shed positivity on the PA school application process and give a realistic view of PA student life. In doing so, I’ve reached out to a lot of awesome pre-PA students and have chatted with a multitude of wonderful current PAs and PA students. It is one of the best decisions I ever made!
Accepted: Lastly, what are your top three tips for those either just starting the PA school application process, or for those who are starting their first year of PA school soon?
1. Be confident. Yes, you will be denied interviews. Yes, you will not get As on all your PA exams. Yes, you will be wrong…a lot. But at the end of the day, you have something to bring to the table. So be confident in yourself, because that makes all the difference.
2. Do something you love every day. You like running? Go for a run! You enjoy Netflix? Allow yourself a show every day. Need a nap…do it! The point is…don’t lose the things you love in life just because of school. You need to let yourself have mini-breaks during your day, otherwise, you end up burnt out.
3. Time goes faster than you think. Whether you’re in the application process or walking into your first day of PA school…before you know it, you’ll be adding PA-C to the end of your name. Yes, some days are long and tough, but time really does fly by! So embrace the chaos, because even though you don’t think you’ll miss it, you really do!
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• From Example to Exemplary, a free guide to writing outstanding essays
• Andrea Benedict: Life as a Physician Assistant, a podcast episode
• How to Get Accepted to Physician Assistant (PA) Programs