Welcome to Part 2 of 2 of our Manitoba PA student series! You met Tammy, Vishnu and Payton in our previous post about How they decided to become PAs, their backgrounds, admissions tips. This week we dive deeper into what PA school is like for PA students!
The Manitoba Master’s of Physician Assistant Studies is located in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Manitoba MPAS Program
1st year in Manitoba MPAS
Tammy: 1st year at Manitoba MPAS is the Academic Year. Students attend classes generally every weekday from 8:30am to 4:00pm.
First semester focuses on the basic sciences and foundational courses such as biochemistry, anatomy and pharmacology. Students are graded by multiple choice midterm and final exams. Furthermore, a non-credited course for Wellness is included to discuss stress and conflict management skills.
Second and third semester introduce medicine starting with Adult Medicine and then gets into specialties like Pediatrics and Surgery. Especially in third semester, the courses follow a more flipped-classroom style with assignments, reports and quizzes though there are still midterm and final exams. Students also practice clinical procedures such as suturing and casting, which is not graded.
All semesters include Patient Assessment where students start by learning patient interviewing and performing physical exams, and by the end of the year the course includes case presentation with differential diagnoses and management plans.
Patient Assessment is graded by a practice and then a final Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) involving a patient simulation. Curriculum Integration is a non-credited course that serves to supplement and tie together topics in each class by working through patient cases. For example, working through a patient case presenting with chest pain helps to tie in concepts from Biochemistry, Pharmacology, Patient Assessment, and Adult Medicine.
There is also a pass/fail course called Interprofessional Collaborative Care (IPCC) where students are separated into cohorts along with medical, dental, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, nursing, and pharmacy students to work through various cases and assignments and learn about each other’s professions.
Some students begin their Capstone Project in first year but majority spend the first year brainstorming and begin their Project in second year.
Read Manitoba MPAS Course Descriptions from the Manitoba PA Fellowship website.
Course Instructors for First Year PA School
Tammy: The program delivery changes slightly every year, so I can only speak to my experience.
Every course topic has a different instructor, so the delivery style of the material very much depends on the instructor. Instructors are provided topic objectives by the program in order to guide their class instruction.
In first semester when the foundational courses are covered, the classes are mainly taught by PhD researchers and principal investigators who specialize in that topic. For example, the physiology of diabetes is taught by someone who does research in a specific aspect of diabetes. In first semester, the style of the classes is similar to that of graduate courses for Master of Science degrees; that is, lecture-based with some discussion and case studies.
In second and third semester when we start getting into more medical courses, the classes are taught by clinicians such as physicians, medical residents, and physician assistants. They are often delivered as a mix of lecture with cases and some discussion, weekly quizzes, class debates, and/or jeopardy-style quizzes. Each unit of Adult Medicine ends with a tutorial to summarize and reinforce the material.
Throughout the year we have more interactive and hands-on learning in Patient Assessment to learn clinical skills. Curriculum Integration is run by guest instructors who are clinicians as well.
Is there support for Manitoba PA Students?
Tammy: Incoming PA students are paired with second-year PA and/or Manitoba PA graduates as buddies who they can go to for questions and advice throughout the program.
Second-year PA students are also assigned to an MPAS Faculty member as an Advisor. Advisors meet with second year students monthly to discuss their clinical rotations, their progress and concerns, as well as connect the students with resources for their Capstone project as needed.
There are also many university student services that are very familiar with the program, including Student Mental Health Services and Student Counselling and Career Centre.
The program office and various teachers are also available if students have specific questions/concerns.
Clinician lecturers often encourage students to reach out to shadow them if students have a special interest in that field.
2nd Year PA School at Manitoba MPAS
Payton: Second year of PA school is a huge change from first year – as you get to take all of the knowledge that you obtained in the classroom and finally apply it to real life situations.
There are 8 mandatory rotations including family medicine, community health, emergency medicine, general surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry and obstetrics/gynecology.
These rotations vary in duration (4-8 weeks). In addition, you have two 2-week electives and the program is very good at organizing these based on your interests.
You also get a 2-week Capstone break where you have designated time to work on your Capstone Project. I spent my Capstone break reviewing charts for my project, however some of my classmates took this time to travel!
The vast majority of rotations take place in the city of Winnipeg however the family medicine rotation (8 weeks) takes place in a rural location.
As I was from a rural community I arranged to have several of my rotations outside of Winnipeg in smaller communities – I found this very beneficial as there were less learners on these rotations and thus I had increased hands on exposure which I believe was very beneficial to my education.
Rural Rotations in 2nd year PA School
Tammy: The program ensures that 8 weeks of your core Family Medicine rotation are spent in rural communities outside of Winnipeg.
Students have a say in staying close to Winnipeg so that they can commute to their rural rotations or moving away to a rural rotation (any necessary housing and air travel costs are covered by the program).
Students can also state which communities in Manitoba they prefer to be placed. This has provided some unique exploration opportunities to towns like Thompson or Churchill!
Expectations in 2nd year PA School
Tammy: Every clinical rotation has its own set of objectives. Generally, they revolve around the student learning skills and knowledge for patient assessment, investigation, diagnosis and management, as well as procedural skills pertaining to the clinical rotation. For example, airway management and wound care are specific objectives of the surgery rotation while chronic disease management is an objective of the family medicine rotation.
Students are assessed throughout their rotation by performing a mini-skills assessment every second week as well as a mid-evaluation and a final evaluation with a precepting physician. Throughout the year, students write multiple choice exams at the end of the rotation. They also perform comprehensive skills assessments that allow the program to keep track of students’ progress and they are not worth any credits.
Schedules vary depending on the rotation. Generally, students work 40-hour weeks with 7 to 10 hours shifts plus on-call shifts. Hospital on-call shifts are no more frequent than one shifts every four days.
Tips on Surviving PA School
Maintaining Work-Life Balance During PA School
Tammy on Work Life Balance: Being away from home, I was less distracted than usual by my friends and family. I did make an effort to make friends outside of the program in order to have that escape from the program about once every one to two months.
Generally, I studied 1-4 hours after school on weekdays and 4-12 hours on the weekends. Having dealt with work-life balance issues in my undergraduate studies, I really focused on prioritizing my mental health. I did this by setting realistic goals on my studies – my goal was to make sure I understood the high-yield major concepts and not to labour over the tiny details in order to give time for extracurricular activities 2-3 times a week.
Even if I had an exam the next day, I gave myself permission to go to the gym because I knew I would be much more efficient after de-stressing.
I also had regular appointments with the mental health counsellor in order to hash out my thoughts and get an outsider professional perspective on my progress.
Vishnu on Work Life Balance: Maintaining work-life balance is a fine line and certainly can be daunting at times. During our inauguration ceremony we were advised against working during our studies as the PA program is incredibly demanding.
For me personally, I saw working as a nurse in an ER setting invaluable as it could provide patient interaction and clinical time while still being paid! I mostly worked weekend nights however I tried to limit myself to 1-2 shifts/week.
Balance between work, school, and family can be a real challenge in the PA program, so I tried to accomplish this by staying organized with a study schedule. I always studied every day after school, alloting a specific amount of time for each class. This ensured I could cover a variety of classes, even if it meant that I wasn’t able to learn everything about certain topics.
Also, it is important to fully divest yourself into what you are doing at that specific moment, staying focused on the task at hand allows you to be productive!
Payton on Work Life Balance: If I am being honest I don’t believe I ever figured out how to maintain a work-life balance during PA school. As Vishnu mentioned, the PA program is incredibly demanding and thus I really allocated most of my time to my studies. I found it hard to take time off from studying, and when I did I always felt guilty! I did however try to allocate Friday nights for date night or to go out with friends.
Second year was less stressful and allowed me more time to spend with my loved ones and consequently I was a much happier, better version of myself.
If I could give any advice to future students, it would be to ensure you make the time to see the people you love and do the things you enjoy. I truly hope that going forward in my career I can figure out how to maintain a work-life balance. If anyone has a handle on it – please let me know!
Read Katrina’s Post on Mental Wellness in your 1st year of PA School.
Manitoba PA Employment after Graduation
Finding PA Jobs after Graduation
Payton: Jobs are posted at various times on a variety of sites (CAPA, WRHA, etc.).
In my experience, the majority of these jobs were posted between May-July while we were still on clinical rotations. Therefore, it is not uncommon for students to have jobs lined up prior to completion of the program.
However, in some cases students have impressed employers while on a particular rotation and ended up being offered a job at that time – so it is really important to put your best foot forward as you never know when your next job interview might be!
Thank you to Tammy, Payton & Vishnu for the guest post!
Three PA students from University of Manitoba who kindly agreed to answer a few questions on what its like to be a Manitoba PA student!
Tammy, 2nd year Manitoba PA student: I grew up in Ottawa, Ontario and moved to Winnipeg for the MPAS program. At the University of Ottawa, I obtained a BSc in Biomedical Sciences (CO-OP) and then a MSc in Cellular and Molecular Medicine. I enjoy trying new things especially with different foods and activities. Lately I’ve been into heel dancing, breakdancing, krumping, pole dancing and Crossfit. I’m also an adrenaline junkie – my current obsession is white water rafting. Connect with Tammy.
Vishnu, 2nd year Manitoba PA Student: Born and raised here in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Attended the UofM where I obtained a BSc in molecular and developmental cell biology, as well as a Bachelor of Nursing (RNBN). I spend a lot of my free time spending time outdoors and playing sports with my friends. I mainly enjoy golf, curling, badminton, soccer, football, and hockey. I also enjoy hiking – there really isn’t anything better than working up a sweat and experiencing nature’s beauty! Connect with Vishnu.
Payton, recent Manitoba PA graduate: I grew up in a rural community just outside of Brandon, Manitoba. I attended elementary/high school in Forrest, Manitoba – a town that is a blip on the highway with only a church and the local school. I continued my studies at Brandon University (BU) where I obtained a Bachelor of Science with a major in biomedical biology and a minor in chemistry and psychology. Following graduation from BU I moved to Winnipeg to start my PA journey. I recently completed the PA program and will be starting as an Emergency Medicine PA in a rural community. My friends often compare me to Monica Geller from the show Friends as I am VERY competitive and am likely a little bit obsessive-compulsive. I love nothing more than a game night or an afternoon spent on the golf course. Connect with Payton.