My name is Anthony, and I am a second year physician assistant student at the University of Toronto, and the president of the UofT Physician Assistant Student Association. I was first introduced to the profession while working as a clerk in a hospital in Ottawa.After hearing about the profession, I did some research and quickly realized how valuable the profession was in a struggling healthcare system. I could see how the profession would grow in the coming years with Canada’s aging population. I liked how the profession was interchangeable with other specialties, with on-site learning without the need for a full fellowship. The accelerated 24-month program was also very appealing as I had just completed a 4-year undergraduate degree. Since graduating from health sciences, I knew that I wanted to gear my career towards one with more hands-on patient interaction, and the PA profession seemed like a great fit! My experience at UofT as a student and a member of the association has been great, and it sure has kept me busy!
Clerkship is Applying what you learn
I enjoy being able to put my skills learned in first year to good use. In clerkship, you are able to follow patients throughout their experience (for the most part) and see improvement which is really nice. It also helps you to develop new hands-on skills from experts practicing in the field.
Although it can be sometimes daunting, I do like getting thrown into different experiences and having hands-on experiences. Having to move north for ½ of rotations we also get to experiencing different cultures and social catchments which is also very interesting.
Challenges with Clerkship
Rotating in a different specialty every month can be challenging. Just when you get a hang of how to work well with one physician, it’s time to leave! Moving can be a hassle, and the reimbursement process for travelling is long, but the experience in the north is well worth it.
At times with busy services (i.e. general surgery) I found it difficult to be able to study for the ERE and keep a good work-life balance. Some of my classmates in the north noted that they hadn’t seen me for almost a full week due to my schedule and we are living on the same street! But you just need to push through it, and even with not a lot of study time, you get good hands-on experience which will help you with the exam.
Maintaining work-life balance during your clerkship year
Maintaining a work-life balance is very important during the clinical year, and is something that I continue to struggle with. I am stuck in the “I only have one month to learn as much as I can about this service”. There are times though, that I need to forfeit studying in order to socialize with peers or go to the gym. You need to pay close attention to your limits and prevent burning out. Some rotations are busier than others, and it will take some practice to get the balance right.
How 1st year PA school prepares you for clerkship
First year did very well to prepare me for clerkship. As I said before, it gave the class a good foundation on the pathophysiology of disease, clinical skills and pharmacology basics. Even if you don’t understand exactly what is going on with a patient, our clinical skills courses taught us how to recognize what is abnormal. The faculty also instilled in our brains the importance of “knowing what you don’t know”. The answer is a lot. And it’s important to recognize your gaps in knowledge to know how to improve, and how to give safe patient care.
First year scratches the surface of many specialties (OBGYN, Peds, Internal Medicine, etc.), and that is okay. First year’s purpose is to give you a good foundation, and that’s exactly what the program does. Physicians spend YEARS learning to be able to specialize in one area, so it’s not possible to cram every specialty into one year for us. That being said, I remember going into my OBGYN rotation thinking that they were speaking a foreign language on the ward. The first few days are definitely a “survival mode” for you, but you pick up what’s going on and what your strengths and weaknesses are pretty quickly.
Studying during Clerkship
Even in clerkship we study every day, and even more important know as we are physically interacting with and treating patients. There are always conditions and procedures to review every day, and the ERE to prepare for. The more you know, the more you can do on your rotations, help your patients, and impress your preceptor!