Okay, so your dreams have finally been answered and you made it into PA school! You’ve heard all the horror stories like: “it’s similar to drinking out of a fire hose,” or “it’s impossible to catch back up once you’re behind.” How do you maintain your elation for getting in, while setting yourself up for success? Believe it or not, the answer is actually quite simple: mental and physical discipline…like you’ve never had before! Check out my five tips for ensuring success in PA school. Your part? Implement them!

1. Avoid the cram! Repeat, repeat, repeat!

The saying, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” doesn’t really apply to PA school, because it’s actually a sprint combined with a marathon! That being said, it is still a terrible idea to cram your studying. Many students put way too much pressure on themselves to learn a new concept or skill in a single cram session. More frequent and consistent study sessions will provide repetition for your brain and before you know it, concepts that initially felt overwhelming will become incredibly manageable. You don't have to learn and understand it all in one session. In fact, that is nearly impossible. Make time to pre-study or skim lectures, stay engaged during lectures, then plan a post-lecture study schedule. Carve out small blocks of time (30 - 60 minutes), eliminate distractions, find a place you can focus, and stick with it

A great way to stay engaged and reinforce difficult material while avoiding burnout is to insert a couple of short alternative and fun approaches to your pre and post lecture study sessions. That’s where Sketchy comes in. For example, if GERD is one of the topics in your three hour GI lecture, check out this six minute Sketchy PA video AFTER you’ve reviewed the lecture content and attempted to understand the topic. This will provide your brain with an alternative learning method, add some fun and humor into your studying, and help make things click. This consistent approach will eventually make learning medical concepts and skills feel like second nature and fun!

2. Use your brain to learn, not memorize.

When you make sense of something instead of just trying to memorize it, you are more likely to remember it. Plus, guess what? Things start to click and become fun! Don't forget to keep asking yourself “why.” For example, “Why does the equation for correcting calcium for albumin have a correction factor of 0.8?” Understanding that for every 1g/dl decrease in albumin a resulting 0.8 mg/dl decrease in total calcium occurs no longer makes the 0.8 seem so random, making it much more memorable. You are likely to learn about these topics during your renal or endocrine lectures. Once you have a decent foundational understanding from the lecture, watch a memorable Sketchy PA video to reinforce the concept. Check out this art from our upcoming videos on Hypercalcemia and Hypocalcemia to solidify your knowledge and memory. And stay tuned for their release next month!

3. It’s okay to not be okay. 

Ask for help early! PA school is tough. You have four years of medical school curriculum to cover in about two years with almost zero breaks. So when you get stuck, instead of wasting hours trying to understand a single concept or acquire a new skill, ask for help! A trained and experienced eye can identify what you've been missing; you just have to ask the right person. This is typically the instructor of the topic. One thing I see students do time and time again, is seek help from another student that is also struggling to understand the same concept or skill. Similar to training for a sport, it can be intimidating to approach the coach or even another highly skilled player. It is important to step outside your comfort zone and first ask the professor, then students who are performing well, in order to get past that stuck point. Also, hold yourself accountable by attending office hours, review sessions, and other activities that are created to help you learn.

4. Know when to STEP AWAY.

Sometimes you just need a break. If you are trying to learn a concept or skill and it starts to feel impossible and frustrating, there is no harm in pausing and switching your focus. Learning should be fun, not frustrating. PA school lectures have a lot of crossover, so you will inevitably loop back around to the topic from a different angle. This also brings us back to being consistent. When you are consistent and are tackling small pieces of different courses, you will start to see and feel that natural crossover and your understanding and skills will gradually sharpen.

5. Learn to manage your time.

The final tip is probably one of the most important tips for PA school (and life) success: managing your time! Create a study schedule and keep a daily planner, and stick to it. Include not only your study sessions, but your mental and physical health and wellness sessions as well. Don't waste a single moment. Be intentional with everything you do. Tackle your daily routine, complete your tasks, and reward yourself. When an unexpected slot of time opens up (like a canceled lecture) take advantage of that time and use it productively.


Now that you have the five tips to success, take some time to organize how you can implement them into your daily schedule. You’ll find these tips will not only help you in PA school, but with nearly every aspect of your life. Although they are simple, the real challenge is inserting them into your routine and sticking to it. Remember hard work beats talent every time. There is no excuse for being out worked!

Until next time, 

Stay Sketchy!