Before PA school I "tried on" just about every health care career. I knew I liked science classes and wanted to do something medically related but I wasn't sure exactly what path I would choose. It seemed like every time I encountered a practitioner, I considered that career option. During my junior year of college I saw a PA at the sports medicine practice who placed my wrist in a solid cast. I remember thinking that might be interesting but at the time was easily swayed by my interest in occupational therapy when I saw a hand therapist the next week.
Fast forward five years, and now I know I will be a PA in just another year. I now have a degree in nutrition, have worked for two years as a dietitian in a hospital, and have continued to have numerous injuries from competitive sports and marathon training. I have certainly taken a personal interest in sports medicine and keep this on my "differential" for potential job options. You can imagine that when it came to casting lab one Friday in January, I was more than excited! Our second semester's usual routine was a test Monday morning followed by class all day and three more full class days. Fridays were a nice change with at least half the day in a surgery lab where we would learn hands on procedures like suturing, bandaging, wound care, and casting. At the end of a long week we were all excited to have a change from the classroom setting.
Today's lab included a short arm cast and a leg cast. I am most appreciative of my classmates who are my partners for these practical learning experiences. There has to be a first time for everything, and my classmates have been very gracious with being practiced on and letting me experiment with my new skills. Today my friend, Megan, is my partner.
One of my favorite things about the Duke PA program is that we learn from so many instructors who are the experts in their field. I remember being especially impressed with some of the lecturers for nephrology and endocrinology. For our labs like this casting one, we had the opportunity to learn from athletic trainers who practice this technique every day. As we eagerly await our turn to practice casting, we learn which size and type of casting material to use, how to ensure you leave good blood flow, and how long these casts can stay on. Megan and I take turns casting each other’s arms and legs and then join in the rest of the group with taking pictures to remember our good work. Sadly we have to cut these off, but this is also a skill to learn! It looks intimidating but we learned how to use this loud, saw like tool to buzz right through the plaster and stop before you got too close to the skin. I know I will want to practice many more of these in the clinical year, but I am very grateful that my first time was on a classmate who could hold still and give me pointers as we practice. When I chose Duke I knew I would learn from incredible teachers, but I had no idea how incredible the other 81 students in my class would be. They have been so gracious to be "patients" in scenarios like this but have also been so willing to share their knowledge and skills. Since we all come from different backgrounds, we each have a unique perspective and various strengths. I cannot express how grateful I am for the time that classmates like Kyle and Brad have given to help me learn this year. During an especially challenging EKG unit in the fall, Kyle voluntarily gave up part of his Saturday to hold a review course before the exam. Another classmate, Brad, who previously worked as a nurse, brought in IV materials and reviewed the steps with me for placing a line after I felt like one time was not enough practice! (And thanks to Jason who let me practice on him even though he knew I had missed the vein in my first experience!) Numerous other classmates have shared study guides, forwarded helpful emails, and recommended great reading materials. Each of my classmates has in some way helped me to become a better student and one step closer to becoming a PA.
Today as the casting lab comes to a close, I am excited to have a new skill in my tool box. I know I have so much to learn in this pre-clinical year, but I can’t wait to take all of these things I have learned and apply them to real patients in such a short time! PA school can be exhausting, but the excitement of learning new things and thinking about how soon we will be seeing patients makes it worth it.