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With increasing exposure to all the different resources available to us..., I am made even more confident that Duke is the best place I could be for my education.

First Year Student Blog: Stephanie Agoncillo

“Longest week ever.
To be in surgery labs --
Fridays are the best.” -- An Ode to Fridays: a haiku by a 1st year Duke PA student

I had never been so excited for Fridays in my life before PA school. Sure, Fridays have always signaled the weekends, but now, in PA school, Friday calls the week to a close like a lighthouse guides home a ship that’s been battling the relentless and tumultuous seas… of exams and assignments and patient encounters and presentations and – well, you get what I’m saying. More importantly, Fridays of 1st and 2nd semesters are reserved for the more hands-on things we learn in PA school, that is anatomy lab, Patient Assessment and Counseling (PAC), and surgery. The idea of pursuing a career in surgery has always been in the back of my mind, and the things we’ve learned so far in school are all at once encouraging and incredibly humbling. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to realize that I am actually at Duke, learning about medicine, practicing surgical skills – a dream come true.

While I am deeply honored during the week to listen to all the incredibly skilled and knowledgeable lecturers we’ve had, at the end of the week it’s nice to be able to stretch my legs and test my very novice skills in things ranging from physical exams to laparoscopic surgery. Fridays of the first semester are filled with anatomy lab (in which we are able to dissect our own cadavers, rather than sharing them with other programs or simply inspecting prosected cadavers) and learning the components of a complete physical exam in PAC. Consolidating what we learn from the two really highlights a strength of the Duke PA program: what we learn in one class is solidified by what we’re concurrently learning in another class. When I examine my patient’s range of motion in his/her upper and lower extremities in PAC, I know what’s going on inside because we also see those muscles and joints in anatomy lab.

Fridays of second semester really kick it into fifth gear with the beginning of our surgery units. We have lectures on types of surgery such as GI and neurosurgery, as well as seminars at Duke University Medical Center. Our first couple of hands-on skills labs are bandaging and casting. My classmates and I have too much fun applying casts to each other’s forearms and legs, and of course taking pictures and sending them to our family members. The following week, we begin learning how to tie surgical knots, first with our hands, and the next week with instruments. Then, the crème de la crème, the moment we had all had anticipated/feared: suturing pigs’ feet. My excitement runneth over when I hold that needle driver and pickups in my hands; my sutures crooked but strong. It will need a lot of practice, but it’s a great start to a skill I might frequently in my career.

On another Friday, we are in the School of Medicine’s Surgical Education and Activities Lab (SEAL) getting our first taste of laparoscopic instruments and surgery by doing a virtual cholecystectomy, as well as practicing bronchoscopies on another virtual simulation. I am amazed at the technology and the resources we have available to us, and my classmates can’t stop remarking about how cool PA school is. Other Fridays find us in the fresh tissue lab where we get to practice real surgical techniques with real equipment, and again my mind is blown. We shave pieces of a torn meniscus in a knee arthroscopic procedure. We resect scar tissue inside a man’s abdomen. We place a stent in a woman’s femoral artery. We insert a chest tube into another man’s chest. I can’t believe I am already having the opportunity to be introduced to all these surgical techniques and it’s hard to contain my child-like amazement and eagerness to learn more.

With increasing exposure to all the different resources available to us and every great lecturer that comes to speak to us, I am made even more confident that Duke is the best place I could be for my education. The work is hard and the massive amount of material to study is ever present, but I would not trade this experience for anything. And with all the fun things we do on Fridays, why would I?


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