“They must have sent me an acceptance letter by mistake …. Wait are we sure I should even be in here right now? …. Wow they’re already diving into material …. That girl had the right idea by bringing her highlighters …. Did they just say there’s an exam next week?” My thoughts raced as the first few days of PA school flashed by. By the end of week 2 I had barely managed to keep track of the daily lecture schedule, remember the names of a couple dozen of my instructors and peers, figure out which refrigerator usually had the most space free for bagged lunch, and secure “my” seat in the classroom. Now add to that the ever-growing pile of work, countless hours of lecture series, exciting yet unfamiliar physical exam practice, page upon page of required reading, and the unfamiliarity of the new town I was living in without family and friends – the task to keep plowing ahead to the “great beyond” seemed quite formidable. How was I ever going to manage to graduate from the program and become a Physician Assistant??
Flash forward 18 months and I’m over halfway done with my Clinical Year in the Duke PA Program (DPAP). After managing to complete the Didactic Year (1st year), the program has decided it’s time for me to go out into the hospitals, wards and clinics! I’ve just begun a 6-month venture out into the great unknown of rural Southeastern North Carolina, where I will be completing 6 of my last 7 rotations as part of a tremendous scholarship opportunity the program has granted me. Far south on I-95, 20 minutes from the South Carolina border, lies Lumberton – home of the Lumbee Indian Tribe and location of rotation sites for DPAP students. I have been a part of a Primary Care Clinic in the area for the past two months, and am awed on a daily basis by the remarkable work the staff puts into getting the best care possible for their patients. Despite lack of funding, the absence of accessible rehabilitation centers, high prevalence of prescription drug addiction and considerably below-average health literacy rates, the staff constantly looks for new ways to educate, inform and empower their patients.
My first assignment on the rotation was to put together a packet of materials on obesity that could be handed out to patients as they look to take control of their weight through diet modification and increased physical exercise. I was reminded by the office staff that many people in the medical profession assume that patients know what kinds of foods are “good/healthy” and which ones are “bad/unhealthy”, and furthermore presume that patients have access to said “healthier” food options. Proper patient education would be key. I tackled the challenge quickly and the packets are now being distributed throughout the office. They come complete with a podometer (color of patient’s choice while supplies last), exercise log, food diary, portion size chart, food choice modification tips, weight loss goals and other various tips and tricks. I’m asking patients to use their podometers as incentives to get outside (despite the frigid cold) and walk. I try to encourage them with the inspirational motto - “New Year, new you!”
Working in such a small community truly has afforded me more than the opportunity to talk about the benefits of healthy lifestyles, it has given me the chance to further reach out and explore the future role I will have as a physician assistant. I’ve come such a long way since my first day in the program, and without doubt it’s been uncomfortable at times. I’ve been made to completely step out of my comfort zone and push myself to perform at my highest level everyday – and to constantly increase that ability through hard work, observation, active learning and study. But isn’t that how you find yourself in the next phase of life, by moving forward? By putting one foot in front of the other, and trusting that you’ll still be walking on solid ground when you get around the bend in the road ahead? With less than 6 months left in the Duke Physician Assistant Program, looking back I cannot believe how far this journey has already taken me – and how exciting it is to look forward to the great adventure as a PA I have up ahead!