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There are opportunities to learn and still have a positive impact on patients’ lives.

Second Year Student Blog: Kirk Williams

Editor’s note: All patient information has been made up and is not based on an actual patient.

As PA students, we have backgrounds in a wide variety of meaningful health care careers. It can be a significant change of pace from feeling like you’re making a difference in people’s lives to focusing on ways to perfect learning and test taking. Now that we have transitioned to the clinical year, however, there is no shortage of patient interaction. If you look closely, you’ll see there are opportunities around every corner to brighten a day, encourage change, and even save a life.

Clinical rotations are incredible. You apply what you’ve learned in the first year and constantly surprise yourself with how much you can recall on the spot. That said, it’s not uncommon to feel like debris in the finely tuned machine of hospital workflow.

It can sometimes be discouraging feeling as though you’re using up a patient’s valuable time asking questions that have likely already been asked. Every moment talking with patients can be an opportunity to have a positive impact on their care, so it’s important to view student interviews as a human interaction, rather than just a duplicate line of questioning. There were many times during my rounding when I was able to make a patient smile or laugh, which always makes the work worth it.

PA students can contribute to essential decisions regarding patient care


In the first week of one of my rotations, I assisted in the management of a patient suffering from a severe COPD exacerbation. The patient had smoked cigarettes for numerous years and was diagnosed with COPD more recently, but had previously lacked the motivation to quit smoking.

The patient had trouble being weaned off of supplemental oxygen and was upset that smoking contributed to their current condition. Another student and I saw the opportunity to counsel the patient on smoking cessation and continued to bring up the topic at every visit. By discharge, the patient seemed hopeful this hospitalization could serve as the motivation needed for change. While the patient may still struggle with smoking in the future, helping the patient reach a willingness to quit was an incredible feeling.

Although students are not ultimately responsible for patients, students still have the capacity to contribute to essential decisions and assist the team with preventing or identifying medical errors. On another rotation, I discovered that a newly admitted patient had not been adhering to the prescribed anticoagulation regimen as a consequence of a lost insurance card. The team had ordered the correct anticoagulant, but because the patient hadn’t been taking it, the drug level was in the sub-therapeutic range. This had been missed during patient handoff to the new attending. I was able to alert the attending and order heparin to bridge the patient until the other anticoagulant was therapeutic. With a history thromboembolic events, the addition of heparin may have prevented a disastrous outcome.

Clinical rotations can be incredibly difficult, yet completely rewarding. Don’t let the fact that you’re a student limit what you can do for others. There are opportunities to learn and still have a positive impact on patients’ lives. Students can make a difference.