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Physician Assistant Studies – Staying Organized

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Notes, power points, hand outs, and books.  It seems like a never ending stream of information.  The analogy often given is of one trying to drink out of a firehose.  It isn’t uncommon for the PA student to have over 1000 power point slides to review for an exam.  So, how do we stay organized.  Are there any strategies out there to make all of the information manageable?

In my opinion, 90% of the stuff you are given can go to the trash.  No, that wasn’t a mistake.  There is no way you can be tested on 1500 slides worth of information, plus notes, plus hand outs, etc.  I’ll go over the strategy that worked well for me.  I didn’t stress, and did well on my exams.

  1. First off, get your self a good PANCE review book; I used USMLE books as well.  The review books are great for condensing all of the information regarding a disease into manageable chunks of information.  It is impossible to know everything about everything, especially in two years.  You need a solid foundation regarding the basics.  This is going to be key to your studies.
  2. Secondly, get to know UpToDate and Medscape.  In my opinion, these are the two best resources available to supplement your studies.  Medscape is free and UpToDate is offered free to many universities.  These work better than textbooks, mostly because they are constantly being updated.  Textbooks often lag, because it takes time to write, put it together and publish.  So, what might have been current during the time it was written, might now be outdated by the time the book hits the shelves.
  3. Next, make sure to only keep handouts that make life easy, especially things like algorithms.  You do not need to keep every handout given.  This will only increase your anxiety, because pretty soon you will have binders and binders of information that will make learning discouraging.
  4. Lastly, keep note taking to a minimum.  Take notes on key things only.  You do not need to take notes on everything, this is what the review books are for; the review books already have the high yield information condensed for you.  Things worth taking notes on are clinical pearls, as these are things that cannot be learned from a textbook.  Personally, I never took notes, but this may not be the correct approach for everyone.  If I didn’t take notes, what did I do during lectures you may ask?  Well, I listened and asked questions.  So many people were so preoccupied writing, that they would miss key points that were given by the lecturer.

I was a minimalist during school.  If I had to look something up, I would look it up.  This allowed me to focus on what I needed to learn.  The other advantage to this was the amount of time that was saved that would otherwise be spent looking for things and organizing your resources.  I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, but this in itself can take many hours of precious study time away from you.  Leonardo Da Vinci said it best, when he said, “Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.”