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Fear Is a Liar


When I was a student, I constantly worried about what patients thought of me. I worried about my age, my skill set, and about the simple fact I was a “physician assistant” student. All these things were a heavy mental burden.

I was 22 when starting PA school and our program had us seeing patients during our second quarter – this was REALLY scary. A 22 year old kid, in his second quarter of school, expected to see patients? Seriously?

You better believe it!

It’s a sink or swim situation – the good thing was most of us swam. Sure, there were a few who didn’t make it through, but they were the minority. Everyone else did just fine.

You have to realize fear is an illusion; it’s not real. I was scared, but these fears were things I had created in my own mind. Rationally, I had absolutely no reason to be afraid; I hadn’t made a mistake and I definitely hadn’t harmed anyone. In fact, I was scared long before I ever first stepped into the clinic.

Believe it or not, I actually thought patients were going to make up symptoms just to test my knowledge. Truth is, that never happened and patients never really cared that I was a student. They knew we didn’t have all the answers and simply wanted someone whom they could speak with.  Someone who could share their concern and who would take the initiative to do everything in their power to help them.

Patients are there for help – that’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. Most of which, can be accomplished simply by listening. The problem occurs when fear rears it’s ugly head. It takes control, making it difficult to do the most important thing a student can do: listen.

You are doing your patients a disservice when you are not giving them 100% of your attention. Worrying about what may or may not happen is pointless and I would even say it’s detrimental to the care you are providing for your patients. The less you worry about the possibility of failure, the more you will accomplish, and the more you will ultimately learn.

You can’t skip the novice stage. I wish I could say there was a way, but there isn’t. We all started the same: knowing nothing. There isn’t one expert in their field who was born knowing everything. In fact, the more you know – the more you realize you don’t know. But, after some time, you start to get comfortable with that concept.

Don’t get me wrong, these feelings are normal. The difference between those who are great and those who aren’t is nothing more then simple perseverance coupled with a hint of naïveté. Those who are great will understand they are scared, will acknowledge the doubt, and then march forward anyway.

They aren’t paralyzed by what might be. After all, you are the only person who is really standing in your way. You are capable of more than you realize. You are smarter than you think. You are good enough and you are supposed to be here doing this very thing. Don’t think for one second because the exams are hard or because you missed a diagnosis that you aren’t cut out for this.

Failure is a very normal thing in this profession. Don’t let the fear of failure get to your head and don’t allow it to stop you from doing what you were born to do…