You get that phone call. You’re in! You’re excited. You’re beyond excited. You’re ecstatic! You call your mom. Then all your friends. Then you post on Facebook. Then you walk around for a few months whistling a happy tune, skipping along, so grateful, vowing this gratitude will carry you through the dreary winter months when your life is an endless lecture and you dream of words such as pemphigus vulgaris. Then you get here. It’s summer.
And you’re overjoyed! You promise yourself you’ll work hard. And you do. You do your best. Perhaps you struggle a bit at first, as I did, to find a place where you are comfortable. Ha! That’s a joke. You never get comfortable. In fact, you are uncomfortable pretty much all the time. Because, after all, everything is brand new and you are doing so many things for the very first time. But you are learning so much and are confident that the process will make you an excellent clinician. And you have so much support. Classmates. Faculty. And you are still excited. Still so grateful to be here. But the days get shorter and then fall comes. Then the winter. And you study, and study and study. And it gets tough. No more Walking Dead marathons. Less time with family and friends. Still time to cook, run, call everyone weekly, date night and a Friday night chill-out session, whatever that looks like for you.
It’s hard. I’ve said that already. You learn the physical exam, how to execute it, you take pathophysiology, ethics, professional development, genetics, immunology, all sorts of “ologies.” Then you learn about cancer, hypertension, palliation, allergies, heart and kidney disease, and so on and so forth. You think, jeez, I know things! You study constantly. You need a nap. All the time. Then you start thinking, how many more months are left?
Then, something magical happens. In the fall, the PA students, armed with their newly minted physical exam and history acquisition skills, put on their white coats, rope their stethoscopes around their necks, iron their pants, put their name tags on for the first time and step into the clinic to “mentor.” The clinical mentoring course runs the length of the didactic year and gives students the opportunity to try what they know with a practicing PA and acclimate to the clinic environment. And there we meet our patients for the first time, not as MAs, paramedics, medical scribes, phlebotomists, EKG technicians or any of the other health professions that we were a part of before we came to OHSU, but as providers.
And we get to learn about our patients. We ask them questions. How’s it going today? How is that medication working out? How are you sleeping? Has the pain improved? What makes it worse? How long have you had that cough? What’s new? What’s bothersome? What’s working well? You get to talk to them. And they will tell you. About their coughs, and aches, and pains, and sprains, and rashes, and kids, and gardens, and hobbies, and that thing they probably wouldn’t tell anyone else. Because you are there to help. Which you do. By listening carefully and then getting your mentor and letting them sort most of it out. Because, after all, this is only the third quarter! But, in the process, you remember, ahhhh, this is why I am here. For this person directly in front of me.
I walked into several rooms today and asked, How’s it going today? It is my job to ask and to listen. And it is absolutely the best job in the world. And then, I went home and opened a book. Because, after all, there’s a test tomorrow. And then another one next week. And the week after, and so forth for the foreseeable future. Thankfully, I know exactly why I am here.