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Uncertain paths in medicine lead us to success

By Team Medgeeks - Apr 19, 2022

As the month of May begins, this can only mean one thing for pre-PA students, another CASPA application cycle is upon us. As I continue to help students through their journey of applying to physician assistant programs, I wonder about the parallels one can draw between applying to PA school and practicing medicine each day.

For those who are applying for the first time, the journey has just begun with a single step forward. For many of you, this has been your dream for as long as you can recall. Still, for others, the path has been a bit winding, but regardless of the path, much of what lays ahead is very uncertain. Perhaps it started out in a different setting of medicine, or maybe your first career had nothing to do with medicine. Regardless, you have decided to move forward on an unchartered trail.

For physician assistant students, you have traveled a bit further on the path, but there still remains much to be discovered. Each new clinical medicine lecture is a fresh start into a new topic.For those on clinical rotations, each five to six week block represents a new journey in a different topic, with different preceptors. Regardless, so much is uncertain and unknown. It can be terrifying and anxiety provoking to us, but at some point it becomes normal.

As the application cycle begins and starts to become busy, a million different paths emerge before us. Many of the paths are guided by what schools choose to interview us, but our choices ultimately guide us forward. The questions and anticipation remain palpable from May all the way through next February as decisions are made.

Anticipation remains throughout information sessions, interviews, tours of campuses, and searches for apartments.As we grow into our role as students, upcoming tests, evaluations, and patient experiences provide us new opportunity.Through it all, our experiences remain uncertain, yet they mold us into stronger students, accomplished academics, and eventually competent clinicians.

Once we begin to draw closer to clinical practice, the world of uncertainty seems to turn on its’ head. No longer is it about whether we will pass your end of rotation exam, but rather what field of medicine calls to us. Uncertainty begins to yield to confidence and our choices cement our career.

When that first memorable patient walks into our clinic, rolls into our emergency department, or lies on the surgery table, the uncertainty finally becomes measurable. To this point, there had always been a thought that everything would work out just the way it is planned. Once we are tasked with our first patient, all of our uncertainty, from the very first moment we decided to become a physician assistant catches up to us.

At this point, uncertainty becomes success. We have overcome before and we continue forward. This is the only way we know.Although we may not realize it, every piece of unknown, from applications, to interviews, to exams, to career choices, has slowly molded us and allowed us to persevere and succeed.

I would challenge you to find another profession where so much of what we do is so uncertain. All of us are on different parts of the same path, but the general theme remains the same. We are tasked with so much unknown, but somehow we prevail. How is this?

It is certainly hard to quantify and it definitely is not something that can be placed on a curriculum vitae or even explained adequately in an interview. Our path is so long, so winding, and at times so dark that all we can do is move forward, knowing we will find light.

As I read through personal statements, help students with interviews, I am always captivated by how persistent, relentless, and unwilling to fail all of us are. There is something in us that refuses to let us quit, no matter how many times we are knocked down or told to quit.

This trait is immeasurably important in medicine. Whether it is a 24 hour sleepless shift, an impossible diagnosis, or a challenging first year in practice, we will prevail. The journey to becoming a physician assistant cements this will to succeed. We must. We will not fail. It simply is unacceptable. This attitude is beautiful and is what helps us become great clinicians.

Wherever you are on this journey, whether you are just opening CASPA for the first time or entering your 40th year in practice, I would like you to take a moment to think of all you have overcome. If you are just starting out, recognize that there will be challenges. There will be obstaclesunimaginable to others. It is part of the process and you will succeed.

If you have been practicing for a long time, think back to your PA school days. Think about that first test that made you uncertain of your future. Think back to your first years of practice, the patient that baffled you. Now, think of how much you have overcome.

Medicine is a beautiful, sometimes heart breaking thing. From the first day we set foot on this journey until the last patient we touch, there is unending room for uncertainty, self-doubt, and fear of failure. Uncertainty is what moves us forward. Our struggles make us stronger and our doubts eventually fade away. Wherever you are on your journey, stop for a minute today and appreciate the uncertainty, it is what moves us forward and what has molded us into better applicants, students, and clinicians. The unknown is our path to our greatest success and we move forward, knowing that there is light in the distance.