For every day that I have spent introducing myself to patients as Lauren Liebling, “a physician assistant student working with Dr. So-and-so” I have been met with at least one “Oh that’s wonderful! How far along in your training are you? How long is your schooling?” It has become a bit routine by now- I smile, reply that I am on my Nth rotation, and that school is 26 months long. Then…. Pause.
Twenty-six months. What can anyone possibly learn in the span of 26 months? How can a person transform from student to provider in such a short length of time? To understand these questions you truly have to go back to the beginning, well before matriculation day on June 29, 2015.
For me it was January of 2011. I was in a small ski town in eastern California living my dream as a professional ski patroler. I was a newly certified EMT and the ski resort provided me ample exposure to complex traumas. I loved my job and began to dream of a career in health care…someday. But then the faucet turned off and the snow stopped falling. Ski resorts don’t do much business during drought and I was laid off. Frustrated and financially stressed I did what any rational adult would do – I packed my car and drove to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I needed a plan for how to move forward, and it was right then and there that I enrolled in community college to take prerequisite coursework for PA school.
Anyone who stands as I do now at the end of PA school will tell you that physician assistant training does not occur in the span of 26 months. The bachelor’s degree, the prerequisite coursework, the clinical hours, the GRE, the lengthy application and interview process – the preparation just to step foot into the classroom on day one takes years in its own right. But this longer story is unique to each individual’s journey, and it does not easily fit into the brief exchange that you have with your patients during your introduction. And so we assure our patients that yes, 26 months is ample time to learn the skills to begin a career as a health care provider. What we do not always reveal is that it will take a bit longer for us to gain comfort in our new roles.
As this is my final submission to StudentSpeak I can’t help but feel nostalgic for the knowledge gained, the mentorship received, and the camaraderie built over the past two years. I am truly a better person for having been through this process. And while thoughts of life on the other side fill me with excitement and anticipation, a part of me knows that impostor syndrome will set in again soon, and that my long white coat will feel like yet another Halloween costume… at least for a little while.
I cannot send enough thanks to the patients who were my teachers, the PA program faculty and staff, the wonderful preceptors and mentors, my incredibly strong and capable cohort, and to the friends and family who have made this process far more than I ever dreamed it could be.
With eternal gratitude for this life-changing opportunity,