Three weeks have passed and I am still here. PA school has not killed me, yet. I took my first test last week and revisited an old friend named, “Test Anxiety.” I went through my test using the same skills acquired through the years that helped me analyze each question without becoming consumed with the complexity. I had studied hard for this exam and did not know what to expect. There were a few questions that seemed unrelated to any of the material we covered. We were given one hour to go through 55 questions and I used every minute possible. Towards the end, I felt my heart rate go up and sensed the cold sweat produced by my eccrine glands. I felt anxiety rush in as I began to wonder whether I would pass or not and how everyone else was doing. I don’t recommend dwelling on these things during an exam. Despite the anxiety and not-so-positive thoughts, I now have more peace than I walked in with.
From day one, our professors have reinforced their intentions as facilitators of learning. They are not the ones teaching us, we are. With that in mind, our professors constantly communicate that they are on our side and deeply desire success for us. They are not out to fail us, which is comforting indeed. After my first test, I began to see how I can focus so much on myself rather than consider the altruistic essence within the classroom. You see, PA school is not designed to be competitive. Now, everything leading up to acceptance is, but once inside the doors the mood changes. The primary goal of each student is to graduate and pass their boards. Even though there are available residency programs across the country, no one is pushing students down to make it to the top. From my experience thus far, I have seen classmates link arms to conquer this material together. It is shocking to see how easily one can start to believe things that are disconnected from reality.
During my experience of working with a schizophrenia research group at a local university, I learned how stress can trigger the onset of psychosis. Even for those who are mentally healthy, stress can lead you to believe certain things that are not true. For example, when I focused solely on this test, I lost sight of how there is no competition, the professors are not out to fail me, and that my career did not hinge upon this test. Stress is inevitable in PA school, but the response will make all the difference.
Later in the week we received our test results, and I was pleasantly surprised. My grade was not reflective of the negativity I brought upon myself. I learned the importance of remaining grounded when stress kicks in. When we start to waiver while taking on a heavy load, we can easily derail and the result is far from desirable. Stress can make you believe you are up against the world but holding on to the truth will carry you through. I hope to carry this principle into the coming week as I take my second test.