Tuesday, August 5, 2014

First Semester at UT Southwestern

Dear Readers,

I sincerely apologize for not having been as active as I was previously. Today I completed summer I at UT Southwestern. I can tell you all that it was no easy task. All of the rumors are true! While I definitely enjoyed my first semester here in Dallas, I have to say, it was probably the most difficult semester I've ever endured. Here is a snapshot into each course and my overall experience thus far. I hope you future PA's enjoy this post!

A look at a typical week in the first semester of PA school. This is Summer I at UTSW.
In the photo above you'll see all of the courses we had this semester and the times they occurred. We were fortunate enough to have 9 AM classes instead of 8 AM classes. Most of the time we got out around 4 PM. Fridays were special because we didn't have class after 12 PM. Probably my most favorite thing about the first semester. There was at least ONE exam PER WEEK. I think that is pretty standard for most PA schools because of the amount of material covered. So as soon as you finish studying for one exam, you pretty much have to begin studying for the next. We did have a one week break after our white coat ceremony where we had no exams. It kind of just served as a catch up week for me though. All of our exams this semester were multiple choice, which was nice to help prepare for the PANCE (even though the PANCE is on a computer). The one exception was our anatomy practical exams, which were 60 tags (60 seconds per tag allowed). Overall, the amount of information learned and the camaraderie built between my classmates and I was priceless. We have such a family based community on campus and we even created a Facebook group where we post and share hints/tips/tricks for each other to remember all of this information. There was probably at least one social per week, where multiple students would get together for non-study time (necessary!). Before I forget, we did have classes with PO (prosthetics and orthotics), PT (physical therapy), and BME (biomedical engineering) students. It was nice to integrate the classes because we will be working in a health care team eventually and we will probably see more of these folks next semester too.

Anatomy and Anatomy Lab - These courses were incredible. UTSW has found some really incredible instructors. I truly learned the most I ever have and will take so much forward because of the FULL CADAVER DISSECTION. Although our lab did have a few prosected bodies, we mainly relied on our own dissections. The important thing to remember about this experience was that it allowed me to see variation in different bodies and to be able to recognize the same structures in male and female cadavers, older and younger patients, etc. Sure, some of the labs took a while to get through, but none of them were unmanageable. I should also mention that when we learned about the head/neck, each student was assigned their own skull to take home with them and study from. I'm not sure how many programs offer anything like this, but I definitely took away a lot from that experience. I'm also not sure how many programs have created their own dissection manual (called the Veteran's Dissector) and authored by our very own instructors. They also have prepared videography of how to perform each dissection and post it online (Moodle) and show it in class before each lab. Pretty amazing. Last but not least, I have to mention the outstanding medical student TA's we had. All of them were top notch. During lab, every 4 tables (of 3-4 students) was assigned a TA that rotated every 2 weeks. If we ever had questions or wanted to confirm anything, we had a medical student who had abundant knowledge about the anatomy to help. Studying for the practicals was difficult for me because at my undergraduate university, we didn't have dissections or prosections to study from. We have free tutoring available everyday until 5 PM and after 5, you can schedule private sessions with your favorite TA (even on weekends at 9 PM, which was sometimes necessary). There were practice practicals for each lab exam that helped a lot. The first was free and the other 2 were only $10 each. Studying for the lecture wasn't bad either. We have syllabi prepared for us that aren't your average syllabus. They have detailed notes already taken for you so that you can add in minor details you learn from lecture. We were also given the last 5 years' worth of practice exams for practical and lecture exam that helped immensely. Like I said, amazing program we have here. They truly care about your performance and learning.

Physiology - Physiology was also structured well, I thought. Our lecturer actually wrote the "book," which comes in looseleaf format. It has all of the information you need for the entire course and you don't really ever need to take a lot of notes because most all of the information for the exam is in the syllabus (if not, in the lecture slides). Physiology, like all of the other courses was broken up into 3 "blocks." In each block, we learned different things. Block 1 was mainly about then nervous system, sensory systems, and muscle structure/function. Block 2 was respiration, renal and endocrine systems. Block 3 was cardiovascular, blood, and gastrointestinal systems. Overall, very well organized. The professor also planned in a few days of "self study" where we could study for physiology or other courses, which helped out so much!

Neuroscience - Neuroscience was so interesting. We learned so much! The first block was about neuroanatomy, nerves, synapses, blood supply to the brain, and a few special senses. The second block was about the somatic motor system, cerebellum, and basal ganglia. The last block was a lot of topics: neuroimaging, cerebral cortex organization, somatosensation/pain, special senses, memory/limbic system, and neurodevelopment. We also added in a few lectures on the vestibular system and cranial nerves at the end. Great course! So many wonderful special lecturers - including neurologists and OB/GYNs from nearby hospitals. Very talented folks. Before I forget, the best thing about physiology and neuroscience was that there was so much overlap. After our first neuroscience test, we had a physiology test over many of the same things, so it was very easy to study for the next physiology test. Plus, the redundancy definitely instilled many of the concepts and terms.

Professional Practice Issues (PPI) - Professional practice issues was the best break from studying we could have asked for. It's one of our only pass/fail courses we take in the 15 months of didactic training. In this class, we learned about the ins and outs of being a PA that aren't taught in any other course. For example, topics we covered were the history and current trends of the PA profession, ethics of the PA profession (PA team relationship), PA competency, PA education in the US, workforce roles of PAs, health policy, health care delivery systems, work force demographics, cultural issues in health care, PA organizations, and political and legal issues facing the PA profession. We ended the semester with student panel debates on a few important issues facing the PA profession: entry level doctorates, post graduate PA programs, and advanced placement in PA programs for international medical graduates. Overall, I learned so much, and I was able to meet all of my future PA-professors. I might not have mentioned this prior, but our professors for physiology, neuroscience, and anatomy were all from other departments because our first summer classes are in the school of health sciences. Next semester our professors will be PAs from our department, but we will have many guest lecturers.

Mid-semester, after about the first round of exams for each course, we had our white coat ceremony. It was a very special moment that we will all remember. We recited the Hippocratic Oath and were given pins from TAPA to keep on our white coats as we were welcomed into the PA profession officially. We also had an equipment demo where patrons from Welch Allyn and Heine brought otoscopes and ophthalmoscopes in for us to look at and experiment with before purchasing for next semester. One of the coolest things was that our program prepared a downloadable Google Calendar iCal with all of the dates of our exams, classes, and other events. It made planning the semester essentially care free because I never had to put in or worry about forgetting a date/time. UTSW also awards a few lucky students Dean's Scholarships. I was lucky enough to receive one of these awards for the fall and spring ($500 per semester). Anything helps and I am forever grateful! Lastly, before I forget, our program began the semester with a 1 week introduction to phlebotomy. I can honestly say it was really nice to see patients again and learning something new. I had never had any phlebotomy training before, so getting so much practice made me feel much more comfortable with the needle, hah.

Our amazingly good looking class of 36 (Class of 2016 to be exact). 
If you have any other questions for me, let me know in the comments section! Good luck to those applying this cycle and I hope this information gave you more insight into our incredible program! This is one program you don't want to pass up!


  1. Hi Paul! I'm so glad I stumbled across your blog, it is so detailed and informative. A little background on me: I was a D1 athlete at Vanderbilt, graduated in 2012, coached for a couple of years, and then trained for/played on the professional tennis circuit for about a year. Now I'm looking into PA school (and actually am very excited about UT Southwestern!) However, I lack any and all experience and was wondering what would be the fastest way for me to get HCE hours. I am hoping to be able to apply by Oct 2015, though I have to look into the minimum grades for prereqs. Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated! All this research I've been doing has been somewhat overwhelming, trying to figure out tuition/length/prereqs/minimums/etc for all the different PA schools I would be interested in.
    - Jackie

    1. Hello Jackie,

      To answer your question, there really is not any "quick" route to HCE. Check out my post on HCE: http://doseofpa.blogspot.com/2014/02/health-care-experience-and-pa-school.html

      You'll find SEVRAL options for HCE, but there are not many that do not require training prior, besides maybe some on-the-job patient care technician positions (CNA) or maybe phlebotomy that might have a shorter training period.

      Don't be overwhelmed by everything. If you are just getting started, take it slow. Don't worry about looking into schools until you are ready to apply to them. Right now focus on the big things - your HCE and shadowing should be number 1, then if you are applying to programs that require GRE (plan, study, and take the GRE). Then focus on the rest of your application including your letters of recommendation and essays. While this is all going on, try to get a little bit of volunteer work in, but don't try to overwhelm yourself. If you don't know what the pre-requisites are or what grades you need for each school, then look those up prior and make sure you meet the requirements. You might have to work or shadow and take a class simultaneously, but you can manage. Show schools that you can handle a high stress environment and perform well. Good luck!

  2. Hi Paul! I stumbled across your blog page while trying to locate the academic calendar for UT Southwestern's PA Program! I was just curious about the breaks in between semesters...how much time do you typically have off after you complete a semester? And do you get a Christmas break/how long is that? Thanks!

    1. Hello Anonymous,

      Here is the class of 2016's academic calendar: https://www.google.com/calendar/embed?src=q47beuq1sj9hepjn11frq4mi88%40group.calendar.google.com&ctz=America/Chicago

      We have had a few breaks so far. After summer semester we had about 1.5 weeks off. Winter break was about 1 month off. We have 1 week off for spring break and between spring and summer we have about 1.5 weeks again. Hope that helps.

  3. Hi Paul,

    Thank you for the informative blog! I am started in the PA Program at UTSW in May 2015 and I am very much looking forward to it. I was wondering the most effective way you found to take notes during class. Did you bring your laptop to class each day?

    Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      Checkout this link: http://doseofpa.blogspot.com/2014/12/10-most-helpful-study-tips-for.html

      Also, I mainly handwrite my notes, unless there is a lecturer talking too fast. Since our lectures are all printed out for us, it makes it easy to take notes by hand. Good luck!

  4. Good day Paul,

    I find your blog very informative. May I ask, have you meet any 40 + classmates? Or have seen older 40 + student? I'm looking into changing careers.

    Thank you kindly for your assistance,


    1. Hi Eloise,

      Yes, there are PA students who are 40+ in age. If you want precise data on age range see the annual PAEA report: http://www2.paeaonline.org/index.php?ht=d/sp/i/243/pid/243

  5. Hi Paul!

    You're a very prolific writer, fantastic blog. I'm a junior in college right now preparing for PA school while trying to earn my BS in Public Health. I've got most of my pre-reqs planned but I was just wondering what additional undergrad classes you wish you would have taken to better prepare for PA school? Right now I'm leaning toward a research class, pharmacology, and possibly pathophysiology.

    1. If I had to go back and do it all over again, I would probably have taken pharmacology, but only because it was one of my hardest classes in PA school. Its different for every student and I highly encourage you to choose whatever interests you most and just go for it.

  6. Hello Paul:

    I am not sure if you still respond to questions posted on this blog but I would appreciate any advice you could give regarding interview process and questions at UTSW. I am currently waiting for responses from various PA programs, including UTSW for the 2017-2018 cycle.


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