My name is Mikenzie Mikkelson. I completed my undergraduate degree at Black Hills State University in South Dakota. My degree was chemistry with an emphasis in biology and I also received a math minor. I chose chemistry because it was a great mix of my two favorite subjects, math and science! Chemistry with an emphasis in biology enabled me to take classes I love and knock out most of the prerequisites required to apply to physician assistant (PA) school!
My first experience with a PA was in high school when I tore my ACL three times and spent a lot of time with my orthopedic PA! I was inspired when he went through my MRI with me during a visit and then related it to what I had wrong using the model in his office. In a short visit he was able to gain my trust and formed a relationship that grew every visit. I knew I wanted to go into healthcare, but this experience with a PA solidified my choice in pursuing a PA degree. It is a career that enables me to build a relationship with patients and aid them in changing their health and life.
I am from a small town in South Dakota, so I had to move across the country to attend Salus. I live in an apartment complex that is a five-minute walk to campus and live with a fellow first-year PA student. (Salus makes it easy to find a roommate with their Salus Housing Portal!). Since I am in my first year of PA school, I am taking didactic classes. I have lectures and then attend labs to supplement subjects. This semester we are also going on pre-clinical experiences, so I am excited to get back to seeing the practice of medicine in a clinic!
The main reason I chose Salus was due to the feel I got during my interview. Living 28 hours from home meant I needed a school that would prepare me to be the best PA possible, but also have people who cared how I was doing as a person. Salus provided an environment of being surrounded by people who cared about not only supplying a pristine education, but also my well-being. The program also offered a relatively small class size, which was a must since I grew up in a small town of 5,000 and went to a small undergraduate institution. Salus offered great learning opportunities through having an anatomy lab with cadavers and pre-clinical exposures. I really valued the early exposure since it is a chance to solidify classroom knowledge and also a great way to remember why you chose the PA profession when your life is surrounded by books!
I am the current Student Academy Representative (fancy phrase for president) of the Salus chapter of the Student Academy of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (SAAAPA). I ensure that Salus PA students receive the most recent news released by the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA) and attend regional meetings that address countrywide SAAAPA initiatives. As a club, we are the liaisons for our classmates and ensure their voices are heard in SAAAPA and AAPA discussions. We also represent Salus in the Pennsylvania Society of Physician Assistants! We throw events to celebrate the PA profession and fundraise to send a group of second-year Salus PA students to the AAPA conference yearly. There they compete against other institutes from across the nation in a challenge bowl! SAAAPA is a great way to become involved as a student on initiatives that will affect you as a PA-C.
6:45 a.m. Wake up!
First things I do in the morning are: check my email and look at my schedule for the day. I need organization and structure in my life, so I plan out my entire week on Google Calendar. It makes it fast and easy to just glance in the morning and know my plan of attack for the day.
7 - 11:30 a.m. Get rolling on schoolwork
Right now, my mornings differ depending on the day. If I have an exam that morning, I will use this time to review my notes. If it isn’t an exam day, I start watching lectures. With COVID-19, we have lectures online and labs on campus. Salus is doing a great job of keeping us safe, but also making sure we learn the skills necessary to be the best PAs possible! If we don’t have lab, I stay at my apartment. But on lab days, I usually like to set up camp in the library for a change of scenery and a printer readily at my fingertips. Right now, the only lab I have is on Thursdays and it is Physical Diagnosis, so we practice our physical exam skills on our classmates!
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Lunch and random tasks
I usually try to meal prep on the weekends, so I take the long walk of 10 steps to my kitchen and pop whatever is in my Tupperware into the microwave. Usually, I put on a short show (Superstore) or listen to podcasts (Crime Junkie) while I eat. I also take this time to work on any small tasks I need to accomplish like addressing any new emails, doing tasks for SAAAPA, printing out study material, or just taking the time to send a quick text to my family.
12:30 - 2 p.m. Lectures
I watch any lecture I didn’t get to that morning. I like to finish all of my lectures by the early afternoon, so I have some extra time to study in the evening. While I watch my lectures, I make an outline that I can follow along with when I study later.
2 - 2:30 p.m. Exercise
By this point, I am ready for a break from school, so I do some form of exercise. I either do a workout in my living room or go for a walk around Jenkintown to get some fresh air. It’s a great way to reset your brain and get it ready to hit the books.
2:30 - 5:30 p.m. Study
Studying is what you will spend the vast majority of your time doing in PA school. The best advice I got before matriculating was, “to treat school like a job.” Meaning, you need to set a schedule and stick to it. So, this block of my schedule is usually used to study a little bit of everything. I look at what exams we have within the next two weeks and focus on those subjects.
5:30 - 6 p.m. Supper
Once again, I use this time as a break. So, I usually check my phone and catch up on the latest social media happenings while I am eating.
6 p.m. Tutoring
Salus has a great peer tutoring service that is free for students to sign up. I meet with a second-year student once or twice a week to review material I have learned that week or do a quick run through of the material that will be on whatever exam I have within the next couple days. Usually, we have two exams a week that are at least a few days apart. So, I spend one session reviewing new material from the week and another focusing on material that will be on the next exam I take.
8 – 11 p.m. Study
Like I said previously, your life in graduate school is a lot of studying! In the evenings, I like to focus on studying material that will be on the next exam I am scheduled to take. Sometimes I FaceTime my classmates during this time and we have a virtual study session. Even during a pandemic, group studying is still a useful tool to succeed!
11 p.m. Wind down and bedtime
I put down the books and crawl into bed. I take this time to catch up with friends and family since South Dakota is two hours behind Pennsylvania. I also check my email one last time before bed and make sure my alarm is set for the next morning. Then I fall asleep, usually as soon as my head hits the pillow!
PA school is fast and furious, but it is definitely doable! I love breaking down tasks on a to-do list (it feels great to cross things off) and making a set schedule of how I am going to spend my time. I throw in personal time on Fridays and take everything day by day. I can’t believe how much I have already learned, but “time flies when you’re having fun!”