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Balancing Clinicals, Studies and Life: Tips for Successful PAS-Hybrid Learners

April 12, 2024

Physician assistant ranks among the fastest-growing professions in health care. From 2013 to 2022, the number of PAs practicing in the US increased by over 75%, according to data from the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). As Forbes reports, “The rising demand for PAs goes to show that medical school and nursing school aren’t the only paths to an advanced career in health care.”

It’s easy to understand the profession’s appeal. Qualified candidates can complete a physician assistant training program in as little as two years (compare that to four years of medical school and at least three years of residency for medical doctors). PAs perform significant tasks—many identical to those performed by MDs—and earn a good living: according to NCCPA data, three-quarters earn over $100,000 annually, and half earn more than $120,000.

Even so, the road to a physician assistant career is challenging. You’ll need to earn a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (its demands include rigorous academics and intensive clinical rotations) and pass a national certification exam before you can apply for state licensure. The rewards, many PAs agree, justify the requisite hard work.

Clinical placements occupy much of a training PA’s second year of schooling. In this article we’ll highlight the importance of balancing clinical placements, studies and personal life for successful learning in the Physician Assistant Studies Hybrid (PAS-Hybrid) program at the University of Pittsburgh.

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Exploring the PAS-Hybrid Program Structure 

Pitt’s PAS-Hybrid Program offers maximum flexibility, with online classes accessible from anywhere. Students must complete 82 credit hours and eight clinical rotations, a process that usually takes about two years. Pitt partners with facilities around the country to offer 850 clinical placement slots.

The program mixes lectures with other activities, including out-of-the-classroom learning opportunities, case-based individual and group activities, and hands-on skills labs. Pitt has over 850 exceptional clinical placement slots, with one elective rotation during your clinical year. Completion of classroom and clinical work prepares you to sit for the Physician Assistant National Certifying Examination (PANCE).

Online courses in the PAS-Hybrid Program emphasize a variety of competencies, including: 

  • Diagnostic and therapeutic procedures
  • Health policy
  • Patient care
  • Pharmacology
  • Surgery

Students in the PAS-Hybrid Program learn from practicing clinicians on the Pitt faculty, drawing from the expertise of the world-class network of providers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). An emphasis on cutting-edge technology, such as point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) and telemedicine, helps distinguish the program further. Clinical rotations round out your education and training, bolstering your confidence and giving you the tools to improve health care outcomes.

Successful completion of the PAS-Hybrid Program will prepare you to understand and implement key learning outcomes: 

  • Patient-centered practice knowledge
  • Society and population health
  • Health literacy and communication
  • Interprofessional collaborative practice and leadership
  • Professional and legal aspects of health care
  • Health care finance and systems

While the PAS-Hybrid Program has multiple advantages, a hybrid learning program can pose challenges. You’ll need a dedicated study space to participate in online classes and absorb complex lessons. You’ll need strong time-management skills, particularly if you pursue a degree while juggling work and family responsibilities. Let’s look at strategies for overcoming some of the challenges of online learning. 

Time Management Strategies 

Becoming a physician assistant requires expertise in varied skills and fields, from biology and chemistry to problem solving and listening. Time management is crucial as you begin your journey into this complex field of study. Effective approaches include: 

  • Establishing a weekly calendar to track your classes and clinical obligations
  • Using a planner or project-management tool to track assignments and responsibilities
  • Blocking out distractions by setting up a quiet, dedicated space to work
  • Staying focused and avoiding multitasking to complete coursework successfully and on time

As important as your education is, successfully pursuing a PAS-Hybrid requires a healthy work-life balance. Make sure you create realistic goals for yourself and carve out time for family, socializing, hobbies and other personal activities. 

Tips for Successful Clinical Experiences 

After your first year in Pitt’s PAS-Hybrid Program, you’ll head out of the virtual classroom and into the real world of medical practice. Supervised clinical experiences make up the majority of the program’s second year via a series of five-week clinical placements.

Students will need to practice clear and open communication with their preceptors, ask questions, make a clear schedule, stick to study habits and lean on the support resources provided by Pitt. 

Study Techniques and Resources

Regardless of whether you’re in the first or second year of the PAS-Hybrid Program, sustained focus will be critical. Continuous learning flows through the entirety of the 82-credit curriculum. You’ll need to establish strong study habits from the beginning and maintain them throughout your time in the program.

Strategies for effective studying include utilizing online study groups, taking advantage of professor office hours and adapting stress-management habits. The latter will come in especially handy when you ultimately have to study for the PANCE to become a certified PA.

Learn More About What to Expect as a PAS-Hybrid Student 

The road to a PAS-Hybrid presents multiple challenges, from rigorous academics to demanding clinical rotations. By using time-management techniques, good study habits, self-care and open communication, you’ll position yourself for a successful trip through the program and a rewarding career as a physician assistant.

Want additional information about the program design, weekly time commitments, academic prerequisites, application preparation and more? Start your journey by scheduling an appointment with a Pitt enrollment advisor.

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