PA Students Given Insight for the Journey

By April Wilkerson 
Writer, OU College of Medicine

Lt. Cmdr. Katherine Demers, a graduate of the OU College of Medicine’s PA program, speaks to the Class of 2018 as they receive their first white coats.

Students seeking a career in the health professions are equipped with good advice as they begin their education. Such was the case with physician associate students in the Class of 2018.

During their White Coat Ceremony, PA students heard from an alumna of the program, Lt. Cmdr. Katherine Demers, who graduated in 2008. She joined the U.S. Public Health Service after graduating and was deployed on eight missions during her public health career. She now works for the Federal Bureau of Prisons in El Reno, Oklahoma, and does part-time work in child psychiatry in Edmond.

Demers, who also gives lectures to PA students, dispensed her advice with both wisdom and humor:

  • Appreciate that preceptors will ask you questions nonstop. “This is meant to cause anxiety in you and a sense of inadequacy. This is good – if you feel inadequate, you’re going to try hard. There’s a purpose behind it if it’s done right – it’s meant to teach, to reinforce and to help you learn more.”

  • Make sure you have a little bit of anxiety every day. “Being a good PA is knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t know. Focus on what you don’t know. If you practice what you already know, how are you going to improve? Go outside your comfort zone. Make sure you have some anxiety every single day.”

  • Organize your “pearls.” “Teachers are going to give you pearls throughout your education. Write them down. When you go on rotations, you’ll be glad you have them.”

  • You’re getting a short coat. Pretend it’s a long one. “When you’re in clinic seeing patients, take charge. Even if you screw up, people will help you through that. You need to see patients like they’re your own.”

  • Make sure you get the opportunity to “watch one, do one, teach one.” “It’s a good concept for PA school and beyond. Do that with everything – it reinforces whether you know it.”

  • Don’t turn down opportunity. Whether it’s a community service event or the opportunity to help with high school athletic physicals, take part in order to gain experience.

  • Be appropriately obnoxious. “You are PA students, and you’ll be out there with doctors and other PAs. This is your time to learn, your time to grab the bull by the horns and take charge. Tell people that it’s your turn. You do it nicely, but still do it.”

New PA students greet their faculty after receiving their coats at the PA White Coat Ceremony.

William Ross, president of the Class of 2018, also had advice for his classmates. Noting Louis Pasteur’s quote that “chance favors the prepared mind,” Ross said his class has been given a chance to prepare their minds toward their goal of working in health care.

“My encouragement is that you each have what is required to be excellent medical providers, but none of us is there yet,” he said. “I challenge you to continue your training in the dedication and faith and attitude of service that got you here.”